This routine question was the prompt I pulled out of the “hat” last week for our weekly check in, a simple way to open up a conversation and build connections among the 17 senior students in my Advisory class.
However, what started as an ordinary morning check-in turned into a conversation that revealed the extraordinary hearts and minds of the human beings I get to teach — and learn from — every day.
I was taken aback by the depth and honesty of their replies, wishes that revealed as much about the communities they inhabit as they do about the world they dream of living in.
Below is a close paraphrasing of many of their responses:
Adreanna volunteered to go first and set the tone for the entire conversation:
I wish I had the power to bring people back to life because I have lost too many people already in my life, and I just want to be able to see them and talk with them again.
I wish I could be immortal – but I’m not sure if that would be a good thing because then I would have to experience the loss of everyone I love.
Rickey got personal:
I want to bring back my mom. (She died last year.) I feel like her death is the cause of a lot of my depression and my problems this year, and if she was still here, I would be doing better.
Ivonne did not hesitate, her wish a straightforward hope for her alcoholic father:
I would make my dad healthy.
Karimah responded with a simple, “I just want to be happy,” revealing her insecurity over a recent breakup.
Jose struggled to put his wish into words, but finally landed on a wish:
To be able to transport myself anywhere in the world where someone was in trouble or being attacked so that I could stop them from being hurt. I guess I would be kind of a guardian angel for people.
Malia passed at first, perhaps intimidated by the authenticity of previous responses. However, when we circled back, her wish was no less profound or authentic:
I wish I could end war so that we could all live in peace.
Freddy started with a question about our 10th grade World History class in order to make sure his facts were straight, then he explained:
Remember when we learned about how when the Spanish came and took over the Aztec — or was it the Maya — and burned all of their books? I would reverse that so the people could know their histories, because if you know your history, you can’t be all messed up. I would make it so that everyone really knew their own histories.
Galy wished for the money to attend the university of her choice and Maria to get into her top-choice college. Aaron hoped for a record contract so that he could show the world it’s possible to come from the bottom and make it to the top. Emani wished that he could always be his best self.
And on and on.
No one wished for a pot of gold, a million dollars, or anything else that can be bought or sold – a fact that forced me, even after four years of teaching these youngStars, to check my own assumptions and false perceptions.
One of the year-long essential questions for my 12th grade World Literature class is: What does it mean to be human in an increasingly complex world? The students in my Advisory that day proved to me (though it did not earn them an A+ in the gradebook or an “Advanced” score on the Common Core assessments) that they have a pretty clear answer to our essential question, one that can be summed up in the form of a set of wishes — wishes that, if answered, would certainly make this world a more just, equitable, and beautiful place to live in.
Ed. note: Trevor Gardner teaches English and social studies at Envision Academy in Oakland. He also serves as an instructional coach and is a member of the school’s leadership team. Trevor has written for a number of educational journals, including the esteemed Phi Delta Kappan, in which his piece on restorative justice, “Make Students Part of the Solution, Not the Problem,” appears in the October 2014 edition.