I remember it vividly.
I was sitting in my sixth-grade math class, trying to make it look like I was paying attention to the fractions and equations projected on the screen. In reality, I had a book open on my lap under my desk. In my defense, I had just come from silent reading time in English and had left off on a really good part. How was I supposed to wait until after school to find out what happened to my favorite characters? I was so enthralled by the literary adventures unfolding on the page that I never noticed my math teacher come up in front of me.
I’m sure she didn’t actually have smoke coming out of her nostrils, or horns poking out of her graying hair, and she probably wasn’t really seven feet tall, but that’s exactly how my twelve-year-old self saw her.
“Give it to me,” she growled, before snatching the book from me and tossing it onto her desk in the back of the room.
I spent the rest of that class slouched in my seat, embarrassed, trying to make myself as small as possible.
Somewhere in the summer between elementary and middle school, education had changed. Instead of fun experiments, reading time and field trips, there was standardized testing, letter grades, and worksheets. The things that I loved to do – reading and creative writing – were not as important as they used to be.
Suddenly it didn’t matter if I was acing speeches and class presentations or turning in killer research papers because I was struggling in math and science. It was as if those were the only classes that mattered to my counselor, teachers, and parents. I would get lectures about how I wasn’t “applying myself” or “not putting my best foot forward.”
Why is it ok if someone isn’t artistically or musically talented, or struggles with public speaking? Society shrugs it off saying, “they tried, that’s not their thing.”
If someone isn’t successful in algebra, they’re told that they need to see tutors, do additional work, and come to extra study sessions.
In a 2006 Ted Talk, Ken Robinson said that public schools might unintentionally steer children away from subjects like music and art because the school didn’t think that the child was likely to get a job in that field.
“The consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not because the thing they were good at, at school wasn’t valued,” he said.
I read in math class back in middle school for a simple reason: I loved stories. My love of reading and storytelling is the reason that I’m on the career path I’m on right now.
I was lucky enough to have another teacher that encouraged my passion and to attend a high school that prioritized the arts, but I know that isn’t the case for a lot of people. There are talented and creative individuals with no outlet to showcase their abilities. Because of this, they’re most likely labeled as the “bad kids” who don’t pay attention during class.
Why aren’t we ensuring that kids don’t lose that love they have for something when they were young? Why are we yelling at twelve-year-olds when we should be offering them additional recourses to continue to nurture that love of literature or music or dance?
Instead of lecturing and embarrassing me in front of his class, my sixth-grade humanities teacher pulled me aside one day to compliment me on a story that I had written. He suggested books that I should check out from the library and told me to look into the school’s creative writing club. After that day, I paid attention in his class.
Even though I might not have liked memorizing Latin stems, I knew that this teacher genuinely cared about not only my education but my interests as well.
So here’s for the girl who was ever told to stop reading in class. Or the one who felt like she was never good at anything when she was in high school. The one who was told that she would never get a job doing the thing that she loved. Here’s for the girl who’s tired of being told that she’s not trying hard enough.
You are talented. You are creative. You are smart and you are unique.
“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” —Neil Gaiman