Serve students first, the system second. Do not abuse the impressionability of youth, the malleability of their spirits. Don’t allow for education to be solely about the academics, the tests, the stoic letters scrawled in red ink, but nurture the individuality, intelligence, open-mindedness, and empathy in all young people, even if it can’t be proven on paper under the gun of a stop watch, even if it doesn’t add up to a numerical score.
Educate them in-depth about the diversity of this world and the people who live it. Iron out the ignorance, in hopes that they will carry the torch of enlightenment to future generations, and even light the darkness in the ones before them. Let them be outraged by the injustices of the system and in the world around them, instead of conditioning, desensitizing, and promoting passive acceptance. Do not hold them back, do not bridle their passion, their uncompromising optimism, but encourage it; it will take them farther than any test score.
Do not keep it all within four walls, heads bent to a desk over textbooks. Let them be actively involved, from their communities to world issues. Don’t just take them to musuems, let them witness firsthand the fruits of empathetic, passionate people who come together for a good cause. Allow them to realize their privileges, their power, and their potential. Teach them the responsibility they have to themselves and their fellow human beings. After all, what good is a world of developed brains, but undeveloped hearts? What good are hands that can hold a pencil, but do not reach out to hold the hand of another, to lift the oppressed, the impoverished, the hurting?
Teach them to lose gracefully. Every human being will face defeat in their life, don’t lie and tell them they won’t. Teach them that a real winner isn’t necessarily the one who holds a blue ribbon or a trophy, but the one who never gives up, who knows how to pull themselves up by the boot straps, and get back on that horse, who knows how to sincerely congratulate someone who’s rightfully outperformed them, and that a healthy sense of competition is an opportunity to push themselves to new heights.
Do not underestimate the transformative power of music and the arts, or allow for these programs to be hastily cut in budget crunches, with the false perception that they are less imperative than academics. For some young people, it will not only change their attitude towards school, but their attitude towards themselves, and towards life.
Do not just let physical education for female students be about sports like volleyball and field hockey, teach them self-defense, let them be empowered through their own sweat and skills. Arm them with the ability to defend themselves against any man who lays an unwanted hand on them. Use sex-education not just an opportunity to teach anatomy and safe sex, but the unmistakeable difference between consensual sex and rape. Teach young men to respect girls and women, and not to view them through objectifying lenses. Teach women to respect their own bodies, to see their worth beyond their sexuality, to know that fabric of rape culture is full of holes, of lies we’re fed to excuse wrongdoers.
Most importantly, let a good and free education be the right of all people everywhere, regardless of age, race, gender, location, or class. Do not let it be about money, corruption, control, or political purposes, but about the people, the individual beings and light of humanity.
Photos by Steve McCurry