When Your Students Give You Hope for Humanity

Or at least for feminism. The other day a bunch of my students were singing Let It Go.” “Why is everyone so into Frozen?” I asked (I haven’t seen it).

Because Ms. A,” Ayla said. “It’s about a girl who doesn’t have to get rescued by a guy!” I guess there is some controversy over whether or not Frozen is actually feminist, but the fact that Ayla perceived the lack of a damsel in distress as a great thing about the movie made me so happy. I’ve definitely been in college classes where grown men and women didn’t understand why a need even exists for movies about women with agency.

Another thing: I’ve been running a Journalism club this semester, and my students have been working on a newsletter with coverage of school shows and after-school activities. One seventh-grader wrote an opinion piece on why uniforms should be abolished. When I came across my boss today, who had been looking over the newsletter, she asked me if we could get anyone to write an opposing piece on why uniforms are good. I was doubtful; I had talked to students in my club about this, but none of them were in support of uniforms and I didn’t want to force them to write in defense of something they didn’t agree with just to appease my superiors. The point of Journalism club is to highlight the importance of students’ opinions, after all, not just adults’ opinions.

I had to check off attendance for a sixth-grade class, so I settled in at the lunch table with the attendance list on my right and the newsletter on my left. As I looked it over and thought about what I could do for the pro-uniform piece, a bunch of my students flung their backpacks down next to me and started giggling and jumping around and doing sixth-grade things. Usually I would have told them to sit down and chill out, but they had spent the day on state tests and I figured they needed to let loose during after-school.

“Ms. A, what you are looking at?” Ayla asked.

I handed her the newsletter and explained the dilemma. “Who do you think would want to write about the other side of this issue?” I asked.

“Oh!” Ayla started rummaging through her backpack. “I can do it. I mean, I wish we didn’t have uniforms, but I can see why we do.”

Other girls started to chime in. “They make school safer!” Leah exclaimed.

“We can express ourselves other ways,” Anna said as she braided another student’s hair.

Before I knew it, the girls were brainstorming the merits of uniforms while Ayla feverishly transcribed their opinions. By the end of the half-hour lunch period, they had come up with a three-paragraph essay, fit for publication, in defense of uniforms. I was dumbstruck; I had thought that they would be physically hyper and mentally fried after a day of ELA tests, but the entire class was eager to create a sound argument—topic sentences, supporting facts and all—for absolutely no grade, extra credit or test score. At least once a day, when they do something particularly sweet or awesome, I both wish they would stay exactly the same age forever, and wish I could flash-forward ten years and see what kind of amazing things they are achieving.

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