This I Believe

Nicole - Charlotte, North Carolina
Entered on September 20, 2007
Age Group: Under 18

I see school as a test. By resolving to rethink the way people tell me to think, I escape the doldrums of common belief. I no longer accept the textbooks that preach one-sided views. Instead, I have learned to question. If I am not satisfied with a given answer, I swim in research until I reach my version of a solution. From Adolf Hitler’s autobiography to science magazines on stem cell research, I challenge myself to delve beyond a curriculum and explore my own interests. I interpret several of Shakespeare’s lines differently than the translation aids at the side of the book, and I broadcast my opinions in writing. Nothing stops me from being me because my life is not a matter of believing everything my teachers, peers, and textbooks say.

What happens to individual opinions when school is in session? If those opinions are not tough enough, they are weakened, trampled, or forgotten.

At every chance, school tries to stifle uniqueness. It reduces everyone to a school number. So, rather than identify myself by name on an information sheet, there is a blank for me to write “8530125.” Ranks of students dutifully march down the hallways to the next class. Characters are subtly being tweaked into the typical profile of a good soldier. It is quite a challenge to overcome this daily prospect and keep a mindset of “I am me, not the person sitting next to me.”

Even classes that are meant to encourage individual thoughts end up restraining individual expression. Teachers deal out papers so that an English assignment to “interpret one stanza in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’” becomes a double-spaced, five-paragraph paper in Times New Roman 12-point font that is 1000 to 1200 words. Oh, and it has to be interpreted correctly according to the rubric and the teacher. If I did all this, my paper would be interchangeable with someone else’s since both of us would write what is expected and required.

My determination prevents me from becoming a generic part of society. I tell myself to be only myself, Nikki I–. Not the person sitting next to me, learning the same material as me. It would be easier for me to be lazy and coast along with other students, but I refuse. I overcome the urge because I know that, if I did surrender, I would be crushed into anonymity.

I fight school’s obstacles by stopping myself from thinking according to what is considered normal. I remind myself that it is okay to disagree with peers’ and teachers’ opinions, and I do not have to change my beliefs just to accommodate them. Armed with defiance, I have conquered the dangers of school environments. I am stronger because I learned from education that my individuality is at risk, and I know now this fact: I am the sole architect of my individuality.