How a Student Can Teach and a Teacher Can Learn
Kristina rolled into my life in 2004. Literally. You see, she has cerebral palsy and gets around in a wheelchair. She came to me as a sixth grader; a passionate, expressive girl whose difficulty verbalizing her thoughts hindered her ability to express herself.
I was her special education teacher. She would eventually become my teacher.
“What do you see yourself doing after high school?” I asked one day as I wheeled her to the elevator. She was then in eighth grade. Kristina wryly replied that she was not going to be a professional soccer player. She wanted to be a part of a publishing company and write.
“That’s something that I can do,” she asserted.
I mentioned to her that I also had a deep interest in writing. I told her that I had written several short stories and poems. I lamented that I had never sent them out to editors out of fear of rejection.
“Maybe you should get over it,” Kristina sternly replied. In the silence that ensued while riding the elevator, her voice boomed within my very being.
It was clear to me that I needed to replace my wishbone with a backbone.
With one simple sentence, I became the student. And so began our journey, one which ultimately led to the publication of The Epitome of Grace.
Kristina may be confined to her wheelchair, sometimes she says she is trapped by it, but her vision encompasses the universe. She fearlessly participates in adaptive sports. She raises money for charity by taking plunges into freezing lakes on New Year’s Day. She attends a variety of community events and participates in fundraising. It is quite apparent that Kristina is a tireless advocate for those with disabilities.
While writing our book, I always thought and held out the hope that her voice would eventually be heard above the educational din if we but listened.
It’s awful noisy in our educational system these days. Students are seen but rarely heard. Teachers are being lambasted and scapegoated by everyone and their uncle. The loudest voice in the room is the educational reformers.
What is the reform movement? Simple. It is the corporate takeover of our public educational system. It is a manufactured crisis perpetrated by those who want to make money off the backs of children.
Educational reformers are concerned about testing, choice, teacher evaluations, merit pay, Common Core State Standards, and dismantling our public education system. According to Diane Ravitch, an educational historian, our nation is in the throes of the Walmartization of our PUBLIC school system.
Kristina and I came to the conclusion that what we were doing, writing a book, was true education.
While I may have been her formal teacher, she became my teacher on many occasions. Kristina taught me the true meaning of education. Hell, she taught me the true meaning of life. To live in the moment and never allow fear to get in the way of fully living. It was time to do something other than “academic” fare; time to do something real and applicable to life.
Ironically, we did not write this book in the hallowed halls of learning. There was no real opportunity to do so. Time was always against us. We worked outside of school hours.
“Why is the government making me do this?” Kristina sighed after an extended reading session on our annual high stakes test. We were on break.
“I don’t know, Dear One,” I meekly replied as I masked the internal fire that was burning in my gut. We spend an increasingly inordinate amount of time testing kids to death these days. Education is supposed to be about the whole child, not just some score on a test.
Kristina and I created a book. We did not rigidly adhere to formulaic methods of writing using paragraph diagrams and 5 paragraph essay templates. Schools use these to jack up test scores. Authors do not religiously use these devices. Authors do not take standardized assessments. Authors write from the heart and then work incessantly on effectively revising their work so that they can capture the reader’s attention and draw them into their world. I had always believed that inspiring kids to embrace writing was one of the goals of education today.
So why doesn’t more of this happen in today’s school? Simple. Students and teachers co-authoring books is a giant leap beyond what many schools can realistically put into practice. Teachers have to play by the rules that are set by others who have never been in a classroom.
There are great things happening between teachers and students in our traditional public education system. The educational reform movement is ruining opportunities like these while hastily leading us down the path of the outright destruction of our public schools. We need to give students and teachers an environment without fear and the liberty to produce great works. Education is about learning together and should be one of our nation’s collective goals.
What are your thoughts on co-authoring with students? Do you believe that our current educational system could make it possible for teachers and students to collaborate on projects more frequently?