It’s my final semester here at JMU and as I approach the end of this very long and tiring journey, I am flooded with a mix of emotions. While I feel grateful for the opportunities and support that aided in my growth along the way, I also feel wildly disappointed… even a little mad. I know there are people who the standard systems and social conventions work for (most of the time); however, the more honest and vulnerable conversations I have, the more it seems clear that ‘the way things are’ is not comfortable for a lot of us.
When you must sacrifice your health and self-care for good grades, something is wrong.
When you must prioritize grades / task completion over truly learning and growing, something is wrong.
When the social pressure of ‘staying on track’ means neglecting critical needs, SOMEHING IS WRONG.
I was diagnosed with endometriosis last week, something I have been living with all my life. Endometriosis is when the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus develops in places where it is not supposed to. When people who get their period are in the portion of the cycle where they are bleeding, they are shedding the normal endometrium tissue that builds up each month and lines the inside of the uterus. The abnormal tissue of endometriosis also builds up each month, but unlike the normal endometrium tissue, it has no way to exit the body.
As early as the age of 13, I was being pulled from school almost every month due to the severity of my symptoms. My mom would pick me up and I would promptly throw up from the pain I was experiencing, the pain that the nurse thought I was lying about. I used to have to regularly take ‘mental health days’ just to stay afloat and stay caught up with the school work I would miss when I wasn’t doing well. Fast forward 11 years, it’s October 2021, and I am in the same boat. Can you begin to see where my disappointment is coming from?
Why did it take me until now to get this diagnosis? Why wasn’t my pain and discomfort—my humanness for god’s sake!— taken seriously?! Furthermore, when will our education system more adequately cater to the diverse needs of students?
Of course I can bash on the American Healthcare system for its sexism etcetera, however I am madder at the systems of education in which I was told to shut up and sit down. It was here that I was discouraged to even acknowledge my pain let alone seek help in addressing it. It was here that I was taught to feel ashamed of my body, my human conditions, my sexuality, my unique expression and perspective—hide anything that doesn’t fit the norm. Ayy, can I get a ‘repress for success’?
An international study in 2019 showed that America had been relatively stagnant in reading and writing since the 2000s. The New York Times asked students across America to provide their suggestions for improving education in America. Some of the common suggestions included putting less pressure on students, better preparation for real life, more engaging lessons, refined use of technology, and better support and compensation for teachers. The general vibe is that today’s expectations of students (and teachers!) are unrealistic. They’re unrealistic because they fail to account for reality with the assumption that supporting infrastructure is doing that..
Some alternatives to the ‘norm’ have been adopted in America. The Montessori approach comes from Italy, and it is based around observing each child’s behavior and encouraging autonomous exploration/ experimentation. One of my best friends works as a teacher at a Montessori school and has reflected to me that her experience implementing the approach has helped transform her relationship with her ‘child self’ ♥. Another alternative approach that she introduced me to is called Forest School. Both approaches promote self-directed learning and learning by doing, but the Forest School model also incorporates a sort of power sharing dynamic between teacher and student so that students feel safer to take chances and make mistakes.