I can’t stress enough how important it is to encourage student voice. When students are allowed to speak and to write their truth, they begin the process of introspection, inquiry and critical thinking. While this process may be rudimentary at first, and the words may seem to be reactive rather than reflective, it is crucial that the words come before real reflection can begin. Below is an essay by one of my former high school students, a young man with dreams of being an artist, torn by the need to maintain street cred, survive in the neighborhood, struggle with lack of finances, and still pursue his art. His words, while they may seem on the surface to be juvenile rantings about life being unfair, when examined more closely, show a deep commitment to his art, a will to survive and succeed, and a rage born of frustration and lack of real guidance. By fostering student voice, we create an opportunity as teachers to understand, to intervene and to guide our students as they go forward.
Just the Beginning
My dream for the future is that someone can help me show my life, my expression, through art. I would like to be an artist. My skill is in play now but I want to go to the Academy of Art in San Francisco. First I need to graduate from high school. I don’t know how to make my way out there. Life is full of obstacles and I am just a Mexican that lives in a messed up town with the worst people in it. I know I’m with the wrong people, and if they say I can make it, that doesn’t mean I can. The only way I can come up with them is if I start making my money the way I used to make it. But I don’t want to do that anymore, not unless I really have to. In this freakin’ town we cannot even get a waiver to go to college. I was rejected once all ready and that was just because I didn’t have the hundred dollar application fee. What would it take to actually go there or even spend one day there? Imagine that!
In this life we have to learn how make it on our own. Maybe teachers will help a little, but they don’t know what we go through all day just to find out that we can’t go to a high quality school. That still isn’t going to stop me. I do my art now when I want, at the time I want. People say that we can do a lot around here to display my art and attract the eyes of the world. But that’s just an American dream. People like me know how to learn off people’s mistakes. My cousin helped me see that. He told me to see how the world works before I play it. He’s an art teacher. He had a tough time getting to where he is. His life was similar to mine. He also did drugs. For people like us it’s very hard to get somewhere. My cousin had a hard time and so will I, but I might get farther than him. This is just the beginning.
Bathina (2007) Dreams are for Others: Voices of the Children Left Behind.