I don’t think I truly understood how special and essential the kinds of conversations we have in this class are until recently. By kinds of conversations, I mean conversations that speak of race, gender, sexuality, and so on. I also mean conversations that make you feel uncomfortable and challenge your beliefs.

Growing up in a very liberal private school in New York, I was constantly having conversations like the ones we have in this class. We had conversations of this kind, not just because my fellow students and I were always excited to have them, but because my high school did not give grades which gave us the liberty to do so. Yes, no grades. It probably sounds crazy, but we simply received written reports at the end of each semester. No we didn’t not have homework or tests, we just didn’t receive grades. We were told what was right and what was wrong or what was good or bad and we evaluated ourselves from there.

Having a system like this gave the teachers and the students more liberty to control what and how we learned. Of course, it depended on the teacher, but most classes that I ever took in high school were amazingly open to talk about topics that were important to the students, no matter if they were relevant or not to the topic of the class. Throughout my years, I found that most often the kind of “off topic” conversations that people wished to have related to the aspects of their identity that were most often under scrutiny, their race, gender, sexuality, and so on.

As just one example, my senior year of high school, a white underclassman boy commented the N word on a Facebook post of a group of black women speaking at a conference. The picture had no relevance to my school, but many people were able to see what he had commented and were deeply offended. My school could have easily pushed it aside, considering, technically the boy’s action had no real connection to the school. However, the teachers and administration saw how his racism online had affected the students of my school, so the administration proceeded to suspend him and, in addition we spent several days in classes talking about racism in our community and in the great New York area. I believe we all grew so much stronger from these conversations both as a community and as individuals.

It’s true that I probably missed important information about historical events or methods to make chemistry much less confusing than I currently find it, but the conversations that we were able to have shaped me as an individual. There are so many people who troll the internet, spewing ideas they heard through illegitimate news sources, without anyone to challenge them face to face on their beliefs. I believe it is those people who would benefit most from having conversations like I did throughout high school and we are having now. In addition, I think when a teacher is able to see the importance of topics that may be irrelevant to their class topic but are very much relevant to what’s happening in this world, then they truly embody what it means to be a teacher. I don’t think I was aware, until recently, how how lucky I am to be able to have had those experiences and grown from them, but I very much appreciate them now.