They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

Imagine yourself at a tropical resort, on the beach, with the sun going down, surrounded by the people you love. How many of us have had that daydream or if not that daydream, something very similar? We are able to have daydreams such as these because we know what is out there, we know the possible.

Unfortunately, many of the children we work with each and every day have no idea how to dream. Many of us work in schools with students who don’t know what it is like to go to Disney World. They don’t what it is like to be able to come home and relax in an environment that is comfortable and free of noise and free of stress and designed to make them comfortable. The following is one of my all time favorite quotes that often helps get me through stressful moments in my day:

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

The thing is I am able to be calm in my heart because I know that there are better moments ahead. I know that I am driving home in my nice SUV, to my nice house to spend the rest of the evening with my wonderful family, doing whatever it is I want to do.  But, how can a child who has never known calm and has never truly experienced peace truly dream? Most can’t. Is this to say that kids can’t dream big? No, but most don’t. Most have no idea what they can become.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own. (Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings)

How many of us would have ever imagined Twitter or the power of blogging? Until we actually saw it, we had no idea. Before I heard  Todd Whitaker speak at NAESP 2013 I had never even thought about getting on Twitter. I thought it was just a place that my wife frequented to find out what celebrities had for breakfast. My point is, until I was told about it, I had no idea how much I could enjoy and learn from Twitter. It wasnt even a notion in my head.

We have too many kids who have no idea what they could achieve. It is our job to help them dream. It is our job to let them know the possible. In a recent article in The Atlantic titled, “No Point In Applying; Why Poor People Are Missing At Top Colleges”, Alexandria Walton Radford writes about how many high-achieving students that come from poor families don’t even bother applying to selective universities.

When I asked Karen why she did not look into more selective universities given her stellar credentials, she replied, “Maybe just because no one told me to consider anything else. I don’t know. That’s what I knew.” Lacking outside guidance, many top students explore potential colleges by investigating only institutions that are already familiar. The problem is that social class shapes the types of colleges that students know. Poorer valedictorians may have heard of large, prominent universities like Harvard and Princeton, but compared with their wealthier peers they were aware of far fewer elite colleges overall.

In addition, poorer top students have difficulty envisioning themselves at prestigious universities. Valedictorians expressed concerns that top colleges would be too far from home, too academic, too intense, and not allow for a social life. Those who held these apprehensions tended not to have a student or alumnus from an elite university in their social network. In contrast, those who knew someone from a prestigious institution were more comfortable with the idea of attending a college farther from home and were less likely to think that the undergraduates at these institutions were out of their league academically or lacked time for fun. All too often, however, poorer valedictorians were less likely to know someone from a top college (The Atlantic, 2013).

While I am not surprised by Radford’s findings, I am deeply saddened by them. With all of the technology available today, there is no reason why we can not begin to teach, to show, to help all of our students know what they could become. If a million people on Twitter can know what Kim Kardashian has for breakfast each morning then there is no reason why we can’t help our students know how awesome they can become and how incredible life could be. They need to know that achieving doesn’t just mean better grades. It could mean a better life. It could mean more happiness.

And, if we’re honest, isn’t this what we want for our own children?