Jamaal Bowman’s Anthem for the Whole Child

Under winter’s hard, cold earth lie the fruits of the coming spring.  But we needn’t wait until then: the nation’s classrooms are already verdant, filled with the energy and potential of our children.

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Jamaal Bowman’s garden grows in the Bronx, where he began his career as an elementary school teacher at P.S. 90. The founding principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School, he was trained by New Leaders for New Schools, after serving as a guidance counselor, teacher, and dean of students at the High School of Art and Technology.

“Mr. Bowman gives every student his personal cell phone number,” one of CASA’s students wrote, in a tribute posted to the school’s website.  “He leads Community Circle every week, making this school feel like a family. He’s not afraid to let students see him laugh, dance or cry. He’s real with us. He makes us feel like we’re loved.”

This post was originally published at Bowman’s blog.

 

By Jamaal A. Bowman

There is unlimited talent and potential within our schools. Children come to us full of excitement and infinite ideas. They believe and know that anything is possible. They are fearless, and not tainted by age, time, or the ridicule of failure. They are natural leaders; and when they find a passion, they’ll work vigorously to achieve mastery without provocation.

Whether shooting a basketball, practicing a dance routine, or playing an instrument, when children find an interest they are insistent. They don’t have to become “the best” player, dancer, or musician. For them, the continuous practice of perfection is priceless. Some will make it to the NBA, Juilliard, or Carnegie Hall, but the majority simply enjoy the pleasure of the pursuit, and accomplishing that which was once impossible.

This behavior is natural. We are born explorers, artist, scientist, and acrobats. Kids will try anything on their own if we give them the space to do so. Of course, safety is important, but how many of our “stops,” “no’s,” and “don’ts” are as necessary as we make them out to be? Children are born brilliant, and if we guarantee that every child is born and raised in a healthy environment, they will ask more questions and generate more ideas by the age of 3 than we will know what to do with. Therefore, we must nurture, support and expose our children to the endless beauty of life, and we must work together as teachers, parents, and community members to leverage each other’s talents, and create boundless opportunities for our children.

It is often hard to avoid the ugliness in this world.  The media is a constant reminder of it. So much so that we begin to convince ourselves that the world is unkind and hopeless. This stagnates us, frightens us, and forces us into cowering from life. I am such a lucky man. I get to work with children every day. Children that despite their circumstances, bring so much joy, hope and love into my life. I can’t help but see and feel the beauty of the world because of them. They make me; whether I want to or not.

Imagine if we created schools that allowed the natural brilliance of children to blossom. Imagine if we supported families that are living in dire circumstances by truly improving their lives. The mistakes of a teenage parent, high school dropout, substance abuser, or someone struggling with mental health should not be a life sentence. Every “problem” has a solution and there is a light at the end of every tunnel. All people need is help; help from other people. Not programs, protocols, or procedures; actual real people guided by a love for humanity. Throwing more money and technicality at a problem without investing in great people, will continue to lead us to pain and failure.

It is our duty as a country to help all people, because it has been our laws and behaviors that created the mess we are in. Mass incarceration, mass addiction, the wealth and achievement gaps, and mass shootings are all manifestations of misguided and inhumane policies that have left us in a state of confusion, fear, and extreme violence. The time is now to overcome — together.

Let us come together to reverse the impact of man’s inhumanity to man. Let us build a culture of love, sharing, and creativity. Let us create humane and exhilarating spaces where children can be passionate explorers, collaborators, creators, and performers. Let us continue to learn from each other and take aggressive action against injustice. We don’t need a “leader” or “boss” or mayor, governor, or president to give us permission. We must listen to our hearts and follow our instincts to do what’s right for our children and communities, while continuing to learn along the way. The better we are, the better our children will be. The better they are, the brighter the future will be for all.

The time is now to educate the whole child.

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