(In order to understand why I am writing this letter to Ysabelle, you need to read Paul Bogush’s post over at Medium. It’s a powerful reminder of how students react to the stifling nature of our educational system by pushing at the boundaries of rules.)
“Despite Thomas Jefferson’s famous “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing,” in America, and in public schools, any rebellion now and then is a little rebellion too much. People who do rebel are seen as outsiders, as weirdos, as the crazy ones. Most kids who rebel are seen by teachers as being kids who do not have the qualities to be successful, yet they possess the very qualities that we would include when we list the attributes of heroes, role models, and leaders.” — Paul Bogush, Legacy at Medium
So, I found myself writing to this student that Paul featured in his post. This letter to Ysabelle goes like this:
This morning, I read Mr. Bogush’s piece in Medium about your thought-provoking project to hang signs encouraging creativity and independent thought throughout the hallways of your school. I appreciated that you took the time to wrote a letter to Mr. Bogush about the rationale for what you did and why. I want you to know that I, a teacher too, applaud you, and so much of what Mr. Bogush writes in his piece, inspired by your act, is what I believe in, too.
Ysabelle, your response seemed reasoned, passionate and a powerful call to action for your fellow students. Your “hacking the hallway”, which is how I think of what you did, sent forth a strong message that no one is in this world is alone but that doesn’t mean we have to think and act like everyone else, either. The world changes for the better not because we shun those who think different and have a tilted lens on things, but because we embrace the crazy ideas that have the potential to become innovative ones.
I know enough about Mr. Bogush to know that he admires what you did, and so do I. Although I spend the school year with my sixth graders working to engage them as independent thinkers, so many students have already fallen into the comfortable role of following rules so closely they don’t know where to begin when given a task with no directions or specific outcomes. This is not their fault. It’s society’s fault. It’s us as parents who micromanage their days, and it is us as teachers who have clear expectations that narrow the possibilities of learning, and it is the world at large that casts a sneer at anyone with an original thought that falls outside of expectations … until that thought becomes something that alters the way we engage with the world (prime evidence: the admiration crowd surrounding the myth of Steve Jobs).
Your project reminded me of a Hackathon that I joined during a convention of teachers in Las Vegas a few years ago. Like you, we decided to “hack the hallways” by posting sticky notes on the artwork that was hanging throughout the convention center. Yes, even teachers like to be creative and break the rules. The task was to spark thinking in our fellow teachers in the convention, and to use the public artwork on the walls as a space for art. It was a blast, and even more importantly, there were a lot of teachers who asked what we were doing and who stopped to read our satirical notes. We hope we made a difference, just as you do. The convention center staff was not pleased, however, and some followed a few minutes behind us, ripping down our hacked signs as if we had used Sharpies and not sticky notes. It didn’t matter. The point had been made. Pictures had been snapped of the hacked art and the hacked notes were shared in online spaces, becoming a viral part of the conference. Our mark had been left behind.
The same goes for you, Ysabelle. Sure, your signs were probably taken down at some point. But the signs were only temporary outposts to your thinking, and yes, you have “accomplished more than just helping a few people…I have hopefully made every reader of this article’s day better,” as you write in your letter to Mr. Bogush. You did with me, Ysabelle.
If you ever find yourself in Western Massachusetts, Ysabelle, I invite you to come hack my classroom. Hang posters up all over the place. Spark my students to think creatively and independently. Take what you’ve done there at your school and pay it forward. In some ways, your poster brigade is a small act with small ripples. But ripples can become waves, and waves can change the world.
Thank you, and thank you to Mr. Bogush for sharing your story.
Sixth Grade Teacher
Peace (in the response),