Tuesday, September 13, 2011
One Size Doesn't Fit All
One size definitely does not fit all in any realm of our lives as far as I can see. As you may know, I have just started a new year with Student Link, our island alternative high school, which has a total of 18 wonderful students. I have been talking about this (as it is a big part of my life for a variety of reasons) and I have run into several people who do not believe that Student Link should exist at all especially in these economic times. After all the regular classroom was good enough for them so it should be good enough for everyone.
I have been thinking hard about this and as I was dishing out cat food this morning (where one size definitely does not fit all!), I realized that in other times and maybe even now in other places, these students would have been forced into the standard box and if they rebelled they could face military schools, juvenile homes, etc. just because their minds and their bodies do not conform to what society considers "normal," since they learn in different ways.
I grew up in a very authoritarian household and I have also always been a timid soul who has avoided conflict on any level, avoiding it to the point of losing my true identity. I knew what my father's wrath felt like and I saw it meted out to my younger sister (who was the "no" to my "yes") often enough that I learned early on that I was not acceptable and that my only choice was to force myself into the narrow boxes provided by my family and society at large.
It wasn't until I was in my 50's that I even tried to find the real me. But even then, the idea, so deeply rooted in my psyche, that who I am is someone terribly flawed on every level, governed my quest for the real me. I was determined to find myself, but equally convinced that that self must be horrible. But I was very tired of pretending to be someone I wasn't. And so at long last I started rebelling, but never with any idea of self-acceptance or that I was ok just the way I am. It took me into my 60's to start arriving at that conclusion and even now (as I wrote on my Tanka Diary one day about my cat food dilemmas) my first reaction to disagreement or conflict is that I have goofed again or it is my fault or whatever.
So when I see a program like Student Link which is aimed at helping those of us who are not in the mainstream, those who march to a very different drummer, I am proud to be a part of that. I do not think the answer is forcing the student to march to the same beat as everyone else, but rather to allow the student, all students in fact, to find their own beat, to march on a path that makes sense for them.
We all need to know that we are ok just as we are and that differences should be celebrated. I so admire the students I work with who are able at such a young age (well, of course they don't think they are so young!) to figure out that they need something else. And the program at Student Link is actually much harder than the mainstream classroom, requiring more discipline and self-motivation from the students. They have to plan their curriculum, with guidance, but still they have to do it. They meet with the Student Link teacher 45 min. a week. The rest of their 25+ hours of school work/week must be done on their own. Some have family support, but many come from less than functional families. Some need to hold down jobs just to keep the family going. Some have learning differences which they have to work around. And they are doing that, each and every one of them. I watch these young people blossom in the independent atmosphere. I watch them make life changing decisions and learn what being a self-sufficient adult in our culture means. I watch them follow their dreams and make their lives around things they are passionate about.
So when I hear the nay-sayers complaining, I gently smile and try to help them see that one size doesn't fit all. Some very gentle souls are lost and broken by the structured approach which does not listen to the individual or allow for individual differences. The school system here on Vashon thankfully recognizes that and that is why they have in their wisdom provided for Student Link. And as I watch these students find their way and grow into the adults they were meant to be, the wounded soul in me heals a bit more. May each of us be allowed the freedom to find our true selves and blossom into who we are meant to be.