The human race is extremely diverse. We all see things differently, we understand things differently, we have different likes and dislikes. But – and this is big – there is one constant across the globe. One undeniable truth for every single one of us: we all have beautiful talents and gifts that are special and unique. Gifts that keep the world vibrant and interesting. Some of us are unaware of this fact, and some go their entire lives not knowing what their gifts are. Education can be focused on the quest to understand ourselves as well as the world around us. School can be a place of discovery.
I was talking with a couple of high school students the other day and they shared something that broke my heart:
“We have always thought we were stupid. We’ve never really been good at school and we’ve never done well on tests. Passing is how we’re measured and graded and if we can’t pass the tests, we must not be good at anything.”
What they said next filled me with hope:
“That’s what we’ve always thought…until we met you. You saw something in us that we didn’t even know was there. You told us we were good at something. You gave us a way to believe in ourselves and to know that even if we aren’t good at passing tests, that doesn’t mean we aren’t smart. Now we know we are smart and that we can DO THINGS. Now we know that we can have the future that we want for ourselves.”
Oh my goodness! These words have been heavy on my mind since that day, as I know there are more students out there who are struggling with these same challenges. As I begin my work in our local juvenile detention facility’s new makerspace, this knowledge is the guidepost.
One of the fundamental elements of being human is the need to belong. The need to feel like you have some value, and that you can bring something of worth to the world around you. For many young people, their behavior is driven by what is valued by their peers, and can either be amazingly beautiful, or terribly devastating. For example, if a young person finds their power in violence, and violence is valued by their peers, this becomes who they are.
Here’s where we can bring hope to this mess: we have the incredible opportunity to offer all kids, including incarcerated youth, ways to discover their personal gifts, passions and talents through our work in makerspaces. We do this by offering a variety of hands-on activities, from knitting and crochet, to storytelling, coding and graphic design – all in a low-risk type of environment.
With the students I quoted above, our first couple of days together, I put out a bunch of different activities, and gave them time and space to tinker without any real intervention from me other than connecting them with some learning tools like YouTube, activity manuals, and the like. My only expectation at this point was that they were respectful of the space and each other, and that they became comfortable in this new place.
In this environment, students are able to broaden their own understanding of the world around them. Kids who have never even left the city they were born in suddenly have access to a wide open world of possibility, and a newfound understanding of themselves as individuals. This is critical, because with an awareness of their gifts and talents comes the ability to connect with new peer groups or tribes.
A kid who could only relate to other kids, who were perhaps into criminal activity or other negative behaviors, now can see how they fit into a new world of people who call themselves coders, or fashion designers, or artists. We gravitate to those who can relate to us, and by helping kids discover their personal talents and passions we provide them with ways to relate to people who bring out their best and who value them for their unique talents and gifts. These are the people who will encourage them to pursue new avenues in their lives.
A couple of years ago, a dear friend referred to me as a potentiator, which, if you go with dictionary.com’s definition is: 1) C the ability to help others find and embrace theirs.
I feel very grateful that I am able to pursue a career which allows me to bring out the best in others and to help those around me define and achieve their goals. This process is not easy, and it’s not something you can create a manual for. It’s messy. It takes a lot of patience. And most importantly, it takes real, authentic belief in humanity to do good. I believe in people and I believe in the power that we have as a community to work together to make good things happen for kids. If you would like to be a part of this work in some way, I encourage you to leave a comment, or connect with me on one of the social media channels here.