Students’ experiences tell us much of what we need to know about society, the issues they face, and, often, how to solve them. Taking the time to ask and listen is key. In a “polite” society, we greet one another by asking, “How are you?” But we honestly don’t want the truth, nor do we have the time it takes to listen. We ask to be polite and courteous. Not necessarily because we are invested in the answer.

Students are expected to be present and attentive in the classroom or in conversations with adults. Particularly when adults are at the front of the room or in positions of authority. Though the same expectation is not reciprocated when roles are reversed. How often do we get impatient when your own child is taking too long to tell a story or answer what they want for breakfast? Our days are packed with tasks, responsibilities, stresses and worries. If we don’t have presence of mind within ourselves, how do we provide that for our children?

Adults can be extremely hypocritical in our expectations of the children of this county, not always intentionally or maliciously. However, our impact reaches deeper than our intent. Students are held to adult standards of expectations in their ability to think critically, process emotions, and decision making. Without considering where they are developmentally emotionally and academically. Which also has a wide range in early childhood. Children learn to stuff and dismiss their feelings and experiences from how the adults around them respond. They discount their authenticity and value as a result.

To better understand what students value about themselves I developed an exercise I use in Allies In Action is titled, “I Matter”, where students are asked a series of reflective questions. The purpose is to help them connect to their own intrinsic value. Support students to learn the practice of identifying one’s own self-worth. Six fourth and fifth grade classes participated in this exercise earlier this year. The responses are inspiring, haunting, and revealing. These children have a lot to teach us if we choose to listen.

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I had a hard time in my childhood and I have anger issues.
That I don’t want people to know about me.
That I am part African, I am kind of goofy, and my dad is in Africa.
I have a fear of failing. I love to read. I like being weird.
I don’t like being noticed by my skin color.
My love of art.
I have attitude problems and anger issues.
I love the Japanese culture.
I like to sing. My dad is not a good person. And I like the color blue.
I have Autism. 
I hate cupcakes.
I want to be an astrophysicist when I grow up.
I am Filipino. Please don’t judge me by how I act or by anything.
I don’t like introducing myself to new people!
That I have ADHD. 

What I like most about myself is…

That I like playing basketball, even though my family says it’s only for boys I still play.
Never giving up on myself, doing my best, and never letting a bully get me down.
Being smart.
I am kind and I’m full of joy and I like baking.
That I am funny.
I am good at achieving my goals.
I am confident and caring.
My personality.
I ride horses really well.
That I am a good student and I like to be nice.
I can own up to my word.
I love school. I am confident, positive (mostly) and I love tacos.
That I don’t really let the world distract me or bring me down.

I matter because…

Everybody is important. If we didn’t live we wouldn’t be here right now. Everybody has something important to do.
Sometimes I can be nice.
I’m careful about others, even those I dislike and those I do like.
Everybody needs someone to stand up for other people.
I am a child.
I have lots of friends.
I can love others.
Of others believing in me.
I am a good person.
I’m trustworthy and caring for others that I don’t know.
I am a kid who has a voice. And that matters, right?

I dream about…

When I grow-up I will still be happy.
Living a happy life where everyone gets along.
Becoming a designer for weddings and birthday parties, and someone people can look up to.
That I can be sciency.
Being a teacher so I can help people learn. I also dream of being a veterinarian so I can help animals.
Being the president of the United States.
Becoming an Olympic swimmer.
Becoming a doctor.
Being an engineer or a mechanic or a professional soccer player.
Becoming a police officer.
Becoming a historian or a scholar.

One hope I have is…

To become a better leader.
That I will be a paleontologist when I grow up.
People can stop calling me fat and big.
That humans will find an eco-friendly way to stop climate change.
Sickness, cancer, and death to be gone and have a peaceful world. (That means no one will get sick!)
I don’t change.
To help and volunteer as much as possible.
My dreams won’t die.
To help the homeless.
That people like me.
My parents will stop fighting.
I will grow up very pretty.
To see my dad again.
That I can help kids and adults that don’t have food or water.
To become a writer one day and an author.

“I make a difference in the world.
You make a difference, too.
And so does everyone you know.
And those you don’t know.
Together, we make a difference in this world.”
Sebastian, 4th Grade.