Not JUST

How often have you heard someone say something like the following:

“I am just a bus driver.”

“Joey is just going to community college first.”

“Sarah is just going to a state school, nothing prestigious.”

“She’s not planning to get a degree, she’s just going to be a florist.”

This has been a pet peeve of mine for a very long time. Once I dove into the research around self-injury and suicide and after I had the opportunity to watch “Race to Nowhere“, I became increasingly convinced of the need to change the narrative and shift the elitist mindset around conversations about education and careers society-wide and especially in education.

On a personal note:

  1. One of my eleven children self-injured (and was sometimes suicidal) specifically around her felt need to achieve at a high level. This, despite reassurance from myself and the rest of her adoptive family that it was not at all necessary.
  2. Only two of my eleven children began their college education at other than a community college.
  3. One of my eleven children is so impacted by mental illness, historical trauma, and related drug abuse, that she is unable to function without the support of inpatient staff.
  4. Another of my children is impacted with ADHD to the point that, at the age of 26, he has not yet been able to finish his college degree despite numerous attempts.

In addition to these personal examples, much of my work is with individuals with significant disabilities whose access to a variety of job and career choices will be impacted by their disabilities. ADA requires that employers consider hiring individuals with disabilities to the point that reasonable accommodations can be made for the individual and they must be able to complete the core functions of the job. This may mean that many of the students I work with will be precluded from certain types of work.

I am sure you know personal examples or examples of other individuals you have met throughout your life and career that are similar to these scenarios. Today, I do not plan to write at great length on this topic. What I do want to do is provide one action point and pose some questions that I believe should help guide our thinking on this topic going forward.

Here is the action point:

Can you commit to removing the elitist “just from your vocabulary? I am asking that you begin to catch yourself before you say it. For example, “I am so excited! Our daughter is starting at our local community college in the Fall.” Here is another one, “Our son is attending hospitality training through Regional Center after he finishes the district’s Transition Program. It is such a great opportunity.” Or…”Yes, our daughter works for the city in the sanitation department. She drives the large trucks that pick up your trash every week. We are so proud of her!” You’ll notice…. no just.

Here are some questions I would ask you to reflect on:

  1. What percentage of a person’s value should be determined by their education and/or career?
  2. Do all people have intrinsic value, regardless of their education and/or career?
  3. If you had to rank the percentage of importance of character vs. education/career…. what would the percentages be? 50% character/50% education and career? 70/30? 30/70?
  4. In what way can you, personally, help to change the elitist narrative that devalues individuals and inappropriately overvalues specific types of education and careers?

Until next time-

Laura Mueller, Psy.D., LEP

Please read this article: Best Brightest and Saddest

A colleague of mine recently sent this article from the New York Times to all of the psychologists in my district. This article EXACTLY focuses on my soap box. By applying unrelenting pressure on students to excel and be the best one, we are creating pressure-filled lives for our children. I believe there is a balance that we as educators and parents have not achieved yet. A balance where children are encouraged to learn and grow and are provided with reasonable expectations. A balance where supports are provided for areas of need and strengths are celebrated. A balance where each individual student knows that his or her BEST is enough! We should be communicating to students that they don’t need to be THE best… they just need to be THEIR best. There is a huge difference. Whereas doing your own personal best and focusing on strengths is exhilarating, ¬†being told that you must be THE best is exhausting, discouraging, and can even be life threatening.

Please read the attached article.

Suicide- Best Brightest and Saddest_ – NYTimes (2)