The trend to post photos of children, holding chalkboards scrawled with dates and grades levels, held below beaming faces topped by cropped haircuts is flooding your Facebook timeline (if you have friends or relatives who are parents). On Twitter, Simon Holland’s tongue in cheek jibe at this trend had me chuckling (see right).
Then, plagued by jet lag, a necessary evil after an extended summer of family visits, medical appointments, and book talks in the United States, I began ruminating.
What about all those children who don’t have porches to pose on? (Think refugees flooding Europe ahead of another cold winter)
What about those children whose parents are too busy keeping their jobs to take or post photos? (Think single moms and dads hovering at the poverty line).
My mind plummeted down darkening circles.
What about those children whose parents can’t post a collage comparing last year’s photo with this year’s?
Because children have died or the parents have died.
In the still of the night, as everyone else slept on, another thought crept forward.
What about the child who didn’t advance with their classmates to the next grade – a symbolic social death for both parent and child. What about the pressure of not being able to perform to someone else’s standard?
You guessed it: I was up late that particular night, wondering about those kids, and their parents, and feeling heavy in my heart as an educator. I was back in the university classroom even as my children were meeting new teachers in theirs.
The night wore on and as the two year old surprised me by snoring, I remained awake with my memories. All this talk of school reminded me of the type of child I had been in grade school. I wasn’t exceptionally bright, I wasn’t dull; my most interesting feature was my brownness in the sea of white that became our immigrant lives in Indian and the United States.
I was the kind of child who received N’s (needs improvement) and U’s (unsatisfactory) for conduct because I couldn’t stop talking to everyone in class (hard to imagine, I know, but try).
I was the kind of child whose teacher would shake her head ruefully and chuckle “She loves to talk!” when her parent asked “How’s she doing?” during parent/teacher night.
I was the kind of child who endured hours, days, weeks of berating for being below standard because of these N’s and U’s in conduct.
The kind of child who floated along on otherwise good behavior, excessive talking aside, on a raft of middling curiosity about learning.
The kind of child who didn’t find her intellectual spark until junior year of college, half way through, when the whole thing was almost over and, in the grand scheme of things, adulthood was waiting with gaping jaws, a few moments away, to gobble all my joy.
The kind of child who grew into a woman to whom an advisor, scanning the course file said, “You only need one more class to be a double major.”
This one remark, offhand, casual, an observation of fact as much as anything else, was all the encouragement I needed. This tiny observation, the extra three minutes she spent with me, changed the course of my life.
Now I am a professor of literature and writing, standing at the front of the room, biting my lip as the first year students file in, restraining myself from asking what high school they attended.
Because I don’t want to know. I don’t want the associations or preconceptions that come with this or that institution.
I want to deal with the person in front of me. I will give them whatever I have, now, as an adult. It will be their choice whether or not they take it.
And I hope that’s what all the children in my sons’ classrooms are getting.
This is my letter to all the children out there who are not on track in big ways and small ways.
Even if you don’t advance along with your age group, you still matter.
Even if you have challenges adjusting socially, you’re still okay.
Even if you can’t do everything everyone else can, you may still one day.
You still have something to offer the world, though none of us may yet know what it is.
And my prayer is that you will be surrounded by people who recognize and encourage your unique spark.
Because of course you aren’t reading this. They are.