According to 2013 census data, 86% of Americans have a high school diploma, whereas only 29% of Americans have a college degree. Wow! That’s a 57% difference! In poor communities of color, the numbers are even more staggering. Although 75% may graduate high school in some of the higher performing districts, only 1 in ten will graduate from college. Obviously, what we’re doing for kids has not been working at all.

Why aren’t the majority of students finishing college after graduating from high school? There are obviously many reasons. Some go into the military. Others start their own business. Others, make poor lifestyle choices and end up pregnant or in jail. Some just try to get the best job they can with benefits, and the chance to earn some form of a living wage.

There is also the issue of academic performance. Because of the perceived “rigor gap” between high school and college, students enter college unprepared and either fail out or drop out. Enter the common core standards. Designed to increase K-12 rigor so more students graduate high school “prepared” for college. Which, in theory, will make them more likely to finish college. The common core should create a seamless cognitive transition into higher education. We’ll know if this theory works in another 15 years or so.

Considering all of the above, I think we should also examine some very important questions as they relate to students. What is the purpose of school? How do students perceive school? How do students perceive themselves within the context of school? In my experience, these questions are rarely if ever explored by students. Therefore, upon high school graduation, most students want to get as far away from school as possible. They are not attuned with the life-long learner within. Consider this: According to multiple studies, students become disengaged from school beginning as early as the 4th grade. After 4th grade, many students are doing school more because they have to than because they want to.

We must have a paradigm shift in education. Our mindset and schools must be 100% student centered. School must become a true place for self-actualization. We have been “top down” for far too long. America’s authoritarian, assembly line mentality has destroyed the passion in far too many of our young people. They have survived school. We need them to thrive in school.

There is a powerful grassroots movement happening in education across the nation. Teachers are saying no to testing and no to the common core standards. Teachers are saying no to corporate control and no to being obsessed with data. Teachers are also saying no to teacher evaluations connected to a flawed standardized testing system.

Teachers aren’t saying no to these things because they don’t believe in assessment, data, or accountability. Teachers are saying no because they know that students have been left out of the so- called Ed reform conversation. Instead, children are being programmed by a system outside of their environment to do the bidding of that system. In many ways, “the matrix has us all.” Teachers are freedom fighters, fighting to free our minds.

Teachers are saying no because learning begins and ends with the student at the center — not with the state Ed department or Wall Street profiteers.

One test, measuring one side of the brain, or only two of Howard Gardener’s eight intelligences, sells short the infinite abilities of children and the overall potentials of our society.

The student-centered approach begins at birth. First by supporting “at risk” families to ensure a language and executive function gap doesn’t occur with children between birth and age 5. Doctors, teachers, and children’s services must work collaboratively and strategically to meet the needs of families. Further, nursery school must be available for all children. Head start and nursery programs help to build essential character and language skills so that students enter school ready to learn. Also, a holistic experiential approach should be implemented beginning in early childhood. This gives students the chance to explore their environments and engage in hands on learning. Studies show that hands on activities make learning stick. All of the above, in addition to foundational numeracy, and inquiry skills, will instill confidence in our children and an understanding that school is a place of warm engagement and growth.

Through the primary grades and into high school, we hone our practices to make them more individualized as we continue to help students access their genius. We should continue to expose our students to the multiple intelligences with pedagogy rooted in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Our curricula must strike a balance between relationship and authority, coaching and teaching, and real world application with abstract understanding. The student-centered approach will instill a love of life and learning into our students, which will increase college enrollment and graduation. Students will see the purpose. Students will feel their genius.
Redesigning our school system into a student-centered model will bring out the innate brilliance of every child. Our world, filled with war, poverty, and mental illness, needs this. As opposed to living without a plan, floating through life feeling disempowered, our students will become goal setters, leaders, and design thinkers. For far too long school has been done to students instead of with students. With a new mindset, our kids will create objects beyond our wildest imaginations. More standardized testing does not get this done. Neither does using V.A.M. to evaluate teachers, or implementing developmentally inappropriate standards to 5 year olds. It’s like our system still functions to identify the “have nots,” so they can be inserted as cogs, living simply to die.

We must let empathy be our guide. Meet students where they are and take them beyond their imaginations. Students will then understand and feel that school is a pathway to self-actualization, not a pathway toward subordination. With this newfound understanding and empowerment, college graduation rates will exponentially increase, and our students will change the world!



4 thoughts on “Self-Actualization

  1. This is excellent and the direction we must take our profession if we ever hope to serve ALL children. This is how we bridge the achievement gap – by making everything we do in our schools student centered. #2015YearoftheStudent


  2. Jamaal, I like your point here “We must have a paradigm shift in education. Our mindset and schools must be 100% student centered.” I could not agree more. The education system, as it stands, does a lacking job when it comes to assisting students to reach their fullest potential. Instead, it is about shoving decided-upon topics of learning down students’ throats and very rarely tailoring their teaching styles to the individual.

    Schools must become student centered, what a great point and I am in total concurrence with that.

    Great article and great points. We should connect! Come check me out by searching “Toronto life coach ” on Google. Keep up the inspiring work!


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