Saving bullies and dropouts
I was better than him in every subject. He wanted to prove that he was better than me in something, so almost every day that year he made my life miserable, and I’ve carried a haunting emotional scar for most of my life. I have found that the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is totally wrong. Words can leave permanent emotional scars just as damaging as physical ones.
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My beautiful younger sister carries a physical scar from a larger girl who broke her nose, and because our family was too poor to have it fixed, she also has suffered for many years from the effects of bullying.
I may have discovered why our schools have had an increase in bullying and dropouts in recent years. As our schools have shrunk the curriculum, there are fewer and fewer chances for students to excel in anything. Many feel inferior, and this gives rise to students being cruel toward those who are naturally talented in the only two things that seem to count for anything: language and math.
Being talented in music, art, mechanics, human relations or any other area doesn’t count as much in our culture as being strong in subjects our society has labeled “common core.” As a result, more students feel worthless and want to get even with those who achieve in these subjects. They take it out on one another or drop out of school.
What would happen if we redesigned education to help every student excel in something and, in the process, feel they have a valuable contribution to make? Would they feel like bullying or dropping out? What if we were to change the main goal and purpose of education from student achievement in a narrow curriculum to this: Help each student find a purpose for existing, to be a special and valued contributor to society?
At two schools where I served as principal, the teachers and parents united to help students grow in what came to be known as the three dimensions of human greatness: identity, inquiry and interaction.
Identity gave each student an opportunity to develop their curiosity and unique talents and to see how to use them to benefit the school, family and community. When reading, writing and math were learned as a process of inquiry, they were learned better and at the right time for each child. Interaction helped students learn how to value and treat one another with respect.
With these three priorities, the teachers and parents worked together and started to use classroom subjects not as goals, but as tools to grow toward greatness. This focus allowed each student to excel in what she/he was inherently good at, and that this gift had great value. Bullying was virtually nonexistent.
With adoption of the narrowly-focused standards of the Common Core Initiative, Utah has taken a very different direction in education reform. It has opened the door wider for more students to feel like bullying, or drop out like so many are doing.
If the “core” could be amended to provide ways for students to excel in their own unique talents and become special contributors, perhaps the “core” could serve a useful purpose. If it can’t be amended to make its application voluntary, Utah and other states may have made a big mistake.
Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator, is a co-founder of the Educating for Human Greatness Alliance. He lives in Farmington. Email: email@example.com.