While writing about schools, I frequently circle back around to put it all in perspective. I get insights into third world schools with no desks, or pencils, let alone computers and I’m humbled. Here I am whining about cells-and-bells operations that would be considered Heaven-sent in so many corners of the world. So a little perspective ain’t a bad thing.
But on an individual level, it’s even more awe-inspiring. A school or community pulling together and getting by, despite bad odds, is a wonderful thing to see. But stories about individuals rising above staggering challenges really take my breath away. Sure, I’ve had challenges in life, but when I consider people up against far greater demons I shake my head in wonder. Some have been kind enough to share their inspirational stories, including a man with no limbs, an extremely ill gent and a teenager fighting both shyness and obesity. In each case, their stories are both stunning and inspirational.
We each grow up with a unique mix of strengths, handicaps and idiosyncrasies. Each poses a different challenge to us, our families and our schools, to figure out what can be done, if anything. Many just plain give up. And much of the time, I expect, we more or less muddle through.
Some challenges stay locked inside us, hidden from possible ridicule. Mental and physical disabilities, sexual orientation, personal phobias and child abuse all fall into this category. Nobody really knows how many inner demons we wrestle with in our lives.
Other challenges are harder to hide. Physical disabilities or deformities, obesity, race, or just plain unattractive features fall into this category. These issues can make life hellacious, with school being an endless gauntlet of taunts, bullying and other abuse.
We all come with differing capacities for overcoming these challenges, but ultimately, some research suggests, it boils down to what kind of support we get, from our families, or our communities, or just plain from inside ourselves. This means schools have a one in three chance of making the profound difference in someone’s life that helps them survive or thrive. Our preoccupation with percentages leaves an awful lot of people out of the equation. If 90% of our kids make it through school, we think we’ve done pretty well. It’s easy to forget about everybody else.
I had a chat with a school counselor this week all about that lost ten percent, and it reminded me of a pipe dream I had a while ago. I’d like all the adults in a school to make a list of the ten kids they feel they really connect with. Then I’d like them to compile a list of all the kids who failed to make anybody’s list.