As a young girl, I was curious about the world. I wrote short stories about a boy who advocated to preserve books in a community banning them, a girl who ran away to New York City to pursue her dream, and a girl who woke up on a cloud to begin a new journey.
At some point in my educational experiences, I began to judge myself about whether or not I was good enough to share my voice. Though I craved creative freedom in school, I was taught that my worthiness would be earned through our education system’s standards of perfection. With red marks and man-made standards, I gradually removed characters and my own voice from my imagination. I began to race along with all the others towards a vision of success that wasn’t mine.
Fast forward ten years, as an Activist and Social Worker, I met hundreds of youth at different stages in their lives: middle school, high school, and college. In my conversations with so many of these students, I saw a creative genius and dream in all of them. Their talents radiated and fell by the wayside simultaneously in the midst of standardized tests, college entrance exams, report cards, and expectations that did not align with who they were, who they wanted to be, and what they stood for as whole human beings. “I have to be a doctor to make a lot of money. I like painting but I don’t get to do it here. I have to graduate with an engineering degree because it’ll keep me secure. I can’t do that—that’s only for rich people. I don’t fit in. They don’t listen. I’m dropping out.”
There’s a pattern here that we’ve got to listen to…
What I discovered is that we’ve got a creative genius in all of us. We’ve got imperfections that make us whole and complete. We are who we are before the world tells us who we should be…
So, let’s take a look at the spaces we’re creating in our education system for us to tap into that creative genius, who we really are so we can grow and learn from this standpoint.
The fears of failure and judgment are embedded and promoted in our cultural norms through our systems, into our schools, onto teachers, and built into the hearts and minds of youth. I believe these fears along with many others hinder us from authentically growing from our core and creating the realities we want to see in the world.
Tons of research shows that empathy, courage, creativity, and collaboration are practices that will lead youth to be change-makers now and in their future. It’s a done deal that we’re on the same page with this, right?
So what spaces exist in the U.S. for young people to feel good enough; to feel they can be and grow into who they truly are in the world? To create the realities they want to see in themselves, schools and communities? What spaces are we creating for young people to acknowledge their fears and embrace failure, so they can share their own unique gifts with the world?
And what are students saying about all of this? What are their experiences in these spaces? By being in these spaces, how have they experienced themselves differently? Do they see themselves as responsible citizens in the world? When they do, what are they creating?
Here’s a glimpse of what could be created in liberating, supportive spaces: