The Beginning of a True Student
July 1, 2001
A young woman sits at the back of the room, doodling on a piece of paper around her notes on the three branches of government. The girl had never been terribly interested in politics, besides the heated arguments her father and grandfather had about the President’s private affairs, and this class was not helping. She smiles slightly as she recalls the fact that she has heard the same lecture twice before, once in fifth grade and again in eighth grade. She did not need to pay attention because the answers to the teacher’s question were always "checks and balances" or "the American government has three branches." She recalled having watched a video on Marbury v. Madison, but she still did not know the purpose of judicial review. The young woman was at the top of her class, but she was bored by her history and government classes. She preferred to learn history from her grandfather, a Korean War veteran who had much more to say than, "we went there, we won."
Today was different from other days. Her teacher pulled her aside and asked her if she would like to be the student representative at the school board meeting tonight. They were looking for bright students, probably to speak well of the school she thought, to talk about the state of education in our schools. She said "all right" and went home for the day.
She was a talented student and very soft-spoken. They knew she had an optimistic outlook and would speak well of the school. She was the perfect candidate to alleviate the worries of the community about the state of education.
When she arrived at the meeting, the Superintendent asked her to sit by him and she shyly agreed. As the meeting progressed, she grew more and more angry. These adults were saying proficiency scores were up and cheering the administration. She knew the proficiencies were nothing to cheer about. The reason they did not do better was because they were bored. Nobody challenged them to do better. She had personally thought the tests were a joke. They did not test any relevant skills needed to go on and get a college education. Finally, the time came when she was to talk about her education. She stood up and with a rush of adrenaline began one of the most daring challenges to authority she had ever attempted.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she began, "I am here today to tell you of the true state of education. While I shall not pretend to know all that you do in your wisdom, I will to the best of my ability give you an honest assessment. First, I offer a plea. Do not treat us as if we will break if we fail. Failure is a part of life, and though we hate to fail, it is the best way to get us to strive to do better. The triumph of receiving an ’A’ on a test is much greater when we are challenged with something difficult. Help us learn to get the answers, not to just give the answer on cue. Teach us how to learn and we will be much better off. Do not just teach us history, teach us why it happened and let us discover why it is wrong or right. We have opinions; let us cultivate them so we know right from wrong when we graduate. Our cry to you is to challenge us. Parents, nurture us, discipline us, and teach us to be good human beings. Teachers, communities, friends, teach our kids to learn, so they may help future generations to make a world a better place. We are capable of understanding so much if you let us. I hope you take this to heart and help our kids get a real education. I thank you for your time."
The young woman sat down with a feeling of triumph. The crowd was silent. Suddenly, a dull roar came over the crowd as the people began to applaud and rise to their feet. The young woman knew she had touched the hearts and minds of those people. She only hoped they would pass this message on. The feeling inside of her was overwhelming. She never knew she was capable of such power. The young woman did not know if the speech would help, but she knew from that moment on she would continue her fight to bring education back to the schools.
Rebecca Fowler is a junior from Ravenna, Ohio, majoring in political science and mathematics.