I was in second grade when I first became aware that I was good at school. A man started pulling me out of classes twice a week to test for placement in the gifted program, and I quickly recognized the symbolic honor of being separated from the herd.
Throughout the next few years, my “supplementary education” continuously engrained in me the idea that I had the unique gifts required to lead others. Ironically, this stigma distanced me from the rest of the class; when teachers put students in pairs to work on projects, I was nearly always put with the one other boy in the gifted program, and I was always expected to effortlessly produce perfect work.
By the time I entered high school, the idea that I was ‘special’ and a ‘leader’ had been so reinforced that it became a central part of my identity. The qualities of a leader were clear: extroverted, intelligent, engaging, innovative.
I worked tirelessly to overcome my natural tendency for introversion and took all the right classes. In my honors classes, the need to document every bit of charitable work I participated in was impressed upon me. And by the end of my four years, I had developed a long list to attach to my college applications, proving my servant-like nature.
Speaking of college applications, did anyone see a single one that didn’t implore you to prove your leadership abilities? Tell me what college it was for, please.
I think a part of me was hoping that once I left the insecure jumble of faux self-confidence and forced extraversion that was high school, I would be able to ditch the leader stigma and invest in my interests. That wasn’t exactly how it played out.
I had to prove myself as a leader to even be able to afford to come to Goshen, and while I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity that it has created, it makes me slightly uneasy.
My first year of college has been a time of self-revelation and growth, and part of that has been realizing that I really don’t see myself as a leader. My strengths do not lie in spearheading movements and creating passion in large groups. On top of that, I don’t understand why it’s even necessary.
Why has the education system become so determined to mass-produce leaders? The people I see as true leaders have all gotten to that place by working hard for the causes they’re passionate about. Wouldn’t it be better to encourage young people to explore their interests and to learn to work diligently in those areas, rather than pressure select, privileged students into a pre-described role of leadership?
Furthermore, the subtle distances created between students who take well to a traditional education structure and those who would rather learn in a different way are so effective that by the time high school arrives, the majority of students who weren’t pushed in second grade definitely aren’t trying to be leaders anymore. The marginalized groups who are constantly overlooked and pushed to the side by the American education system are the people who need effective leadership and representation – not me and my privileged, white, book-smart peers who have always been catered to by our schools.
Disregarded students are the ones who have learned how to work. If they want to achieve any level of success, or even a self-sufficient lifestyle, they have to work twice as hard as the students who are constantly driven by their teachers’ high expectations. As someone who has been privy to the advantages of the attention of my educators, I admire those who have achieved an education without it.
In the end, I have two points.
First of all, I’m not trying to say that I don’t think leaders are necessary or important; history would quickly disprove that argument. But leaders are not created by documenting community service hours. Not all leaders are intellectuals. Not all leaders are outgoing and extroverted. Not all leaders were in the gifted program. Not all people who could have been great leaders had the tools to make it.
Secondly, not all important people are leaders. Nor should they be. An education shouldn’t automatically create a powerful leader; it should create a passionate person. Don’t disregard the importance of the people surrounding every leader. Without them, no work would ever get done.