This is genius.
And moving and infuriating and endearing and motivating and humbling. All of those things. And more.
Ryan Latocki, a student at Frontier Central High School in Hamburg, NY has spoken. And he’s a genius.
He performs a spoken word poem on the stage of his high school, which coincidentally is the same high school I graduated from. Frankly I was in tears by the end of the video. Watch it (it's less than four minutes long - watch it!):
A-freaking-mazing, right? Bravo Ryan, his co-creators, and all of the students who appeared in this important video (including a front-row appearance by the daughter of one of my high school friends - the one I'm talking to in the yearbook photo above, in fact).
One of the biggest reasons that I chose to homeschool my own children is exactly as Ryan so eloquently says - the education system is not meant to value each child, nor support them in their individual gifts and shortcomings. Today’s educational system is about institutional accountability. It’s about pushing kids through a set scheme with clearly defined boundaries. It’s not about exploring and developing intellectual capital and diversity, but pigeonholing and measuring it.
It’s about transposing living, growing, beautiful genius minds into discrete test scores.
So to see kids from my very own high school making a statement and adding their emphatic voices to this discussion was very emotional for me.
See, I was one of those kids who went through school somewhat lost in the learning. My grades were mostly fine (except for that 50% I got on my calculus midterm). I graduated in the top 10% of my class (which I think says less about me than it does for the other 90% below me). I generally knew how to work the system - I could prepare for and pass tests. But did I actually grasp the hows and whys behind most of what I regurgitated? No, definitely not.
I did well enough to get into my first choice of college (Syracuse University) where things weren’t much better when I had to take huge lecture hall classes in chemistry and geology and psychology, things I really wasn’t all that interested in. I did well in my major (public relations) based mostly on the strength of my writing and my innate understanding of human nature. I went on to get a Masters of Science in education - instructional design, development, and evaluation to be exact.
Oh the irony strikes me still, nearly every single day. I got a Masters degree in learning how to learn and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. Yes, there’s definitely irony and poetic justice all wrapped up in one right there.
I was in high school in the mid 1980’s, well before the standardized testing frenzy. So was it the quality of my high school education that put me on the path to graduate school, and ultimately life, success?
I’d have to say no.
Watching Ryan Latocki on that stage brought back a flood of memories for me. Memories of the two years I spent on that very stage performing in musicals, even though I’m not a great singer or dancer. Memories of playing in the concert band and jazz band and orchestra on three different instruments because the kind and inspiring band director tutored me and told me I could do it. Memories of serving as the Chair of the International Festival, a community-wide dinner and celebration of ethnic diversity. I made many speeches from that stage.
I spent so much time in those halls not only during school, but before it working as the photo editor of the yearbook, and after it, shooting and developing photos and running club meetings and just generally goofing off with friends. The same with that cafeteria - oh the conversations we had in there.
That gym you see in the video? I spent a lot of time there too, practicing and trying out for cheerleading, which I never did make (didn’t have the physique or the social status for that). Instead I managed the boys soccer team for several years, one of my favorite high school memories.
And I’m a pretty darn good manager today, if I do say so myself.
So Ryan Latocki, I stand with you. I have stood on that exact same stage and thought the exact same thoughts as you are giving voice to now (I definitely thought them on the day I got the 50% on that calculus test). And I wasn’t under nearly the standardized scrutiny that you are today.
Ryan, and all the other students at Frontier Central High School, please continue to raise your beautiful, brilliant voices up and stand strong together as we join in the chorus to support you. Your voices are the ones we need to hear from most.
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