I always hated the school system. There was little substance in it. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I was doing it for. When I left home school and joined public school my 8th grade year I always counted the hours until I could go home. I was behind in every subject. I was never able to get my reading done, didn’t know how to speak up in class, and was horrid when it came to tests. To be honest I had few friends and only one teacher who gave a crap about me.  Things didn’t get much better in high school. They found out what was wrong with me- I was diagnosed with dyslexia. After a few weeks of special treatment for my “disability” I knew I wanted no part of the help the school provided. I was treated like I was stupid and put in the classes with students who had behavior problems and did drugs during lunch. There was little reason for me to try in school. The only thing that saved me was art. Painting and drawing were what got me through the day. I chose to pursue the subjects with as much passion as I saw star athletes and 4.0 students pursue their subjects.

The problem was everyone got an “A” in art class. Even the 4.0 students, who usually were the worst at making any kind of substantial piece of art. They were too used to working inside the frame, doing the assignments just the way they were told for their artwork to really mean anything. Education only became relevant when I chose to learn for myself. I was no longer going to figure something out in order to make the teacher happy. I wasn’t going to turn in an assignment when it was due; I was going to turn it in when I felt it was done. To tell you the truth I never had top grades in my art classes. Even though I had some natural talent in the area, came in almost every lunch period, and stayed many times after school, I was never able to get my assignments in on time or finish the ones in which I lost interest. At the end of my junior year I was a mess when it came to grades. If I had taken my SAT’s I would most likely have scored in the lowest percentile. Collage just seemed like a nightmare I would never be able to do even if I wanted to.

Then something happened that changed my life. My mother gave me a priceless gift I will never be able to repay. She gave me an education. My senior year I dropped out of high school. My mother, who majored in English, chose to home school me. My mom’s dad (my grandfather) told her she was going to ruin my life. She was  sacrificing a huge amount of time. On top of all this she had a student who didn’t care anymore, someone who was sucked dry by the school system. I didn’t want to learn. I didn’t need to know how to write. I didn’t need to learn about politics. I thought I knew how to reason and I didn’t need to understand how other people thought. If someone didn’t agree with me then screw them. Yet my mom didn’t give up. She pushed me in my art and then worked from there. She talked to me about my ideas and she allowed me to dream. The stupid stories I had in my head were interesting to my mom. However, she wouldn’t let me keep my ideas to myself, she made me express them.

Learning to write wasn’t easy. I didn’t know the difference between “there” and “their”, an adverb from a verb, or why one shouldn’t start a sentence with “that” or “this”. I hardly knew how to write a proper sentence. In my opinion people were just supposed to know what I was saying.

Slowly my teacher showed me how to write a sentence, build a paragraph, and express my ideas. I began to want to learn. I began to value other people’s opinions. I began to believe in myself.

She gave me a priceless gift. A gift I use every day. A gift that can truly change the world. I write this today because I feel everyone deserves my mother’s gift.

One of the figures who has entranced me of late is Malala Yousafzai. She is a sixteen year old Pakistani who was shot in the head because she thought woman should be educated. Yet now her voice is stronger then ever and she is going everywhere advocating education for all. She even says she forgives her shooters and wants them to be educated just as much as anyone else. She is absolutely convinced education will bring on peace and understanding. She says letters and words can be stronger then any weapon. 

I felt frustrated at times hearing Malala speak so heartily about the importance of creating an education system. I thought to myself the education system she believes in will never work. There are just too many teachers who don’t care, not enough money for funding, and too many people who need to be educated. How much can a teacher truly do in a class room of thirty? I suffered through a system that told me I was stupid and incapable of learning. Malala faced the same problem with her society telling her she wasn’t capable. However, Malala is convinced the traditional text based system of education will open doors for her. The very place I considered a prison she considers a paradise.

Malala is a strong advocate of reading and writing. The school system considers these two things to be the pinocle of what one needs to know to be educated. Subjects like math, science, and even music are taught through verbal linguistic means. We use textbooks and memorize symbols to learn about math and science. We are taught how to read music before we are allowed to play music. Art and physical education are considered the slacker classes where everyone gets an “A”.

There needs to be a great change in the way we think and the way we teach before Malala call for “education for all” could be recognized. Just as important as allowing the woman the right to be educated is the need to create a system where visual, spacial, bodily kinesthetic, interpersonal, and musical thinkers  can be educated. What if we had a system in place that allowed multiple intelligences to succeed? I have a family full of dyslexics. My mother has constantly tried to explain to her children’s teachers the importance of understanding multiple intelligences and teaching different kids in the way they think. Instead my teachers and my siblings teachers kept pushing us verbal linguistically. All we ended up learning was how stupid we were. All we ended up feeling was exhausted and frustrated. All we ended up wanting to do was shut down.

There are millions out there who don’t think they are smart. They think this because they are faced with a school system that tells them they are incapable of learning. My history teacher my junior year told my mother I was incapable of learning his subject. He didn’t know I had been going home each night repeating the stories I had heard in his lecture that day. I was telling my mom about the interesting characters we were discussing in class and the influence they had on the building of our nation. I even began doing my own research in American history, studying great American figures like Abraham Lincoln and looking into the rich history of American pastime Baseball. The only thing my teacher knew is I couldn’t do well on his essay and fill in the blank tests, which accounted for 80% of the grade.

I am not saying there is no significance in understanding symbols and equations. I am not saying we should neglect to teach students how to read or write. In order to compose this very essay I need to have a firm grasp on reading and writing. However, I also need to know how develop an argument. I need to have a firm idea to build upon. And I need to have a unique voice. Yet in school all my teachers could see was I couldn’t spell and didn’t understand grammar. Why was it that I was never told about my strengths in creating original ideas, developing my points, and having a unique voice? If the student who couldn’t spell still got credit for understanding the meaning of a word, if the student who couldn’t read still received credit for grasping the value of a piece of literature, if the student who couldn’t recite their math facts still was acknowledged for understanding the concepts of addition or subtraction, then we would be getting closer to a fair education system. The education system is only as good as the future it prepares us for. If the system does not take into account how each individual learns it can not prepare the individual for his or her best future.


Empty Seats

I watched a documentary today called Bully. It was a sincere look at bullying in America. The film concentrates on the immediate victims of bullying. Some of the cases the documentary concentrates on are with families who have already lost their child to bullying. We see how hard it is for a family to understand what their child is going through, we see how ineffective the school system is in stopping bullying, and we see how the bully isn’t any one person as much as it is a general movement of indifference for one’s neighbor. The movie devastated me emotionally. What caused the devastation was not the harsh acts shown and talked about through out the film. We heard and saw plenty of examples of cruel things being done to kids who only seemed to want to get along with their peers. What devastated me was the silence. The inability for the parents to be personal with their children, the lack of presence the school system gave in working to stop bullying, and the lack of friends stepping up for the victim when he was getting pushed to the ground.

I was never Mr. Popular in my school. My mother chose to home school me until 8th grade and when I finally went public I was greeted with a fair amount of neglect and indifference. No I was never physically shoved in the locker, hit or pushed in any way. However I was told at times to find another seat because someone didn’t want to sit next to me, given notes commenting on how stupid I looked, and not given the time of day by many of my teachers. I was an awkward boy who wasn’t very physical, couldn’t read or write well, and had the social ability of a rodent. However, though I struggled I never felt inferior. I never felt like I deserved to be picked on or wasn’t as valuable as the person next to me. I always felt like there was a meaning to my life, that even though I failed in many of the areas my peers succeeded in I was an influence in this world and if I harnessed my strengths I could do wondrous things.

I had self confidence as a kid because I had people around me who gave a damn. When I went to school in 8th grade a friend from my childhood sat with me at lunch and introduced me to his friends. He was one of the most popular kids in school yet loved to come to my house and hang out. There was my 8th grade math and science teacher Mr. York who spent the extra time getting me organized, going to my meetings, and encouraging me in my strengths even though they were not always found in the subjects he taught. I also had my mother. My mother was always honest with me. She was willing to talk about personal things even though it sometimes meant for her to address personal demons in her past and she trusted in who I was and pushed me in my dreams. Because of these people and my faith I was able to go from middle school to high school, and from high school to college with a self worth that only became stronger.

Towards the end of the Bully documentary Kelby, one of the bully victims and a lesbian, talked about going to school for the first time again in the fall. She said she thought it might be different this year and views might have changed. She went to school and when she sat down in her class room all the kids around her got up and found different seats. Right then I could clearly understand why so many bully victims end their lives. They find themselves humiliated and hurt. But the pain does not come from the bruises or the humiliation. The pain comes from the empty seats. It comes from looking to the left and the right and seeing no one to shed a tear with or to extend a helping hand.

I wonder what I would have done if I was in the same classroom as Kelby. Sadly there is a good chance when I was in high school I would have felt bad for her but looked away and excused the situation by telling myself, “That’s life”. However, I am writing this blog because I am stronger now. I am tired of looking at abuse and being okay with it. Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on and do nothing”. I am who I am because people looked at my loneliness and befriended me. People saw my low self esteem and gave me a sense of worth. They saw me in my pain and helped carry my burden. If you don’t do anything who will? It is time to do something. It is time to be that light that gives way for a better tomorrow. It is time to sit in the empty seats.