“I wanted to make a difference”

A couple of weeks ago I walked into school and saw that a student had done the unthinkable…they had plastered the main hallway with signs…without permission.  They had broken the rules.  I am big fan of rule breakers, you can check out this, and this, and this. But this was different.  This was nothing done on the back of a notebook, inside of a locker, or on the corner of a desk.  Someone had desecrated the main hallway of the greatest rule following institution in the world, the local public school.

My first instinct was to take them down so that the student stayed out of trouble.  Instead I left them on the walls because every single staff member who walked into school that day should have stopped and read each one.  Before they were taken down there was one that I grabbed and taped to my laptop to share with each class that day.

This random act of vandalism was one of the greatest things I had even seen in my building.  It was like all of my secret thoughts that I had always wanted to scream to the school just showed up overnight plastered onto the walls of the main hall of our school.  Later in the day as I walked with kids they all noticed and talked about the signs.  A couple days later I followed a group that was discussing which was their favorite.  I did not hear any staff members discussing the signs.

I wondered if these signs were a cry for help, the start of a rebellion, a plea for understanding, a desire for power, a threat to adult power, or just a simple reminder that maybe what we are doing in our classrooms currently sucks. Here is a sampling of my favorites:

My principal found out the name of the student and called her into his office, what happened next I did not expect, and the signs did not come down I found out who she was and told her that I was going to write a post about her signs, and thought it would be fitting if she explained why she did it.  She agreed and here are her words:

Dear Mr. Bogush,

     The answer to your question, “what was your motivation for hanging the posters?”, is not such a simple answer.  I have a lot of reasons as to why I did this.  First of all, I dislike the way our society tells everyone how to think.  We all have our own bodies and we all have brains…yet we leave our decisions up to the minds of others.  I want to be my own person and I want to be who Ysabelle Candido is.  I refuse to let someone make my decisions for me because they don’t know what I want to be; they only know what they wish me to be.  Someone else’s idea of a “perfect” me is way different than my idea of a “perfect” me.  At the end of the day, I have to be happy in my skin and that requires me being who I am.  I wanted to empower other students to do the same and be their own person…not just another clone.

My second reason is very simple: I wanted to make someone’s day better.  I know how it feels when you’re having a bad day and you just need someone to tell you that you’re beautiful or that you are special.  Thankfully I have people who are there for me, but I know there are some kids in my school who aren’t as fortunate.  Everyone deserves to be happy and feel good about him or herself.

Another reason…I wanted to make a difference. The exact moment that I realized I wanted to make these posters was when I was on a popular IPhone app and I saw a picture that read “DANGER: Thinking for yourself may cause a sudden outbreak of independence.”  This picture that made me really think about why I look the way I do or act the way I do.  I concluded that reason I am who I am is because I think for myself and I make my own opinions.  I wanted other kids to have this same idea of becoming independent.  I don’t mean these kids should completely ignore their parents or teachers and become independent in that sense. I mean these kids should think for themselves and challenge the ideas that you were told you had to think.  This was my difference: changing their mindset of following what they consider the “norm”.
Think of things this way…no one is born homophobic or racist, for example. Your parents, teachers, or other influences teach you to be this way. Once you are old enough to think for yourself and make your own decisions you can’t blame these influences for your thinking. At this point you are choosing to think this way. I want kids to challenge these ideas and not be clones of their friends.

Back to making my difference: I have a quote from a big influence in my life that means a lot to me…
“You can’t just stay down on your knees the revolution is outside. You want to make a difference? Get out and go begin it…”
-Hayley Williams from the band Paramore
Song: Hello Cold World

This lyric really makes me think about how easy it is to make a difference. “The revolution is outside…” really describes how close everyone is to each other.  These people are right next to you and all it takes is a few kind words to make their day, make them happy or just change their point of view.

That’s all I meant to do by hanging these posters. I thought maybe I would help a few students or teachers from school who were having a bad day, but now so many people have seen or heard this story.  To be honest, it took me a while to realize I had accomplished more than just helping a few people…I have hopefully made every reader of this article’s day better.  Thank you Mr. Bogush for giving me the chance to help even more people outside of my school through this article. 🙂

Ysabelle Candido

What kind of institution do we work in that requires kids to “break the rules” to feel like they are making a difference?  Seeing Ysabelle’s signs and reading her words made me both incredibly happy and angry at the same time.  Despite all the changes that are occurring in schools with both how students are being taught and how teachers are being evaluated, the one constant is conformity.  That is what is at the essence of how common core is being implemented, and I have yet to hear anything about getting kids to “make a difference” other than a difference in test scores so that their data can be collected.

Friday I had a student finish a project on Shays’s Rebellion.  A rebellion that led to the Constitution of the United States being written with sections that would allow the government to squash all future rebellions.

Despite Thomas Jefferson’s famous “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing,”  in America, and in public schools, any rebellion now and then is a little rebellion too much.  People who do rebel are seen as outsiders, as weirdos, as the crazy ones. Most kids who rebel are seen by teachers as being kids who do not have the qualities to be successful, yet they possess the very qualities that we would include when we list the attributes of heroes, role models, and leaders.  What you need to do to be successful in a conformist common core school is not the same as what it takes to do something extraordinary outside of school, or to be able ignore the hype of the world and live a very simple ordinary life.

Stand in front of your kids tomorrow, look at them, and ask yourself, what kid of kids are you building?  Do you support conformity? Or are you supporting kids to stand up and plaster the world with their signs?

I challenge you to go one step further…

Ask them.  Ask your kids the same question.  I dare you.  Ask them what kind of class they come to every single day.

Can they “make a difference” in your class?

I hope so.  I don’t want to grow up in a world in which everyone sings the same note.  That would be a world without harmony, without rebellion, without any crazy kids.

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