Kids Aren’t Bumpers

Kids aren’t bumpers, they’re human beings!

My colleague yelled this in a crowded auditorium filled with teachers and administrators. We were all there for a staff meeting.

It’s been a few years since this happened… and I think about it from time to time. I usually remember it when I think about the universal nature of public and formal forms of education and how many people confuse their remembrances of being students with a belief that they – because they were once students – can effortlessly teach students and that teaching is not challenging.

Analogies are helpful, but they are limited. In this case our assistant principal was describing students as products of an assembly line. It was an analogy he often used. It worked when he used it to help make his point that many people contribute to the molding and influencing of students as they progress through their schooling, but in this case he was using it to flippantly suggest that students finish school just like car parts finish being built. He was concerned with how our students finish school and what shape they’re in when they do finish.

 … they’re human beings!

My colleague’s interruption was calculated to remind our assistant principal that students are sentient, organic beings that greatly influence their own progress and learning. His interruption helped remind us all that working with students requires a tremendous amount of skill, intuition, communication, compassion, and patience.

His interruption reminded us all that teaching is nuanced – it is a hard, exhausting, and dynamic endeavor that, well, does something … and that something somehow contributes to another something that’s large and really important – like college (or something).

But, years later I ask myself, “Is it really hard?” Is it really, really, really that difficult? Or do we make it hard? Is teaching hard because a classroom is usually filled with 20-40 often bored and disengaged students? What exactly makes teaching hard? Is it hard because of the conditions that we impose upon ourselves or because we work so diligently to make content easier to understand? Is it hard simply because students are required to learn material that they may have little to no interest learning? And if “yes” to the last question, how do we motivate our students when they display little to no interest?

People are constantly learning. Day in and day out, we never really stop learning… and motivation matters. I get it. I suppose I’m simply wondering about the “What?” and the “How?” impacting the “Who?” and the “Why?” That is, I wonder about the decision process that chooses what we are to learn and how we are to learn it. I wonder about the decision regarding who has to learn this and why it has to be learned.

Are you with me?

Thinking globally and historically there are myriad ways that people learn and have demonstrated their learning. In the totality and scope of the world and its history, what makes our current system the best?

I get it, students are not bumpers. If they were then they’d be bumpers with free will that share ideas, aspirations, and desires… they’d be the smartest damn bumpers I’ve ever met.

I suppose if I could, with the gift of hindsight, go back to the exact time and place that the exchange between my colleague and assistant principal took place I would have followed my colleague’s response with a question of my own:

No, students aren’t bumpers. Yes, they are human beings … but why aren’t they here, right here – right now, helping us design their learning experiences? Shouldn’t they have the right to do so?

… but I only get to ask these questions because I went to school. Right?