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What is Your Best and Worst School Memory? Start an Empowerment Education Movement with Us!

shutterstock_189380777My name is Chy Bryant, I am 20 years old, in my third year of college seeking a bachelor of science degree in North Carolina (U.S.A), and I spend each day of my life in a continuously high level of stress. Because of the high stress of school, it has contributed considerably to me being sick three times within the last three months, and struggling with empowering mental health over the last 7 years.

Anyone reading this may be astonished by how education has affected my health. Truthfully, my mental and physical health is not a rare example of those of the average American college student. While individuals may feel as if they are the only ones struggling, it’s actually rare to see a student who feels comfortable and completely confident about their education. Every student, at every age, has a strong opinion about at least one aspect of their education they wish was different. If you ask students what their worst educational experience has been, everyone has something truly appalling to tell. Why is this? Has ANYONE out there had a flawless education, in which they never experienced feeling afraid, detached, uncomfortable, unintelligent or lost? What can we do to change our educational systems so that future generations will not have these types of experiences? Answering these questions is one of the many ambitious goals of i.b.mee; and I, as their Assistant Research Director for the fall season of 2015, can explain what YOU can do to bring positive change NOW.

My high school experience was not something I reflect on positively. My freshman year, I developed Post-Traumatic Stress disorder due to interactions I experienced with another student. Meanwhile, I felt that everything I was studying was irrelevant, I experienced thoughts such as: why do I need to study subjects like imaginary numbers, when I have no idea how to do important math skills like creating and managing a budget? I had no interest in any of the books I was forced to read, my history classes were all taught from the limited perspective of caucasian men, and the single health class I took in high school didn’t talk about the value of mental health, or even physical health for that matter. In that health class, we were taught strictly abstinence-based sexual education and were made to take care of cheaply robotic babies for a week in an attempt to scare us away from risking sexual activity before marriage. We were simply taught that all drugs were bad, sex only leads to pregnancy and STD’s, and we were given one unbelievably vague lesson about the reproductive anatomy of both genders. At that stage in my life, I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career when I was an adult. The only thing I knew was that I didn’t want to be a health teacher, because I hated that class and couldn’t imagine reliving it in any form. For a lot of students, that was the only health education they would ever receive. I didn’t even recognize that my feelings of hopelessness, fear, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts were a product of depression and Posttraumatic stress because I never learned anything about mental health. The only education I had on mental health was that I knew I had a distant uncle who suffered from schizophrenia (which I was told meant that you heard voices that weren’t there), and that my mom thought he was kind of creepy because of that. I was under the impression that mental health disorders were rare and people who had them were just weird or unfortunate. Sadly, a lot of people never move past that amount of misunderstanding.

My health class never discussed LGBT health or even acknowledged the existence of LGBT people. As a child, I had an overwhelming love for Hilary Duff that I’ve carried throughout my life. I found more beauty and admiration in girls than I did in any of the boys I knew while growing up. It wasn’t until I was seventeen years old that I even knew what homosexuality was, and my whole life up to that point I always felt out of place because I didn’t obsess over boys or have crushes on them as much as my friends did. I wasn’t able to acknowledge an important part of who I was for the first seventeen years of my life, because my educational system failed me. I wasn’t able to understand my own feelings and I was severally mentally sick with a disorder I thought only war veterans could get. Today, I know I’m not the only person with stories like this one, and it breaks my heart. I think the educational system failed me.

I am personally passionate about changing health education for high school students, not only because one unhelpful class was miserable for me, but because the only idea of physical education most kids receive is when they are thrown into a gymnasium, made to wear smelly jerseys, and forced to participate in a variety of sports that most of the students are not interested in. The students who enjoy that class go on to be athletes, the rest never consider joining a sport or understand the importance of physical activity, and go on to believe the only way to be physically fit is to play a sport. That is by no means an effective way to teach kids about health. The fact that many schools don’t even touch the subject of mental health is equally astonishing, because mental health is equally as important as physical health. Most people never receive any other information on health unless they happen to take an interest (why would they, after enduring those horrible classes?) and pick up a college health course. To be honest, I took my first college health class because I had to fill more hours in my schedule. After gaining a REAL health education from that course, I finally realized just how screwed up some of our educational philosophies really are. I changed my major from visual art to health and wellness promotion after taking one class in the health department. That’s my best educational experience: finally understanding what I should have been taught years before. The more I reflect on that, the harder I bang my fist on a tabletop and demand educational reform.

I love to learn. Most people enjoy learning if they get to study something they are interested in. But our current educational system deters students from wanting to learn. Students are forced to sit for long periods of time without being able to talk, they are made to ask permission to use the bathroom, they are forced to memorize information they don’t care about and join clubs they might not be interested in just because doing so will help them get into college so they can get a degree in a topic they only barely know if they want to study for the rest of their lives (in most cases). Students spend eight hours a day, five days a week, being told what they need to know and what they need to do with their time. Students are rarely free to pursue their passions because they spend so much of their time trying to get decent grades in a system that barely seems to care about them as individuals, seeking only to mold them into future workers instead of innovative and properly functioning human beings. School is not supposed to set you up for a career, even though that’s what it has become. School is supposed to give you the tools you need to understand this chaotic world we live in, and inspire you to take part in it.

My ideal school would be a place where children are free to explore their interests. Research has shown that children who are allowed to choose the classes they want to take succeed in them because they learn through passion. Basic reading, writing, and mathematic skills are essential, but does everyone have to learn the speed of a ball tossed in the hair as it falls back to the ground? Does everyone need to read every “classic” novel or can we encourage kids to start to enjoy reading by letting them study topics that interest them? The common core curriculum for American students needs a drastic update. My ideal school would emphasize arts just as much as mathematics, provide health courses that teach the true meaning of whole body and mind health, and allow plenty of room for physical and mental growth and exploration. Kids need to play. Kids need to develop empathy. Kids need to learn from day one that their voice matters in this world, or else the kind of world we live in will be full of suffering, misunderstanding, apathy, and disease. Do we want to live in a world where everyone is miserable because they were forced to choose a career path in their teens, or a world full of people who have been able to discover their passions and pursue innovative and fulfilling lives?

At this point, you may be wondering: “What can I do to change education? Who will listen to me? How would anything I say make a difference?” i.b.mee. has already started making our dream a reality. i.b.mee. wants to help change education and we need your help! This is a huge challenge to overcome. We need YOU to help us make a difference, and here is how you can help:

Go to http://ibmee.org/tell-your-education-stories/ and anonymously tell us about your educational experiences as a student, parent, teacher, administrator, or stakeholder. You can write as much or as little as you want, and we’ll make sure that your opinions and experiences are heard, recognized, understood, and respected. YOUR VOICE COUNTS! Your answers WILL send a WAVE of positive change in education that will affect every child, student, teacher, parent, school administrator and school system in the world. Your answers provide the foundation for a major research study that is desperately needed to solidify the foundation for empowerment education where ALL students thrive and learn in a positive, healthy and empowered environment. Again, your information is totally anonymous.

Your participation WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

Please visit http://ibmee.org/contribute/ for more ways that YOU can make a difference. We can do this, friends. One voice at a time.