Final Post: Thank you

What’s the Story? has been ( I will just plainly say it) the most beneficial class I have ever taken. It has taught me things and taken me places that I would never have expected, and also helped me get stronger in many areas in which I was challenged in. Despite this, the class, and classes like it, are not only few and far between, but parenthetical in many places. A “less significant” program or an “extra-curricular” which is not nearly as widely acknowledged by schools and communities as it should be. Grrrr…. But more about that later.

One of the major themes and skills this class offered (and emphasized) was self-directed learning using a variety of different methods. One of these was to identify and pursue questions. This was something that me and my group became accustomed to during the course, as we compiled a list of basic questions to guide our interviews, and then interviewed over 20 people in total. These were questions such as “what is gender bias?” and “where do you see gender bias in the school system?” Another was to manage our own learning, which was also something I was able to do more and more successfully throughout the course. An example of when I managed my own leaning (and in this case, that of my group as well [with assistance them] ) was when I was in direct correspondence with the coordinator of the GIN conference in Rutland, where my group gave two 50 minute presentations to several groups. I also coordinated the interview with Middlebury College gender and sexuality expert, Professor Laurie Essig. This last in particular also illustrates how I was able to take initiative and responsibility for my learning, as I directed the group toward this interview by contacting Professor Essig myself.

Another prominent area that this class emphasized were responsibility and involved citizenship. Far to often, modern people are passive citizens who take no action. In this course, responsibility and activity toward your goals was a requirement. One of the most important area of this is proposing change where you see fit, and my group members and I were able to do just that, whenever we presented our work and ideas to other students. In each of the six presentations my group has done so far, we have spread our call to action as far and wide as possible so that one day, our mission statement may become a reality. As can and should be expected, we were met with opposition in our change making process from people who disagreed with us. One example of how I dealt with this includes interaction with a person that shall remain nameless and presented  a point of view that I had never encountered before that disagreed with my own. I was able to a few minutes later have a non-judgemental conversation with this person, who left, if not with a changed mind, with a new perspective to consider. As for me, I certainly learned a great deal about how people feel about this issue, so I am grateful to the person who came forward, and would like to express my admiration to them for doing so. This also indicates that I was able to effectively listen to the person with an opinion other than my own. As well as dealing with people on the receiving end of our presentation, or the disagreeing side of the spectrum, there were a great deal of times where the Smashing Sexism team had to work together cohesively, which we managed very well to do, with (for the vast majority of the time) each person doing an equal share of the terrific amount of work there was to do. this was especially the case before the GIN presentation, as we met almost everyday for the weeks beforehand and were able to put forth a presentation with which we were extremely happy. This last was possible because of the fact that my group and I were able to effectively define our purpose and audience, follow up and contact the relevant people, and tell our story through the presentation.

Thus, it is clear that What’s the Story is an amazing and very practical class. Much of it, I was prepared for, or even expecting, as was the case with the amazing emphasis on teamwork, independence, and media. What I was not prepared for was the sheer magnitude of the project that we were able to accomplish. Not only were we able to research, film, and create a documentary that I consider to be quite successful (credit to Emily Pecsok for making the whole thing possible) but we were able to present our work to over a hundred students. This is incredible. This is, to me, Theo Wells-Spackman, who is only a ninth-grader, completely amazing. It gives me faith not only in humanity’s ability to change, but in my ability to create that change, even though I am only one person. It gives me faith in my ability to get something done, to get somewhere where I can look back, and look around, and say “wow”. I think an excellent way to illustrate this is to relate the time I got to talk to one of the most respected experts on empowering women in the state, Sue Minter. When we got the response from Ms. Minter, I was absolutely thrilled. This emotion continued (as my groupmates will tell you) throughout the interview process for Ms. Minter. I was in awe of where we were, and what we, a small group of students had been able to accomplish. The experience was incredibly validating, and made us feel like we were being taken seriously despite our age.

This experience has inspired me to not only want to return to the class, but to push for change in all aspects of my life. This includes my emotional world, but also the World around me. For the rest of my life,  I will think twice before counting myself out because of my age, number, or resources. Another thing that this experience proved to me is that resources are needed in various degrees. Money is nice. It will make you look more professional. But you can do without it. Lots and lots of people get work done faster, but lack the personal connection with the rest of the group that we had. We managed without that. All you really need to get something done is a small group of dedicated, hardworking people. This was proved to me every single day. As such, I would like to thank my groupmates Anna Buteau and Emily Pecsok profusely for all of the wonderful work they have done. Never in my life (and guys, I’m not just saying this) have I met two more intelligent, dedicated people. I could never have hoped to accomplish it without them, and I have an enormous amount of respect for both of them. I also was incredibly grateful for the help of our mentor, Erik Remsen. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I would like to conclude by coming back to the point I made at the beginning. What’s the Story and classes like it are sadly disregarded and infrequent. However, as I mentioned, it is hands down the most beneficial class I have ever taken. So why isn’t it prioritized? I think it is because it is off the beaten track of education. It leaves so much in the students’ hands, that some people shy away from it. But I believe it is the future of education, teaching students to be active citizens, independent learners, good group members, and a variety of other skills besides. I have come away from this class a better and much more knowledgeable person. So, once more, to my teammates, my mentor, and the entire What’s the Story team, thank you.

Theo Wells-Spackman

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