Honoring the Individual

Olivia Stitely, Staff Writer

As ETHS ignores human qualities in students, space for individuality and encouragement towards uniqueness disappear

Students spend around 35 hours per week in a classroom setting. Inevitably, ETHS molds our minds and largely dictates our well-being. That being said, is school truly honoring each student’s individuality and humanity to the extent needed? I and many others in the space — students and staff — understand that the answer to this is no.

Rigidity in curriculum and school system

Due dates are something students are familiar with, but what are the effects on a student when they are expected to understand a concept or finish working on a complex assignment?

“At the end of the day, if something’s due and I didn’t get it turned in on time. I’d rather just have that be a late grade and understand it more, than just B.S it and turn it in,” senior Caelen Behm says.

I understand that yes, sometimes students do not complete work for less legitimate reasons like laziness, but should students be penalized for taking the time to fully understand content beyond a set due date? I find it impractical for teachers and school institutions at-large to define the time period in which students should master material.

When each student has a unique perspective and lived experience, complications present themselves when assignment-style expectations are blanketed for all of us as if our brains function the same way. If an academic task has a rubric that grades you on x, y and z, there is no room for creativity and individuality.

Some teachers, more than others, allow lenience with work when it comes to personal circumstances. With both deadlines and assignment expectations, English and AVID teacher Anita Bucio encourages creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking.

“I think rigidity, having students do a thing a certain way, that traditional practice has just got to go,” Bucio says. “It doesn’t work and it’s not connected to who our students want to be.”

When there are strict curriculum limitations, it can be difficult for teachers to allow time and space for the application of content to the students’ lived experiences. Classes become an impersonal setting of simply going through the motions without emotional or human connection to the content.

Unfortunately, at least for many of the classroom experiences I have had, curriculum is treated like it has no importance. I have gone through courses where even the teacher would disclose that the content they were teaching is “boring” or “irrelevant.”

Classes like English and history seem to have an easier time with relating material to identity and personal experiences over classes like math and science; it might be harder to bring lived experiences into the trigonometry unit rather than a personal narrative unit. But some teachers are working to break this barrier.

“It’s not as easy in a math class as it is in an English class because I’m not asking people to write personal essays,” math teacher Peter Decraene says. “But I’m asking people to do some very personal things in terms of solving problems. Problem solving can be a very personal thing.”

Prioritizing mental health over school work

Early sophomore year, following a summer of certain traumatic experiences, I was inevitably facing an emotionally challenging night. On nights when personal trauma surfaces, homework — for me, at least — seems irrelevant. Ergo, I wouldn’t do it that night. The next day, I approached one of my teachers to let her know I hadn’t been able to complete the homework for personal reasons; her reaction was disheartening. Instead of checking in on my mental health, she gave me a look to make apparent her annoyance. With a sigh, she told me next time to warn her in advance. Her tone made it clear that my failure to complete the assignment was a burden and that my asking for extra time was not appreciated. In this moment, she prioritized a minor homework assignment over my personal experiences; it felt dehumanizing.

On these days, I choose to numb my mind [when possible] so that I can continue to function and participate in the way that I am expected to. But why at school does it feels like there is no room for emotional error? Why are students –and faculty– being compelled to be academic robots?

That night during my sophomore year was not the first or last of its kind. It is crucial that students are accommodated when circumstances prevent them from prioritizing school work. It is repeated by teachers so often that we need to take care of our mental health, but this will be never be attainable until all teachers are understanding that personal care comes before school work.

Teacher student communication and relationships

It becomes common with student-teacher relationships to have a sense of formality that distances them. The notion that teachers are superior to their students has been continuously perpetuated. Paulo Freire’s banking model of education [1968] highlights this tendency of the superior vs inferior relationships teachers and students often have — which can make human interactions between us might seem unattainable.

“Until we kind of release that power dynamic in allowing students to bring their knowledge and their intellect into the space, we’re not tapping into anything more than a superficial understanding of things,” Bucio says.

Freire’s banking system of education is based on the traditional school model that students must be containers for teachers to put their knowledge in. It relies on the concept of teachers holding all of the knowledge, aka power, and students having none.

“That banking model actually leads to more dehumanization because it kind of invalidates the fact that you have agency as a human being with engaging in the material, and it creates like this singular relationship,” history teacher Corey Winchester says.

Defining success

A single definition of “success” has been historically fabricated and perpetuated by educational institutions. But this consensus of what success looks like is pushing students into the “role” society has prescribed for them.

Throughout many interviews with ETHS students and staff, the term “success” kept popping up. It has become transparent that at we are subconsciously being taught that success can only look one way: in the form of A’s, AP courses and Ivy Leagues. It made me wonder how our own definitions of success might be different if this singular definition had not been continuously perpetuated.

“I think success would allow people to live up to their truest potentials,” Winchester says. “I know that sounds a little cliché, but imagine a space where you really created opportunities for folks just to do their best work. And not do their best according to standards that we think are the best for them.”

“I feel like success is kind of contradictory, because I feel like I’m always told you’re ensured that if you’re working your hardest, it will be reflected in your grades. which is not true,” Behm says.

To me, success looks like confidence and pride in something you have created or accomplished. Realistically though, this definition of success that I have just presented is only relevant to me and my life. No one person, or institution, can dictate what success looks like for thousands of individuals.

Assimilation to whiteness

“All the time, black and brown students are being encouraged to assimilate to whiteness,” senior Alex Bolling says.

One way in which these students are being encouraged to assimilate is through the means of “correct” language.

“Words that we create in our community are cultural, and they mean something to our community. By correcting a student’s grammar or language in a classroom, it’s not only embarrassing, but it’s also disrespectful to our culture,” Bolling says.

With disencouragement and restrictions on individuality comes assimilation. It is important to think about the original intentions of the creating of ETHS and the current implications of these intentions.. ETHS, like many institutions, was made to nurture whiteness.

“I also think when we talk about these ideas, we need to think about how they really impact white students. It reinforces this idea that their lives and their existence is normal, and there’s nothing that needs to be questioned about it,” Winchester says. “And I actually feel like yeah, it has the biggest impact on black kids, but I also think that the impact on white children and white people is also something that we need to investigate. Because we don’t really talk about the flip, and that’s what allows white supremacy to persist as normative.”

Though it may seem obvious the issue at hand, identifying solutions is much more difficult; similar to many issues with murky origins and complex natures. With the identity summits and multiple staff members making noticeable efforts, ETHS has made immense progress towards the necessary humanizing of students. But the work is not over, not even close.