Updated: Jul 20, 2021
My daughter, Emma, will spend hours on the beach collecting “treasures” - shells, seaglass, stones, even discarded items that others have left behind. Some of Emma’s treasures are beautiful by anyone’s standards - a perfectly formed conch shell, a beautifully round pebble rubbed smooth by the sea, or a piece of polished glass that catches the sun just right. Other items in Emma’s collection -- shards of broken shells or well-worn coins -- are not conventionally pretty. Yet some of Emma’s most exciting finds would not be considered “treasures” by most people’s standards. Bits of broken toys, sticks, and dried seaweed would surely be overlooked, or even, discarded by most. Not Emma. She finds beauty in everything.
This got me to thinking...what if we approached our task as educators with this same child-like wonder? What if instead of seeing problems, we saw possibilities? If instead of damage, we saw beauty?
The field of education is one that has long prioritized sameness and conformity. Children who do not fit the mold because they look, behave, or learn differently have historically been excluded from schooling. While we might not be quite so blatant in our approach today, the outcome remains the same - a group of children severely underserved.
Today, these “different” students are referred for evaluations to determine, down to the standard deviation, what is “wrong” with them. Shortly thereafter, their teachers develop twenty-page documents detailing everything they cannot do along with a plan to “fix” the deficits. While well-intentioned, too often these plans offer little in the way of improving skills, and in some cases, they disadvantage students even more.
It is time for a change. We must view our students with fresh eyes that see their gifts instead of deficits. Because all of our students are treasures.
Let’s return to Emma. In preparation for writing this piece, I asked her, “What are you looking for when you go on your treasure hunts?” She looked at me quizzically. I clarified, “What are you hoping to find?” Emma responded plainly, “I’m not hoping to find anything. I’m happy with all my treasures.”
Each piece in Emma’s menagerie is cherished. There is no single definition of beauty because every component is a treasure in its own right.
Why then, as adults, do we view difference as a problem instead of a treasure?
All of our students have gifts. They all have value. And the talents and attributes of our children would become much more apparent if we stopped trying to turn clamshells into conches.
Beauty is everywhere. We just have to look for it.