Aaron Swartz was a brilliant and brave organizer who has made permanent marks in this world. Aaron was found dead in his room Friday, January 11. Aaron committed suicide at the age of 26.
On Thursday, young Justin Bieber fans were posting images of themselves cutting themselves on Twitter with the hashtag, #cutforbieber. Not only was this “campaign” problematic, but the responses such as “self-harm ain’t cute,” to “natural selection #cutforbieber” troubled me as well.
And, about 2 minutes ago, I was provoked to write this post after seeing a tweet by an adult, “It’s sad how this new generation of kids can’t take life, they are wimps who need pills, cutting, and a shrink.”
The misconception people of all ages have on mental struggles makes me nauseous, angry, and motivated all at the same time. For some reason, people believe struggles faced within our heads should not be taken as seriously as physical struggles.
This is not how this should be.
But what does all of this have to do with teaching and education?
When tragedies such as suicides, rapes, or hate crimes happen, I can’t help but think about the very discussions that occur in our nation’s classrooms. Instead of giving students the chance to understand why these tragedies are happening, teachers are being forced to dish out test-prep lesson plans. I can’t help but think about the freedom myself as a future educator may or may not have. I often question if I’ll be able to get to teach students the lessons I want to teach. Will I get fired if I try to implement social justice in my curriculum? As a new teacher and not being tenured, will my job be on the line if I choose not to test-prep my students one day,and instead have a discussion that provoke critical thinking on controversial topics relative to our culture?
One of the most recent tragedies that has been on my mind lately is the Steubenville High School Rape Case in Ohio. I constantly think of our rising rape culture. It is absolutely sickening. I often have to step away from my laptop because the amount of victim blaming I see shakes me. In addition, a few days after New Years, I received an e-mail regarding a young male, Luke, who “several witnesses have reported watching more than five men mobbing up on Luke and stomping on his head and body with the intent to kill him” and the attack was “homophobia perpetuated.”
These are just a few of many examples of humans acting out of pure hate, ignorance, and basic lack of humanity. Could the culture of a school and education change this?
This all make me question how my vision of a future teacher who wants to fight for a better world for all may be completely shut down.
It is disheartening to hear some education professors say, “it’s a shame there may be no chance for you to implement these tactics in your classroom because of the raising emphasis on high-stakes testing.” If I won’t be able to implement something as simple as a classroom structure based on discussion where my students sit in a circle, what can I do?
What a twisted system to be investing in an education that is teaching me how to teach, only to enter into a system where such skills aren’t even valued.
Today’s education is so strongly associated with academics, that we often forget this is a place where our youth come to learn how to be. Our youth spend majority of their “growing-up years” here. Yet, for some reason, education is not our country’s top priority. For some reason, so many people still want to look at school as a business, a place to train obedience, a place where students are led to believe that only importance of school is getting good grades, passing tests, and going onto college.
This is why I fight.
As many know, I have gone and continue to go through personal struggles. Through counseling, a good group of friends, and of course, my activism in this movement for social justice and educational equity, I have a stronger head on my shoulders and an even stronger heart than I did a year ago. But, as many fail to recognize, recovery is a life-long process. Being stronger doesn’t mean always being strong. Relapse is inevitable.
Suicide, self-harm, substance abuse, eating disorders, and all of the alike should never, ever, under any circumstance, be taken lightly. They should never be something that is associated with weakness. The struggle is complex as any struggle is, and it is a shame our culture refuses to take struggles we face within ourselves seriously. They are not a choice. I can’t help but ask, who would choose to suffer in such a way where you literally feel trapped in your own skin? Who would choose to be in a mindset where you spend every waking moment knowing you would do anything to get out?
These are lessons no one wants to talk about, but these are lessons that are the very essence of being human. I hope to one day work in a system where I can give students the opportunity to critically think about these issues, and gain a perspective our culture often suppresses without the fear of losing my job.
Our policy makers want to implement anti-bullying laws, punish students for bullying, ban the use of words in schools, but is anyone actually talking about the very culture and issues that cause racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia, classism, etc? People want to “kill the kids” who rape. People “hope the kids rot in jail” for bullying a 15-year-old girl that led her to jump in front of a train in front of her class, but no one wants wants to talk about the very culture that perpetuates these actions.
We can’t leave these discussions outside of classrooms. Struggles listed above are not rare. If youth are never given the opportunity to understand others with such struggles, or the chance to ask questions, they are left in a bubble of dangerous ignorance. As we know, ignorance often fuels actions of hate. Schools are places where youth learn to be by interacting with others. And I know many want to say it’s the parents’ responsibility, but we need to take into account of students whose parents are absent from their lives. We have to take into account that parents offer one perspective, and schools can be places to offer the important opportunities for students to look at issues from different perspectives.
On a whole, our culture ignores these controversial topics and provides minimal chances for meaningful human understanding. If school doesn’t initiate these important discussions, then who will?