Stephanie, Law Student, NC
Stephanie, Law Student, NC
Stephanie is entering her second year of law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is hoping to pursue a career in criminal law, and has recently worked on research related to the school-to-prison pipeline and juvenile justice. She was interviewed by her close friend, Nicole.
Think about a child in your life that you care deeply about....who is this child and what makes them special?
I worked with a kid named Alton at the Boys and Girls club that I connected with strongly. I think about him all the time especially with what’s going on in the world. He’s the class clown, I think that’s where he fits in. He’s equal parts tough and equal parts comic genius. And I think that it’s just a deadly combination. My most favorite thing about him is that he feels like he can be himself, and I think it’s great he feels that way about himself.
What do you want for him in his life?
I think I want him to feel like he was a good person. I think I’d want him to be proud of his life and that he’s accomplished things, overcame things, and that he likes who he is. I want him to be happy. I don’t know why this appeals to me, especially when I think of Alton, but sometimes I think he knows he’s a good person but the world around him makes him feel like he isn’t. A lot of that influence comes from how he gets treated by adults and where he thinks he fits in the community, who his family is, and the neighborhood he lives in. I want for him to feel good about himself, and to know that there’s nothing wrong about him, and to embrace all the things that people who love him celebrate, and that those are things the whole world should celebrate as well. I think when you feel that way about yourself, when other people celebrate you and the whole world celebrates you… everything else falls into place. That would be what I want for him, to know that he’s celebrated.
When you think about that good life, what do you think the role of schooling is in achieving that good life?
I think that when you get excited about what you’re learning in school, it teaches you to be excited about what you can learn in the world. Instilling that enthusiasm for learning, that’s what sparks people’s drive to move forward is when you feel like you know things, and that there’s more to learn. That’s what keeps you going. School prepares us for the real world in that way. That’s where you learn how to think and ask questions, to develop your own style. I think when you learn to that in school you can learn to do that in the real world and you can always push yourself forward
Do you think schools are currently doing this?
Not as much as I would hope. I think the idea of the “standard child” or the “baseline child” or test score ranges...that’s all very limiting. It doesn’t leave room for the unique child, which is probably what we would be better off having. I think everything is so standardized and when you do that, you take away what’s on the fringes. What’s on the fringe is often time the most vibrant and most powerful.
There’s also a certain business aspect to education that I didn’t realize until I started doing education and juvenile justice work. I think schools are driven by the funding they are going to get from the government, because they are dependent on that funding. That almost causes a corporate dynamic with school boards and school administrations, and then you mix in police officers in schools and all these different agencies that are trying to work together. It becomes very corporate, which is very stifling. I think this is the one thing that should never become corporate, is our education system.
Do you think people agree with you? Why/why not?
I think that if everyone imagined their own child in this situation, you would never say it’s good enough. When you think about children generally, it’s harder. That’s why I think it’s so great that you asked me to frame everything thinking of Alton. I think people would tend to agree if they put their own child into the situation but might have a harder time being truthful about the matter when it’s asked more generally. As a whole, people know that there are some issues. I feel kind of guilty about saying that I don’t think teachers are doing a good enough job. It’s not their fault. It’s the pressure that comes from all different directions. We all have different desires and hopes for what happens [in schools], and I know that teachers have limited time and money, but I don’t believe there’s any limit in helping kids. I don’t want to believe that.
What has been an empowering educational experience for you?
Law school is an extremely difficult environment to feel powerful in, despite how powerful we think lawyers might be. I got lost in the shuffle of my first year and didn’t do as well as I hoped and wasn’t sure what the next chapter of school would bring. I got a job by a stroke of luck and professor’s desperation, and I found someone who taught me that the most important thing you can do in your life is doing something you find value in. Being able to do things that I was good at and also that I liked, made me feel like it didn’t matter I wasn’t #1 in my class or that I didn’t sit through constitutional law exam and couldn’t remember information or finish it in time...it matters what kind of lawyer I’m going to be and what kind of professional I’m going to be. It matters who I’m going to help and what my life will look like. All of those things are what put you forward. It’s not just your grades, you can always be the best at what you’re doing if you love it. This job changed my life. It makes me cry every day.
What do you think the purpose of schooling is?
Education is your context or frame of reference for how the world works. You don’t go to school to learn how to do a math problem. You go to school to learn how to be a human being. The way you perceive your education drastically affects the way you perceive the world because it’s a formative stage and your mind is being pushed and you have lots of stimuli around you. What I would consider an ideal for our school systems is to teach people how to people, and good people at that.