When I was just a tiny tot, the principal of my preschool told my parents that “Kids can’t think.” My mother laughed in the principal’s face and my father almost closed the door on the principal’s face. Of course, most teachers don’t actually believe that “Kids can’t think,” but I’m pretty sure what the principal meant to say was “Kids can’t think for themselves.”
Teachers are responsible for teaching students what they need to know, but it’s more important to teach them how to think for themselves. Students need to know how to read so they can consume information, but they need to know how to write so they can connect the dots and communicate their unique thoughts.
Students learn how to formulate opinions when they are exposed to thought provoking content and open-ended questions.
This week, we celebrate Ms. Gerez’s class from Mexico that took part in the PenPal Schools The World Through My Eyes project. Each of her students were paired with PenPals from around the world and watched Films by Kids documentaries made by young people in Mozambique, Tibet, India, and Colombia. Students reflected on what they learned with their fellow PenPals, exploring topics like displacement, education, and tolerance.
Here are some of our favorite responses from Hugo, Ian, Emilio, and David that don’t just demonstrate THAT kids can think for themselves, but show HOW kids share their thinking and develop their own ideas.
Home Is Where You Find It tells the story of Alcides, one of the 500,000 children in Mozambique who have lost parents to AIDS.
“I think Alcides chose to share his story for us to be grateful for what you have and also to always take advantage of the opportunities life gives you.”
“Alcides makes us see that our situation is not comparable to what other people live day to day. We should help people who have that kind of situation and see in what programs we can collaborate.”
My Country Is Tibet is about Trichen, the exiled teenage king of Tibet.
“If the UN chose me and my PenPals to solve this problem between Tibet and China, I would propose the following solutions: to allow Tibetans to express and learn their religion and beliefs, force the now government-in-exile of Tibet return to its country in order to govern better, make Tibet an independent nation from China, and both nations should agree to not take military action against each other when there is a conflict.”
Fire In Our Hearts showed PenPals the life of Jayshri, an Indian girl who was taken out of school at the age of 7 to raise her four brothers.
“Education is the resource that makes the world grow economically and culturally because knowledge will be passed on to more people and we learn from ourselves.”
“High quality education will make us equal. I can’t believe that there are countries where their government does not give education to all its people. We can solve this by taking action and helping those who [don’t have access].”
Poet Against Prejudice introduced Faiza, who was bullied after immigrating to New York City because of her Islamic identity.
“Faiza faced bullying because of her way of dressing and beliefs, but then she became an activist. I think we should make people from other places feel comfortable and part of our society, so that they can feel safe and express their thoughts and even give us more knowledge about their culture.”
“Most people are part of different groups. I believe we are all one group, but our minds just seperate that. Just imagine what our culture will look like with tolerance. We would have more knowledge, we will be more confident, we will stop bullying and so many other things.”
These PenPals had such insightful responses not just because they watched thought provoking documentaries made by other students, but because they were discussing their learnings with other PenPals around the world..
“I like PenPal Schools because I could communicate with people from other parts of the world and share opinions about different topics. We watched the same video and read the same article, but we had different opinions and perspectives due to our country, problems that are in our country, education we receive, and culture.”
That’s how students think for themselves. First, they discover new topics through close reading and research, then they consider their own background and the opinions of others. Then, they bring it all together and communicate glowing words of wisdom of their own. Reflection is much more valuable than regurgitation.
Thank you, Ms. Gerez, for sharing your students’ bright, curious minds with our global PenPal community! They sure proved my preschool principal wrong.
Want your students to step in another person’s shoes and join the conversation with hundreds of other PenPals? Enroll your class in The World Through My Eyes for the February 19th start date.