It was food for thought, as I drive past a juvenile detention centre, and the mammoth new correctional facility being built near my own community on my way home every day. Both of these institutions (not just in my community) house thousands who have not made good choices. Many, perhaps, because they simply could not envision a different sort of future.
Nogruera’s quote struck me again as my student teacher and I embarked on a “Point of View” writing lesson recently, where we asked students this question:
“Would you rather have a long summer,
or one week off each month all year?”
I was absolutely flabbergasted by how many of my students were not simply able to conceive of the latter scenario. Even as my ever-industrious student teacher rushed to copy and post a yearlong calendar on the board, where she highlighted both options month by month, both in a different colour, so that
The broader implications of the difficulty of this exercise struck me: If our students affected by poverty have difficulty imagining a future different from (better than) their current one, how can they develop aspirations for the future?
Further, if Nogruera’s research findings are accurate, it is imperative that we teachers working with such students focus monumental amounts of energy to open their minds to such possibilities. Failing to do so will result in certain collapse for many of our neediest students. And the implications for those who “succeed” are obvious; the needs of society are carried on the backs of taxpayers. Anyone who does well for herself is not exempt from supporting (through the building and maintaining of prisons, or funding the welfare system or otherwise) those who don’t!
My Grade Three colleague and I have already embarked on a journey to embed this new learning: As we struggle with envisioning our own different future reality, where our year-long curriculum map is both student-driven and encompassing of the whole curriculum (as opposed to teacher driven, and arranged in segregated units like “Plants”, “Urban and Rural Communities”, and so on), we are trying to find starting points that are engaging to the particular students in our care. These starting points are intended to uncover big ideas, like “Learning the stories of others can help us shape our own”, or “we are responsible towards our community and the environment in which we live”.
With engaging questions and rich tasks, we hope our students will see the future and their part in it, so that they can both develop future aspirations for themselves, and make good choices that will impact positively on themselves and those around them.
Future aspirations... We’ve got them, and are choosing to support our students in getting them, too!