My wife and I will be completing our nineteenth year in education this spring. So, when a cool lesson is presented--or a gifted speaker inspires us--the topics oftentimes make their way to our dinner table. Last week my wife shared with me a story about a science project that I thought might resonate with the high school population.
Her kindergarten class planted four plants.
- Plant 1 was the CONTROL (It got everything...sun, soil, water and plant food)
- Plant 2 got NO WATER
- Plant 3 got NO SOIL
- Plant 4 got NO LIGHT
Once they took the NO LIGHT plant out of the box the students so how it had grown stronger and longer than the CONTROL plant that had everything it needed. The NO LIGHT plant had a better foundation for growth--or a better drive for growth.
This got me thinking about how much we provide our students. How we are often tempted to “clear a path for kids” as opposed to giving them what Malcolm Gladwell calls, “desirable difficulties.”
Do we set out for an “adversity-free” life for kids? Are we better serving students when the adversity teaches us a lesson that better prepares us for larger events later in life?
When students “earn” their way into an upper level course, or a spot on the team or a place on Student Government or National Honor Society there comes an intrinsic sense of worth and accomplishment. Similar to plant 4 these students have to stretch themselves a little further and work a little harder to get to where they want to go.
When I spoke to a student once about an English placement, she told me that her mom could have signed an override into honors, but the student wanted to “work her way” into the class as opposed to “signing her way” into the class. One mother told me, when her son lost eligibility for a sport due to a chemical health violation, “I want my kid to do three things, show remorse, repent and repeat.” One student embraced the challenge of earning her way into a class and one parent understood that discipline can teach. Someone once said, “it’s hard to learn a lesson from a mistake when there isn’t a consequence.”
As graduation looms for our seniors I think about the students who have earned so much of the accolades before them. The student on an IEP who overcame a learning difference. The kid who came to school actively willing to learn--doing what was asked of them minus the support of a parent, tutor or college coach. The child that was socially marginalized throughout high school but took counsel in one trusted adult or leaned on the acceptance of one common peer.
All of these students walk among us here at MHS. Some have managed their adversity with profound courage. Upon graduation most of our students will build on the identity they created here at MHS. Some will also be allowed to recreate that identity once they leave MHS.
Come Monday morning after the All Night Graduation Party I feel as though all our graduates become one again. They are all the same; on equal, yet uncertain, footing. The cliques are forced to change once the diplomas are in hand. All the unique differences that defined them melt away. One final time, as a class, they become whole again as they transition into the role of MHS alumni. Frightening thought for some--refreshing thought for others.
Amazing things can happen when “creative friction” exists or when a mountain appears before us--and we are forced to climb it knowing there is a reward on top. The goal maybe invisible at certain junctures, but crystal clear at other points. It has also been said that we “are much more sure-footed walking uphill than downhill.”
As our seniors shuffle out of MHS and into their newly found landing spaces we hope they bring with them an element of resiliency. We hope that they possess that special trait that allows them to assimilate to an unknown environment where conditions are not always optimal, but those conditions force them to reach further and grow stronger.
A picture of the NO LIGHT plant which grew longer and stronger than the CONTROL plant.