100% of PDS high school students agreed with all of these statements on the HSSSE :
I feel safe in this school
I am treated fairly in this school
There is at least one adult in this school who cares about me
I feel supported by the teachers in this school
Adults in this school want me to succeed
Teachers try to engage me in classroom discussion
With those things so solidly in place it is much easier to expect all student to do their best.
There’s a haunting and melancholy song that plays at the open and close of Race to Nowhere. It’s from a group aptly named “The Weepies” and it opens with these words:
“Nobody Knows Me At All”
When I was a child everybody smiled, nobody knows me at all
Very late at night and in the morning light, nobody knows me at all
Now I got lots of friends, yes, but then again, nobody knows me at all
To be accepted for who you are, known and valued should be the essential ingredient and basic premise of school. Being fearful in school, or in constant anxiety of being held less worthy because of who you are, your differences or perceived difference, takes an enormous toll on learning capacity.
The energy it takes to fit in and stay under the radar drains the children of intellectual and emotional energy and robs them of their rights. So establishing a safe haven for intellectual risk taking needs to be a top priority. Climate and context matter. We can only expect children to expand their capacity when conditions make it possible.
With these thoughts in mind, and the impact of the film again fresh in my mind, I returned to those HSSSE results. Of the three dimensions it is the third – the Emotional Engagement – where the PDS results are the most outstanding.
Creating that culture of kindness and acceptance is a conscious act and the faculty of the high school – and indeed the whole school – are to be congratulated. This is vital bedrock of our mission that demands “mutual respect’.
There are almost 40 questions of the survey designed to elicit information about the level of emotional engagement. They range from feeling safe in school to being accepted for who you are and being respected and valued. They should be universal expectations and experiences. But they are not. And that is a crime against children.
On all of those questions PDS students report feeling very significantly higher levels of support, safety, acceptance and respect than their peers nationally. As a PDS student was reported saying in 1941: We wish all children could be glad and safe.
And that song by The Weepies? Here it is: