“I don’t talk to many people about this,” she started. “But if you’re here to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else, then I want to tell you.” And then this young woman, a student we met through our work on education fragmentation, told us the story of how her stepfather sexually abused her and how her mother pulled her out of school after she reported it to a teacher. Erica (a pseudonym I’m using to protect her privacy) didn’t go back to school until six months later, once she’d moved cities to live with another family member. As far as she knew, her previous school never asked any questions — no one ever called the house or came looking for her.
This student was one of more than a dozen who we spoke to in schools across the country that shared their experiences of major disruptive life events that changed their education trajectories. Erica’s story in particular has stuck with me and makes me wonder: How we can help education systems better meet the needs of students for whom education may be the only consistent through-line in an otherwise chaotic time?
I believe that one of the first steps is to share stories like Erica’s. Many times, the people working to improve systems fragmentation for youth who experience disruptions to their education pathways are themselves removed from the direct impact of this work. Stories help practitioners know why this work matters and better understand the consequences of getting it wrong.
While empathy is a powerful tool for change and is, perhaps, a fundamental precondition for it, how do we account for the cost of sharing a personal story to the storyteller? Continue reading