For both my Psychology and Sociology classes, I share the following video right before we discuss and debate the role of nature and nurture in our development. If you have not seen this video- pay close attention and DO NOT skip down to the rest until you have watched it!
There is so much to love in this story, but also, so much to make us think.
First, from the question of nature vs. nurture, what plays the biggest role for Jennifer Bricker? Nature took her legs, but it also gave her- we assume- some genetics for athleticism based on the revelation. There is no question that her adoptive parents and her idol/sister played a huge role in her ability to succeed despite the disadvantages. But, one cannot neglect to wonder if the fact that the same birth parents who supported Dominique Moceanu but gave up Jennifer ever weighs on her. While this is an extreme situation, do we not have students who are daily living in this struggle? They have gifts and talents, but other factors weigh them down like lack of support at home or from friends. Or, they have all the support and nurturing you could hope for, but nature has placed obstacles in their path. It goes without saying that we cannot change what nature has given our students, but we can definitely adopt the attitude of her adoptive parents- the only limitation is your use of the word "can't." That is a mindset, a culture we must develop in our schools and classrooms. It is why the phrase "Don't tell me what I can't do" is posted at the front of my room. Do we convey in our actions and words that we truly believe our students can do ANYTHING?
Second, look at the grit and creativity Jennifer demonstrates. My daughters have done tumbling and gymnastics for years. Legs are important to pretty much every apparatus- from running to balance to application of force on the bars. Jennifer had to creatively- and probably through some pain- figure out a new way to do things. I love that in the video, it is her parents who are there with her the whole way. They show her options, they give her aid- but not every student has this advantage. Is her determination and grit naturally part of her personality, or did she learn it from somewhere? For our students who do not have the positive voices at home like the Brickers were for Jennifer- are we being that inspiration of creativity and grit?
Finally, we find Jennifer is making it on her own. Independence is the goal for our children and our students. Our Special Education teachers spend their days equipping their students with skills that will allow them to navigate the world- skills we take advantage of because they come easy to us. Our General Education teachers are also trying to prepare our students for independent thinking and acting. Right now, we as teachers act as cheerleaders for our students, motivators and coaches. We are there, pushing them and challenging them- and loving them. But are we also preparing them for the time when we are not there? Will we prepare them for that day when they are sitting in a college Biology class, or waiting for a job interview, or performing an important task- and we are not there? Jennifer's parents greatest gift may have been that they prepared her to make her own way. They do not live with her, she is living and succeeding on her own. Are we preparing student so think independently, or recite what we tell them?
I love the power of this video. I love that it reminds us that anything truly is possible. And it shows us the power of positive influences when it comes to doing what others say can't be done.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.