Youth and ultimately, society will realize its full expression of success when the emphasis on education becomes relationally focused, instead of transactionally focused. This will occur by the actualization of what bell hooks calls enlightened education. Whereby educators bring their enlightened (less ignorant) selves in process of ever greater improvement to their work with producing self-actualized scholars. This success is achieved by engaging with education in three primary subjects that are not actively present in education today: financial literacy, mindfulness/ executive functioning/restorative practices and holistic health education.
Definitions and motivators of success within our communities are as varied as the people who make up our collective success. As a child, I was influenced to believe that unless I was going to become a doctor or something that requires highly specific technical skills, then higher education was not necessary. As many students do after high school, I took a break. This practice of gap year would be helpful for more students to clarify who they are and what they care about, before making a life and finance altering commitment such as higher education. Through my gap year, I was able to form relationships with strong mentors who had an experience of personal growth and leadership development that helped forge my path.
Students should be leaving free-public education fully equipt with the skills needed to manage and grow their lives according to their self defined goals. For schools to accomplish this:
- Educators must be the primary designers of curriculum and standards. Administrators are too distant from the day-to-day needs and interests of students. By having administrative leadership dictating success metrics, the politics involved with pacifying the influence of industry and state standards severely inhibits the creative liberation of our youth.
- Youth need to understand and have enacted methods of achieving livelihood and financial literacy before graduating from the public school system. Why would we expect students to make any other choice for their financial security besides higher education, unless we teach them other methods? This component of education is severely lacking and robs students of genuine agency and choice in their life planning.
- Holistic health including family planning and integrative wellness techniques must be taught to equip students with adequate measures to ensure their success in a most basic sense; health is the greatest wealth. Our youth are currently suffering from unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, cognitive dissonance and violence. We must arm our youth with methods of gaining adequate mental, physical, and emotional resilience that allows them the clarity of purpose and motivation to fulfill their goals of success.
- The federal, state and local governments must fund adequate staffing and amenities for service based learning in schools. Public schools need to be incentivized to have smaller student-to-teacher ratios, so that educators can give ample attention to student needs for success to be achieved. Students need mentorship and leadership modeled through service-based curriculum, affirmation of contributions. Students need to be listened to, cared for, seen and followed up with on a much more frequent basis than current school staffing allows. This severely impairs students’ access to meaningful and lasting success.
What would a school that trusted the inherent potential and genius within each student and sought to cultivate students’ holistic success look like? Our young people need and benefit from models of success that reassure them that listening to their own internal guidance system in relationship with those that are around them is success in itself. We are doing a disservice to our students by putting off success to a future date where only a few are lucky enough to have a dream come true. We must teach our students, and can only do so to the level of our own healed minds, bodies, and spirits. We must teach our students that their existence in and of itself is success, and to move confidently forward with an inner-knowing that will guide them to places that we cannot imagine. As renowned philosopher and poet Kahlil Ginbran says,
“Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself
They come through you but not from you
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you
You may give them your love but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts
You may house their bodies but not their souls
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams
Erica Lee is a restorative justice practice consultant. With an embodiment, business and permaculture lens, Erica brings these ideas to life through her education models. She partners with non-profit, school and business teams in long term, immersive learning environments. Together, they create organizational cultures with enhanced relationship dynamics, policies and practices to increase efficiency, wellness, collaboration and innovation in the workplace.