Today, I had one of those “ah ha” moments. I sat down with the executive director of a non-profit that is interested in funding the work I am doing with young boys and men of color. As we were talking, she asked me a few questions to get a better idea of how she can best support my efforts. One of those questions made me pause and think for a moment.
She asked, “What do you want for kids?”
That question caught me off guard because I am often asked about the issues that are important to me as an educational leader and politician, but rarely is it posed in such a way. Essentially, what she was asking is, “If you could craft the best educational experience for kids, what would that entail?”
I had to sum up my response with one word, epiphanies. I want our kids to have an educational experience wrought with epiphanies, moments where students: experience discovery, learn what it’s like to succeed after failing, try new things, travel and learn to utilize knowledge gained to do something meaningful.
In my mind, I could picture my daughter sounding out words in her coloring book one night a few weeks ago. She came home from school discouraged that she could not read as many words as one of her classmates. She said, “Daddy, my friend can read better than me. Does that mean she is smarter than I am?” I looked at her and said, “No, dear, just because someone can do something better than you doesn’t mean you can’t work hard to do what they can do even better than they can do it. Whatever you practice, you will get better doing.”
I turned to a page in her coloring book and we sounded out the letters on the page one by one for each work. I had her repeat them over and over together and asked her what it sounded like she was saying. Her eyes lit up, and she said, “OH!!! It says, Say yes!”
What happened for Lailah is what I wish for all students. If their educational experiences are missing epiphanies from opportunities to expand their horizons, to discover something new and exciting, to have the joy of mastering a skill or concept or triumph after failure, our students are wasting their time in our schools. These types of experiences are the best way we can foster our youths social-emotional and academic learning wherein they can boldly declare, “I am, I can, and I belong.” As parents and as educators, we must facilitate this process for our kids.