61: The Most I Can Hope for My Students #LifeWideLearning16

I don’t have a master plan for students. I don’t know what will make them ready for career, let alone college. I don’t know exactly which classes will inspire them to become entrepreneurs or civil servants. There is no formula for success in or after school. And yet, there are certain experiences that I am convinced are essential. Each of them represents a core challenge of youth, a learning experience worth celebrating.

A Terrible Friend

I believe that each student should experience at least one terrible friend in their lifetime. Ideally, this friend should not be abusive or cause self-loathing. However, this friend should be indifferent to the student’s needs. The friend should be flaky about plans and should not worry about how they are hurting the relationship when they sit with someone else during lunch or choose a different group for a project. Each student should face this and be forced to make a choice for whether or not to continue on with the awful friendship. They should learn the self-reliance that comes with making the choice to go it alone or to find new friends that don’t treat them mean. They should also learn just how much work relationships are and how some are just not worth it.

A Ridiculously Good Book

Many students do not enjoy the books that they are “forced” to read in English class, but it is my sincere hope that there is at least one that resonates. If not from within the official Cannon, then I hope it comes from pursuing reading for the pure pleasure of it. If there is one truly great book among all of those from their school days, then they have just found their first touchstone text. It is something that will inform their lives in countless ways in the years ahead. It is something that they can draw upon for making decisions and for constructing their understanding of the human condition. It makes empathy more likely and genuine inquiry into the story of someone’s life into a default stance. A ridiculously good book has the power to influence the internal voice of the person reading it, changing forever the way the student narrates her own life. This process is deeply challenging, though, as any truly life changing experience is.

An Idiosyncratic Hobby

Nerds are having something of a renaissance. In fact, being passionate about something outside of the mainstream has truly become mainstream. But even with all of this lip service being paid to nerd culture, there still something deeply self-conscious about loving something far more than your friends. Being passionate about a specific band that no one else seems to care for or an Anime comic that only has a following in a small Japanese city is still, in many ways, an embarrassing act of nonconformity. It is stating for the record that you are not like everyone else, and that it is okay. It is through this idiosyncrasy that many students are able to find “their people”, those that can connect to their passion and to their particular brand of difference. It is the process of finding them that is one of the most worthwhile challenges available to students.

A Personal Failure

There are many opportunities for failure in schools, but if you are going out of your way to avoid them, you may miss the most important kind. We still exist in a system where, for the most part, if you study and listen to your teachers, you will succeed academically. And even if this weren’t the case, the kind of failure that an F on a paper can provide does not evoke much reflection other than “try harder next time.” No, the type of failure that is truly valuable in school is much more personal that this. It is the kind of failure of asking a friend to go out with you and having him say no. It is the kind of failure of trying out for a team and not being talented enough to make it. It is the kind of failure of asking others to follow you and no one coming with you. It is a failure of miscalculation or of overinflated expectations. It is a deeply humbling experience that shows you just how little the world revolves around you. It is the kind of challenge that reverberates throughout your life, causing you to question many of your interactions and determine what has been Ego and what has been earned.

While these challenges represent my own personal journey, I have also seen them play out in hundreds of students I have worked with. In each case, these students have come out better on the other side, knowing that they have done something more than graduate or achieve recognition for their actions. They are truly better people because of these challenges, better able to face what comes at them next. And truly, that is the most that I can hope for any of them.

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