All too often, a picture is painted within educational institutions. This picture is at first draped in white; every student enters with a blank slate. With every passing month, thick, colourful paint is slathered onto each student’s canvas, as each one develops into a more intricate work of art. This work of art—an identity that is created during the most formative years—holds much importance to the meaning and image that it conveys to those around it.
One’s sense of self should be fortified by those who are teaching them. Children must learn to develop a good work ethic through encouragement and positive reinforcement. Instead, these children are divided and assigned a role within their classroom. Their level of intelligence is branded for them, and their difficulties are laid bare on the floor of the classroom to be made fun of.
Why is it that a teacher will view a naturally gifted student as a “good student”? When displaying their obvious favouritism to their entire class, a clear idea is conveyed: teachers like students they don’t have to help. It’s easier to turn a blind eye to the children with difficulties in reading or in math, and it’s easier to look past the student acting out in class for some unspoken reason they’re too uncomfortable to share. Although such dismissive attitudes are unadmirable on their own, some staff within schools go the extra mile by singling out certain students in the classroom in order to boost their own ego.
To the student struggling with public speaking they say, “Read this page with conviction.” To the student struggling with attendance, they gossip to their other students: “That child is going nowhere. You’ll see one day when they’re older. They’ll be working a minimum wage job.” To the student trying harder after getting a negative report, they explain: “Give up on your dreams, look somewhere more realistic. You’re incapable of doing the work required to get there”.
And so, a cycle ensues. The children who were always believed to be great become greater, as their canvas is filled with every colour, suggesting unlimited possibility and opportunity. Meanwhile, children without such natural aptitude are publicly humiliated and shunned by their peers. Their canvas becomes black and white.
A teacher’s job is not to command respect within a classroom by using public humiliation as a coercive tactic. A teacher’s job is to inspire, as well as to help their students develop passions and interests. Leading students towards a brighter future is one of the many rewards of teaching. There is no great accomplishment in encouraging students to do what they are already believed to be capable of.
The times we live in are uncertain and frightening. Every day, we are given a new task to face, each one being more complicated to complete than the last. We have been raised to know that our lives can no longer be entrusted to the government, as well as that coexisting and working together is the only way we can truly create change. To restrict someone’s abilities before they are even aware of such things themselves is especially cruel, especially given today’s context. We hear from our elders that “we are the generation destined to create change,” and that we have “a lot of cleaning up to do”. We have had this responsibility shoved down our throats from the moment we could reason.
We grew up with “The war on terror” and “The war on drugs” force-fed to us on through the media. As we grew into teenagers and young adults, we discovered the motivations behind these so-called wars to be the products of greed, xenophobia, and political propaganda. Our social media is now bombarded with infographics to fight “The war on ignorance”.
We have seen the world get hit by waves of natural disasters. We have met the heartbroken faces of families torn apart by climate change, and we watched the glamourous hills of California go up in flames. As we grew into teenagers and young adults, we walked out of our classes to fight against the doomsday that the wealthy ignore, their white collars shielding their eyes from the state of the Earth.
And so, if I asked about if you knew how scared we were to fail, would you still nag us about our grades in front of a classroom full of students? If you knew the pain and helplessness drilled into our minds by the media, would you still try to label our worthiness? If you felt our fear, would you still scream that we will amount to nothing? If you truly believe us to be the only hope for tomorrow, then why are we forced to feel otherwise?
By Maia Fukuyama