Boy George, interviewed this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition, shares his experiences with music, life in recovery, and thoughts about school in the piece, For Boy George, Music And Style Is Just ‘What I Do‘. An interesting segment that reveals part of his journey over the past 20 years. What struck me most about the interview, aside from his musical talents, was his statement about school. Here is what he said (bold comments are mine):
Well, I hated school from the minute I got there to the minute I was thrown out. I was different. Even from the age of about 6 years old I was kind of made to feel different by other kids — you know, I was a quite pretty kid, and I got called ‘girl’ a lot, and ‘woman’ and all of that. And school is really not a place to be different. School is not a great place to have feminine features or a big nose, or to wear glasses or the wrong shoes. School is a scary place for kids. So I didn’t like it, and I didn’t want to be there. And it was a great day for me when they threw me out.
“School is a scary place for kids.” “And school is really not a place to be different.” As an educator, I have heard these statements from students and parents many times before, but have I really listened to what they mean? What does it mean when a students says, “school is a scary place for me?” If students can’t be themselves in school and feel safe, then what are we doing in school that is of value? Shouldn’t the bottom line be that all students feel and experience school as a place where they can be themselves, no matter who they are. How do we help students truly value the difference in each one of their peers? How do we help them understand how hurtful it is to another person if their difference is made to feel “wrong,” “bad,” or “weird?” As a young person develops, it is imperative for them to grow up in environments that allow them to become self-actualized. They can only realize their full potential in communities that do not isolate them, making their difference feel strange or unusual. While each person owns responsibility for navigating through a school community, the school and its leadership has a responsibility to be sure the journey is free of obstacles that challenge a student’s sense of worth. Obstacles will arise and when they do we have to act quickly to protect and nurture each student who is a victim and help those who victimize learn from their mistakes.
We have to get this right in each of our schools, otherwise all the work we do to help students learn is meaningless. Let’s make school a meaningful, safe and enjoyable place to be oneself so that other students don’t feel like Boy George felt about his schooling. There are lessons to be learned in this short piece, do we have the courage to admit we have a great deal to learn?