I hear frequently that “kids are not like they used to be.” I am confident the same sentiment was stated 50 years ago and longer.
When I was a child on our family farm, cable television did not exist. We physically got out of our chairs and walked across the room to change the TV station to one of the other three available channels. VCRs did not exist.
We waited until the next day to read the morning paper and learn whether our team won or lost. Our telephone was wired to the wall, had a rotary dial and was shared with the family down the road through a “party line.”
We enjoyed our music on singles, albums and eight tracks. “The Brady Bunch” was original and the TV version of “Batman” was more comedy than action-oriented suspense. Computers were the size of entire rooms.
And we did not expect schools to standardize our kids by forcing them to prove themselves on government-mandated tests. Yes, today is different, so to think that our children would be exactly the same is unrealistic.
The events of the day also affect the dynamics of how we develop. Vietnam, the Six-Day War, Watergate, Apollo 13, lines at the gas station, a recession with double-digit inflation and 20 percent interest rates, the Cold War, the Iranian hostage crisis, boycotts of the Olympics and the development of the Rust Belt influenced us. And although the events of the day are still vivid for many of us, many in our current senior class had not yet celebrated their first birthday on Sept. 11, 2001.
Today's students are influenced, for better or worse, by extreme political divide, social media, and images of shootings at schools, churches, theaters, night clubs, cafes, and airports, along with other acts of terrorism. They have concerns about a trade war and other potential global conflicts. They have access to smartphones and hundreds of TV stations. They use the internet to stream their favorite TV programs, music and movies.
And our current senior class will be the seventh in Indiana whose entire educational career – from kindergarten through graduation – was dictated by a system of high-stakes, government-mandated standardized testing – a testing system that requires each student to regurgitate standardized answers on standardized tests. A system that promotes and encourages all students to be standard.
However, at their core, our students are far from standard. They are uniquely talented.
Each year, I am blessed to witness our students demonstrate talents and make contributions in our community that cannot be represented by a standardized test score. I witness them support one another, engage in community service activities, raise money to eradicate cancer (among other causes) and donate time to make our schools and community better.
I watch them achieve excellence while demonstrating multiple talents, not just the ones measured on standardized tests.
I watch them attain personal bests – time after time.
I witness them treating people right and doing the right thing.
I watch them fully embrace others through a number of activities, such as Champions Together, not out of sympathy or feeling sorry for them, but out of true caring for other people with challenges different from their own.
No, our students are not standard. They are uniquely talented. Some are leaders. Some are artistic. Some sing well. Some dance well. Some sing and dance amazingly well. Some play an instrument at a level that causes us to get lost in the moment.
Some are gifted welders. Some will fix our cars, our electrical circuits, or our heating and cooling ventilation systems. Some will start a new business providing a new service we did not know we could not live without. Some will serve our community as law enforcement officials, firefighters, educators, health care professionals, or soldiers and officers in our military. Some will produce sources of food. Some will design new clothing fashions, create new recipes, construct living spaces that help us find relief from the exhaustion and busyness of everyday life. Some will invent the next new something that will change our lives forever. Some find math to be easy. Some have curiously scientific minds. Some have a unique way with words.
Standard they are not. Each will contribute. Each will find and make their own way.
As we begin a new school year, I am reminded that our students are capable of defining a new path. They are ready to embrace and define a future we cannot yet envision. They are interested in using what they learn to find solutions – solutions that extend beyond the standardized answers determined by writers of standardized tests who understand what already exists. Instead, they dream about and are making plans for what we can become.
Our students rake leaves and shovel snow for neighbors. They assist elderly residents. They volunteer at shelters, hospitals and camps serving those with greater needs.
They also come to school each day and do their best to learn and follow the lead of their teachers. They build their skills and knowledge base while developing their unique talents.
These examples represent a small fraction of what our students accomplish. These actions are in addition to the small acts of kindness and appreciation that I witness from them each and every day.
Please do not think that just because “kids aren't the way they used to be,” they fail to learn how to treat others properly and do the right thing. They learn and develop understandings that cannot be measured by any standardized test. They learn that using our knowledge, skills and talents in an effort to make a positive difference in our world and in the lives of others is what really matters.
The actions of our students renew our belief in the abilities of children. They restore our hope for our future. They reaffirm the value of supporting and investing in the development of their talents and the pursuit of their dreams. In spite of what some state and federal policymakers and elected officials would like us to believe, our educators are committed to developing the unique talents of each student, and our students respond with actions that remind us that our best days are still ahead of us.
Yes, “kids aren't the way they used to be,” and they are not standard. They are uniquely talented.
We support their efforts to be non-standard. We are proud of the unique achievements earned by our students. We encourage and invite state and federal policymakers and elected officials to join us in conversations about how we can create an environment that supports and values the development of each student's unique talents – not just the ones related to taking standardized tests.
In the meantime, good luck and good fortune to each of our students as they navigate another school year. We remain committed to developing their talents while nurturing their creativity so they can contribute to our community and pursue a life's journey focused on making the world a better place. A journey that will not be standard. A journey that will be uniquely their own.
Chris Himsel is superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools.