Emilee, Co-Founder, AuSome Environments, ND
Emilee is a teacher and a graduate student in North Dakota. She co-founded AuSome Environments and works with students who have Autism. She was interviewed by Nicole, whom she met at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference.
Imagine your child (or one you care about deeply) is now in their 30s – out of school and starting into adult life. What do you hope for them about their life? What would make it a ‘good’ life?
I would like for them to be doing something they enjoy…to have the skills to be able to find that without floundering, as I did. I would like them to feel confident and happy and sure of what they're doing and who they want to share that with. I'm thinking of my student Sterling. He has high-functioning Autism. He's brilliant but didn't make friends easily and his school is not a good environment for him. I would assume that success…would give him the opportunity to have a community if he wants that and then have alone time when he wants that. We often send students with Autism to work at McDonalds. They have many more skills than that. Maybe that is what they want to do and that’s great. But if not, then they don't end up being happy. I've met students and adults like that, and it's depressing.
What role do you think schooling should play in achieving that ideal good life?
I think that schools need to find a way to balance how they are preparing students for a job or further education with constructing an environment that is not going to exclude, at all. I know that’s difficult, but I think that a lot of the problems in the students I see stem from this competitive atmosphere that excludes and shuts down people. Sal Khan talked about how if we worked more with students on their time and allowed them to work in a way that’s beneficial to them, we would see much better educational results. Schools should balance a friendly, comfortable environment with teaching students in a way that's beneficial to them.
Do you think other people agree with you?
I think that it's one of those things that people would say, "Oh yeah, that makes sense" but it's not something that’s on their mind. So they let it go. It's like how everyone knows we should recycle, but they still throw the can in the garbage can because it's easier. Because if you become one of those teachers who goes against the grain, you start to lose your free time and lose...your hair. You start losing out on other things because the system is built against you and you don't want to deal with it.
Do you think schools are currently playing that role?
No. With my experience, it's ultimately about the numbers. My dad as a Vice Principal has been learning that. I've been seeing a mentality that says, "Let's just get them to high school and deal with it later," which is not dealing with it at all. Students like Sterling were just being told…. ok here is what we can do for you. Good luck. If that’s not enough, we're going to just pass you on. It was really, really frustrating.
Why do you think that happens?
It's all about politics and money. Schools are trying to stay alive and meet the numbers with the money that they have, so that they can get more money. Whether they want to or not, they forget about the students. We shouldn't just say that this is anyone's fault. It's not an individual problem; it's a collective problem. That's what I've seen...the only way to survive as a grad student or teacher is to prioritize. And the sad thing is, that means that my students don't get as great of an experience as they could if I prioritized them first.