May Retreat – Jumping and Falling are Sometimes Synonymous

This is not educational learning. Not in a traditional sense. This is not about learning facts or concepts. This is about learning how to succeed in life. This is about learning how to be a good person. This is about learning how to make the world a better place for the next generation. This is important.

So while I’ve learned statistics about gender bias and how to work a video camera (kind of), I’ve learned something more important. I’ve learned how to identify what I’m thinking and put abstract ideas into words. I’ve learned how to take an issue that I’m passionate about and discuss it so other people understand how and why I’m thinking the way that I am. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to rant about how you’re feeling, as long as you listen to other’s responses to your opinion. I’ve learned how to illustrate my perspective to other people and demonstrate the significance of my approach. I’ve learned to be okay with awkward silence. I’ve learned that high schoolers would rather sit and listen than participate, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t receptive to what they’re hearing. I’ve learned that people won’t help you or do anything to make change unless you shove it down their throats. Ok not literally. You just have to push them really hard and not be afraid to annoy them, because people don’t change unless they’re uncomfortable in their current situation. So you have to make them uncomfortable.

I’ve also learned things that What’s The Story? intended me to learn. Throughout this year, my ability to self direct has improved significantly. Having so much freedom and negotiable deadlines made me realize that I had to really budget my time and manage my workload. I struggled at first, but as the year progressed, it became much easier because I had gotten used to the freedom and I actually enjoyed it. If anything, it made me more productive. I know that self-direction will also serve me well later in life, and isn’t a skill you usually learn in a typical classroom environment.

I think I have also progressed with my responsibility and involved citizenship. Before What’s The Story?, I had never really contributed to the community, with the exception of some minor volunteer opportunities. Making a documentary and presenting to others with the ultimate goal of improving the community and society has been an amazing experience because my major motivation is helping people. When I’m doing work for this course, I don’t think about grades or college or being better than my peers. I’m only focusing on making change that will benefit others, which is not only far more important, but is more enjoyable and feels more productive. Writing a blog post to inform others about the consequences of gender bias is so much more useful, important, and influential than writing an essay for English (sorry, Ben). Feeling like what I’m doing has real life significance improves my responsibility, because I feel motivated and obligated to do the work. I know I can’t put it off or slack, since there are people depending on me.

Before taking What’s The Story?, I was a pretty decent informed and integrative thinker, I believe. I do think this course has helped me with that, as I’ve become much better at it throughout the year, but I don’t know if this has been the only factor. My ability to analyze, interpret and synthesize information in a real situation, as opposed to in relation to a piece of writing or a historical event, has certainly improved, seeing as I’ve never had experience with that before. The skills that I’ve learned in APUSH and AP English have helped me in What’s The Story?, but the experience I’ve received in this course is unique and irreplaceable.

I also believe I’ve progressed in my ability to clearly and effectively communicate information. Before this course, I could write analytical essays and make 5 minute Google presentations about simple information that the class probably already knew things about. However, in this context, I’ve had to take a complex, controversial topic, and communicate it effectively and clearly to people who may know nothing about it or don’t care at all. And I can’t just present the information. I have to make it interesting and applicable, so people will listen and act to combat gender bias, a serious issue. There’s suddenly a lot resting on my ability to communicate well, so I’ve had to improve. Additionally, I’ve learned strategies to help communicate my ideas and convince others to approach something with my perspective. The idea of demonstrating why something is important and how to change it is so important and effective, and I have used in other contexts since the beginning of this course. I anticipate I will use these strategies continuously throughout my life and they will be extremely helpful.

While the four main skills that I was supposed to learn are valuable, I don’t think that’s what I will remember when I’m an adult. I’ll still employ the techniques and use the skills, but I won’t consciously say to myself “hey, this is what I learned in What’s The Story?”. What I’ll remember is the first time I stood in front of a group of apathetic high schoolers and tried to make them passionate about gender bias. I’ll remember sitting on a desk in Rutland High Schooler and suggesting examples of gender bias while people my age lowkey glared at me and sat in silence. I’ll also remember one boy coming up to us after the presentation and telling us what an awesome job we did, and then the organizers of the event saying the same thing later. I’ll remember sitting in the principal’s office and trying to convince him how present and problematic gender bias is in schools. Everything rested on that moment, everything rested on his support. I’ll remember how it feels to have so much resting on everything I do, say, and create. I’ll remember how scary and intimidating and empowering and amazing it is to have this much responsibility.

Probably the most important thing I learned this year was this: you can’t change everyone’s minds. There are some people you will never reach. You can stand up in front of a classroom and tell them about gender bias and they’ll just say “no.” You can preach to them the consequences and the stakes and the facts until you turn blue in the face and they’ll look you straight in the eye and say “no.” But that doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. That doesn’t mean you failed. It means that, out of twenty kids, nineteen of them care and nineteen of them are listening. It means that nineteen teenagers are going to leave the room with a new perspective on gender bias, the motivation to help, and the tools to improve the situation. And this doesn’t just apply to gender bias. It applies to life. We tend to focus on the negatives, on the people we couldn’t convince, on the things we failed to do. When you have nineteen successes, you obsess about the one failure. If you do that, you get discouraged and give up because you feel like you’re not making an impact. But you have to realize that you can’t give up, because you are making a difference. So you can’t think about what you didn’t do or what honor you didn’t get or who didn’t approve of you. You have to think about everything you accomplished and everything you will accomplish. You have to focus on what’s going right. You have to recognize that you are strong and capable and will do amazing things with your life, as long as you don’t give up the fight.

Anna Buteau

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