Could Have Been My Child

rainbow flower“But what am I?” Her eyes were glassy from unshed tears.

“You’re you. And you’re wonderful,” I tried to reassure her, but she saw the worry on my face.

My beautiful daughter: smart, compassionate, kind to all things living and not. Seriously, the kid bonded to pet rocks! And she never did fit in a box.

“There just isn’t a label for you yet,” I said as the letters of the current acronym went through my mind. None of those letters fit.

But she wanted a label. As much as she didn’t fit into boxes, she always wanted them. She would even ask me to create them for her. “Just tell me what to do,” she would say, even as a teenager.  I, however, was the worst parent for that request.

“I’ll help you find your way,” I would usually say. But this time I felt lost on how to do that. She was hurting, and I didn’t know how to help.

“I love you. We all love you.”

The words felt weak. Insufficient. How well would that love armor her against a world full of hate?

That was seven years ago, and my daughter travels the country, living life, lighting up the world the best she can. There’s still no perfect checkbox for her, but she has found a sense of belonging in other ways, and she makes the world a better place.

As I listened to Anderson Cooper recently read each name of those who died in Orlando, my fingernails cut into my clenched hands as I tried to stay as resolved as he was. With each name, I  thought, that could have been my child. I will hear these names. Then I saw the text message of one child to his mother. I had no words. Only emotions in a sea of synesthesia.

My heart turned to my school’s students. So many of our students are targeted – for their culture, or religion, or neurotype, or sexuality, or other reasons.  Each one is precious.  We open our arms to them and their families, and do what is within our power to help them find their way. And love them.  Always love them.

But I find myself wondering what more we could do.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”  ~ Fred Rogers

Personalization Only for the Privileged?

Credit: United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

Credit: United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

On a panel about nonconformity, the conversation mentioned the need for people to not be cogs in the wheel. Of course I shared what we were doing at my school to help with that.

Two fellow panelists were ready to remind me that schools like ours only worked for the privileged elite.

*Sigh*

This is a common perception. Why? Because it is mostly true. Programs perceived to be similar to ours often fail to serve students outside of a particular set of demographics.

So how can I be so sure that our model can work outside of those demographics? Because it already has.

From students in rural communities of 1500, to cities of over 18 million, it has worked. For students who were homeless, or living in a meth house, or in a mansion, or on a boat for months at a time, it has worked. For students who had cancer, who were recovering from trauma, or who were healthy professional athletes with a demanding schedule, it has worked. For students who needed to move slowly through their studies, or those who needed to accelerate learning, it has worked.

The whole point of personalized education is to personalize for each individual student based on the current scenario of that student’s life in that moment. It requires providing levels of support with instructors, coaches, counselors, and other team members there to serve. It also requires tossing out the original rulebook most schools follow.

The school I was at was only one version of the model — just one manifestation of the Personalized Education Philosophy. We served a broad range of students, and the model could be used to serve even more (e.g. create a school in a language other than English).

Okay fine. It could be seen that we we’re different. But my fellow panelist Joyce accurately pointed out, “Yes, we have the positive things that people like you are doing, but that is not the majority trend as of yet in education.”

My response: “So my question is, how do we make it the majority?”

Of course, I couldn’t just leave it at that, especially since we have been actively encouraging partnerships this past year to bring what we do to serve more students. Learning centers, sports academies, and even public schools have integrated what we were doing into their programs. I kept hoping for somebody to create a performing arts academy with us.

I put out this call to the audience: “We’re looking for more Rangers,” I motioned to Joyce, “like you, who will come on board so we can actually make the changes in this country, and the rest of the world – I mean, because why not the rest of the world?”

And why not? As Christa McAuliffe said, “May your future be limited only by your dreams!”

Questions from Radcon 6C – from Unicorns to the Location of Double-sided Tape

Radcon 6C: Ammie Hague (aka Fairy Princess Lolly) and Aurora Miller

Radcon 6C: Ammie Hague (aka Fairy Princess Lolly) and Aurora Miller

Instead of writing a summary of Radcon, I am going to present a collection of questions asked. Some of these were overheard in passing, others asked in panels, and some during social events. And yes, many teachable moments happened. Enjoy!

  • What’s a unicorn?
  • What’s a brony?
  • If so many people in the Tri-Cities are so gratefully relieved to have Radcon for a weekend, why can’t they just change the local culture to be more like this year-round?
  • Why do autistic people lack emotions? What? What’s neurotypical syndrome?
  • Since our society has changed so much regarding property ownership and other traits that led to monogamous marriage, might this allow for more diverse family structures such as polyamory to return? Cool! How long will that take?
  • In what ways is religion presented in fantasy literature?
  • I want to propose to my girlfriend and… (this was a long one, so I’ll just let you know that she told him yes!).
  • But why is that called a unicorn?
  • How can we increase diversity in fandom?
  • Where’d you get your [insert costume/clothing item]?
  • Anybody have any double-sided tape?
  • Where is the Fan Room? And why do they call it the Fan Room?
  • Why is all the tea gone?  Is there rum?
  • Are you sure unicorns are that rare?
  • Are labels such as “Aspie” or “dyslexic” or “geek” helpful, or do labels cause their own set of problems?
  • Shouldn’t we prepare kids for the real world?
  • What’s the real world?
  • How can we change the world?
  • How do we discover a more accurate telling of history? How do we know?
  • Your wife keeps the money? Where is your wife?
  • How do we know that no means no, or that yes means yes? Even with that costume?
  • So, there are some unicorns out there, right? They do exist? Why are you laughing…?
  • Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the next Radcon?

Okay that last one was my own question.  If you want to help, or if you have feedback or ideas for programming, please visit Radcon.org to email Programming to let them know!