Written by: Glenna Sabo
Recently I was asked to reflect upon the Purpose Statement of Gateway High School, which is: “We share a deep commitment to help each student think critically and discover their motivation to learn. Through personal attention, a global school experience, and a relentless dedication to student engagement, we help students grow as compassionate community members that strengthen their families, city, and the world, while adding to the rich narrative of Gateway High School.”
To me, this means we are here to work towards a common goal together, which is, ultimately, to help students find a way to use their interests and talents to improve the world around them. We begin by guiding students as they discover what motivates them to explore and grow; this includes their passions and goals as well as the reasons why those are their passions and goals. We continue by helping students learn to think critically, so that they can thoughtfully choose, and eventually achieve, their own goals, and not just strive, unthinking, towards the goals someone else has set for them.
We aim to achieve this by giving attention to and celebrating each student, creating a school culture that honors both the individuals within as well as the collective, unified school community. We hope students take pride in their school and, also, that they understand themselves to be significant members of an amazing and complex whole. Ultimately, we seek to help students become kind and contributing members of their school community, so they will become adults who contribute to the betterment of their local community and world.
As I reflected on our purpose statement, I kept hearing lyrics from the song, “Helplessness Blues” by The Fleet Foxes, in my head. Although the song is called “Helplessness Blues,” it is actually about finding out how we are not helpless. To me, our purpose, which the lyrics allude to, is to help young people to know they have agency over their own lives and play a pivotal role in the world. In the song, the speaker realizes he wants to be a hard-working part of a whole, with a greater sense of purpose than only working for himself, when he says he would rather be “a functioning cog of some great machinery serving something beyond me.” As educators, our aim is to help students find their purpose.
However, as far as the speaker is concerned, he doesn’t know “what that will be.” As we possibly once did, our students likely face this confusion too, so we must help them discover what inspires them, so they can figure out how they will help positively shape their world. The speaker then asks to just be told what to do and given a “station,” but he follows up by saying he does not want to “bow down” to “the men who move only in dimly lit halls,” and choose his future for him. This speaks to the importance of getting students engaged and motivated to learn for their own distinct reasons. We do not want to tell them who they must be; we want to assist them in figuring that out for themselves.
Overall, I believe this song and our purpose statement are both about finding out how we, teachers and students together, are not helpless, and we are not without purpose. Both the statement and the song are about how we are all contributing parts of an awe-inspiring whole, constantly striving to make things better for a cause that stretches beyond ourselves. Ultimately, this provides us with a sense of meaning, purpose, and satisfaction that working for only ourselves cannot provide. In brief, we are not helpless, nor are our students, and our purpose is to help them find, and be prepared to fulfil, their purpose.
Here are the relevant lyrics of the song, for reference:
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see
What’s my name, what’s my station? Oh, just tell me what I should do
I don’t need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say, “Sure, take all that you see”
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me