I’m 17 by Kate Simonds at TEDxBoise (Full Transcript)

This problem is bigger than it sounds. From my contrasting experiences at One Stone and with the help of the amazing teachers I’ve had, I’ve become fully aware of the constant belittling that occurs to student voices. This problem is big.

Look at our education system; as students, we have no say in what we learn or how we learn it, yet we’re expected to absorb it all, take it all in, and be able to run the world someday. We’re expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then 3 months later be ready to go to college or have a full time job, support ourselves and live on our own. It’s not logical.

My mum is an elementary school teacher. And I always hear her and her colleagues talking about how kindergarteners, when asked a question, are thrilled to be raising their hands, all of them. Yet, as you increase the grade level, fewer and fewer hands are raised each year.

Now, in my senior classes in high school, it’s common that, when asked a question, no one raises their hand, and the teacher has to call out names from a roster. I think this is because A), students aren’t confident in their own answers, B) students have been made fun of for answering too many questions correctly, or C) the students aren’t listening. Maybe they’re texting in their lap or most likely, just extremely disinterested.

And these are all three really big problems. Students have lost sight of their education’s value and have therefore stopped learning.

Because we’re told, “You don’t get it, you’re 17. You don’t deserve to have the control over what you learn.” And this statement and this mindset are toxic. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve begun to stop listening to ourselves.

Sometimes, I’ll catch myself on a wild train of thought and stop myself thinking, “Self, stop thinking about this. You’re only 17, you don’t know anything about psychology. What are you doing? Stop!” This is me, someone who totally believes in the validation of everyone’s ideas and is doing a TED Talk on the validation of everyone’s ideas, is discrediting my own because my thoughts don’t come from an adult mind.

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Last spring, my friend and I started a club. Both of us are very outspoken, and we saw this as an opportunity to make a difference in our school. Now we anticipated that it might take some work to convince the adults of our mission but we didn’t realize that the real challenge would be convincing our classmates that we could make a change as students.

When we tried to stand up for something, they criticized us, they made fun of us for standing up for our beliefs. And that’s really, really bad. Students question the validity of their own thoughts because they don’t come from adult minds, yet what really separates adults and teenagers intellectually? Is it an age? Do we wake up on our 21st birthdays with everlasting knowledge? Do we turn 18 and suddenly have ideas that are worth listening to? Also, this magical age of adulthood is different in countries all over the world. It hasn’t seemed to work so far, so who’s right?

Or maybe it’s from attaining a level of maturity which can come at any age but I know a lot of high schoolers and college students that are more mature than some adults I know. So that’s not logical either.

So I think that it doesn’t come with age or experiential maturity. There’s a definite biological difference between the two but it comes instead with brain conformity.

Researchers at Stanford tested this a while back. And they looked at neurosignalling differences in the two ages between adolescence and adults to see how brains were networked. They ended up finding out that adult pathways were much more constant as if mapped than the younger subjects whose pathways were more scattered or spontaneous or, dare I say, creative.

It’s no secret that society has a lot of problems that we just can’t quite seem to solve. And the adults behind them have conditioned attempts at solving them which is why we haven’t made any progress.

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In my government class, my teacher has a really sarcastic poster that says, “If you think our problems are bad, just wait until you see our solutions”.

Maybe this problem is that we’re not thinking about these solutions creatively. Teens all the time are criticized for having rambunctiously inventive ideas. But instead of making fun of these teenagers, maybe the problem is that we should be harnessing these ideas, we should be tapping into these spontaneous brain pathways and using them to solve these problems.

So this is my idea worth spreading: a world of creative collaboration between adults and students. It’s a world where adults listen and respect student ideas, and a world where students respect and listen to their own ideas.

0The education system; it will improve dramatically, students will care about learning because they know that their education matters. In the current status quo, once you’re educated past a certain point you’ve learned all about failure. We’re teaching our students right now to lose belief in possible change or perfection.

In other words, we’re teaching them to stop thinking outside the box and to accept adequacy. We’re teaching them to conform to standards and to lose their creativity. But before this happens, students don’t think of logistics or limitations, they’re fearless. Think of the kindergarteners; if we could harness this excited energy before they lose it and foster it throughout their entire education, think of the creative ideas that could come of it.

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