To My Children: Letters From An Educator and Parent

Key Points

  • Education should go beyond academic achievement, emphasizing life skills and the development of a student’s identity and dreams.

  • Supporting students navigating uncharted and challenging pathways requires fostering resilience, self-advocacy, and inclusive learning environments.

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By: Timothy Jones

I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to speak as an educator and an innovator. I want to take this opportunity to speak as an educator but from the lens of a parent. As a parent of two young adult children I often find myself reflecting on their educational experiences as I get to participate in some of the transformations that are taking place in educational spaces. I invite you to take this journey with me where we may stir up more questions than answers. The questions are the fuel that drives us toward intervention, innovation, and invention. At times, answers can lead us to believe that we have arrived, and in education, just as in life; do we ever arrive at a state of true completion?

My Personal Pathway

As my children grew up, I grew as an educator. This began in the out-of-school space with some in-school workshop development centering on poetry and hip-hop. I would view my education experience growing up as average at best. There were a few memorable teachers but overall education was a pathway to ensure that I wouldn’t have to remain in the projects in Brooklyn, NY as an adult. I never learned to love learning or that true education is a series of enlightening experiences that expose and expand the person I was and could become. Education was presented as a tool to build my life but often lacked the opportunity and support for me to dream of a design to build. Education often lagged behind what was presented in the environment as trendy, opportunistic, and desirable.

I was an average student in the classroom throughout most of my education. I blossomed outside the classroom in college and I believe this is where I received the education I hold onto most to this day. In retrospect, I was schooled in the classroom and it was presented as education. Education was presented as an academic achievement as opposed to a life skill. As much as I love my children, I didn’t do anything to have them look at school and education differently than I did growing up. My wife and I ensured we lived in a neighborhood where the schools were good based on metrics but not necessarily schools where our children would be able to discover who they are and who they desired to become. Without having an idea of these aspects of their identity, how effective can the new pathway design principles be?

In theory, this is the land of the free, in practice this is the land of the free within the parameters of tradition, acceptance, privilege, and opportunity.

Timothy Jones

As a parent and an educator, how do we support our children and or our students when their intentional journey and pathway will take them into spaces that are not safe or unchartered? How do we prepare and support them as they go on a journey that is based on their most intimate desires knowing they will face challenges designed to make them feel like they don’t belong regardless of their capabilities? When a child’s dream is not confined by societal norms, do we tell them to wake up to reality or to dream a different dream? It is easy to answer these questions the way that our guts are telling us to but I am talking about the lives of young people and the parents and educators that love them. This is the difference between theory and practice. In theory, this is the land of the free, in practice this is the land of the free within the parameters of tradition, acceptance, privilege, and opportunity.

Unfortunately, we have so much work to do as a society. The reality is that our children must dream with permission. If the child’s dream is one that falls within the realm of what is permissible based on their skin tone, gender, family structure and history, and zip code then there is a pathway for the dream to become a reality. Well, what do we do when the dreams of our children are rooted in the resilience, faith, and hope of ancestors who walked so others may run? When our children are inspired to reach for what some deem unreachable, it is incumbent upon us to help our children with their self-advocacy as we ensure the new pathways are welcoming and supportive for all children.

To those whose learning pathways have taken them to inequitable spaces, to spaces where your zeal faded leading you to depart; it was not your fault and we see you. Know that it is never too late to decide to pursue what makes you feel alive and what wakes you up in the morning. I speak for the parents and educators who may not understand your path, but we know you and love and will support you with all of our hearts. We need you young people to hold on to what you would question as being right and fair as children before we changed you in our efforts to protect you by turning down the volume of your wonder and the soundtrack of your belief in miracles. When we as adults shield children from the disappointment that is part of their destiny we make them near-sighted to the point where they dream without faith.

To those who went through and are still going through the motions, know that you are being seen, heard, and felt. I apologize if the changes that are forthcoming don’t change your experiences, but prayerfully for your children; they will have the reality of multiple pathways of learning and validation of learning. I pray that your children will find learning and education as natural as breathing and imagining as they grow to become what this world desperately needs; independent and conscientious thinkers who see themselves as stakeholders in society’s community. 

I dedicate this piece to my children. Learning must never be defined and or confined to an activity designed to only take place in a formal classroom setting. Never allow your intelligence to be measured exclusively by a grade. I need you to both understand that being and or learning differently is not deficient. If you are called to charter a learning pathway, know that you are never alone. You are both fearfully and wonderfully made. I hope in this piece you will understand me better as an educator and your father and yourselves as lifelong learners. 

Dear Jasmine

You knew your desired pathway at 10 years old but the pathway at times wasn’t welcoming. There is a difference between challenges on a pathway designed to build your strength and those designed to break your will. In this season where you are forging a different pathway, know that wherever your heart takes you, you belong. If you find yourself being the first, believe that you will not be the last. Bring your village with you especially where you don’t think they may fit. Never think you are proving anything by going at it alone. A child’s first educator is their parent and this is a class designed to last a lifetime. 

Take the time to reflect on where your education and life pursuits have taken you to this point in your life. See where you were resilient but silent. Be honest with yourself about how those moments felt. Ask yourself, based on who you are now, what would you have done differently? In your reflection don’t gloss over the great achievements along the way. The risks that you undertook in successfully completing your bachelor’s and master’s degrees must serve as reminders to you as to what you can do when you put your mind and your heart in the same place at the same time.

You are an avid reader. Read the words of those who will inspire you. Read the words of those who validate how you see yourself today, tomorrow, and in the future. Read the words of those who you are willing to carry with you so you will see yourself as a continuum of greatness and overcoming. Read the words of those who evoke the emotions that you need to feel to always ensure that you are living and not existing. Read the words of those who you trust will inform you so that when you make your decisions, there are no regrets. Read to find where the void is so that your life’s journey will be written so that a little girl in the future will be inspired, validated, and charged by you.

Jasmine as you navigate your learning pathway, take your family with you. When we don’t understand, know that our love is ever present and that our mind will always catch up. I am writing you this letter because I believe in you and I believe that there are so many others like you who need to hear these words. When I think about new pathways of learning, I think they must be intergenerational. They must foster dreaming with our minds open and our eyes closed. Then when we open our eyes we collectively learn and press towards making the world what we saw with our eyes closed and our minds open.

Dear Isaiah,

School was never your cup of tea. It was, as you would say, a necessary evil that was required for society and for our household. Unfortunately, this thinking never provides enough fuel to finish the race. I apologize for where I focused more on your discipline than your dreams. You are the young person who knows they’re talented but is unsure of where the talents should be applied. You, and many young people today, are more enamored by the prize than the process. You’ve been battling on the inside between searching for the learning pathway based on profit and embracing the learning pathway based on purpose.

I’ve seen you at your best when your learning pathway has placed you in the position to be a teacher in various forms to people younger than you. I’ve watched you light up when you’re in front of a room talking to a group of high school students about Hip Hop and their future. I’ve witnessed you share some of the most difficult moments in your life to help a young brother who was in need. You give of your time and you are willing to share your successes and your failures to help those coming behind you be more informed. This is a gift that makes you special.

As you work to complete your traditional education, know that the degree will not define you but we live in a society where it serves as a key. When I think about myself, my degree represents my capacity to learn even though my career is a different pathway than my degree. I see the same thing happening with you. I pray that you can observe me on my multiple pathways as an entrepreneur and find a level of comfort in moments of contemplation. At times you have to spend time with yourself to get to know yourself and to understand and love yourself. Most importantly, you have to trust yourself so that you can commit to whatever you put your mind and heart to.

I hope your past and even present educational experiences don’t make you bitter when it comes to learning. You represent part of my muse for the work that I do and the way I go about doing my work. To have you working with me as part of your learning pathway brings me hope and joy. It brings me hope because it reaffirms that starting my business was God’s plan not only for me, but for you, and everyone we get to instruct, inspire, and ignite. It brings me joy because we get to see each other at our best and we realize that being at our best is doing this work together. 

I am thankful for being able to write this piece knowing that I have discovered a love for learning that has me exploring multiple pathways. I read now with a different intention and expectation. I write to liberate, listen to educate, and think to motivate myself first. I strive to be a model for youth and adults alike to understand the power and potential within the process of learning as a way of living. #LearnLiveAndProsper #NewPathways 

Timothy Jones is a New Pathways Senior Fellow for Getting Smart. Additionally, he is a long-time educator, coach, mentor and someone who lives and breathes hip hop. Timothy is the Chief Visionary Officer at HipHopEd, a digitally-birthed organization with a sprawling membership of brilliant educators and passionate advocates that know just how powerful this intersection can be.

He is also the founder of Techniques4Learning, a company dedicated to utilizing Hip-Hop and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to develop and implement strategies, curriculum and activities to improve teacher student engagement for schools, universities, education organizations and community based organizations.

Guest Author

Getting Smart loves its varied and ranging staff of guest contributors. From edleaders, educators and students to business leaders, tech experts and researchers we are committed to finding diverse voices that highlight the cutting edge of learning.

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