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Dear Teens,

I see what you’ve been doing. I’ve been noticing it for a while now. Almost weekly you are solving intractable problems that have had adults stymied for years. A cheap way to check for pancreatic cancer. Stopping the spread of germs on planes. Cutlery that scans for bacteria. A rain and fireproof sleeping bag for the homeless. The list gets longer each time I look.

And what amazes me is that even when you don’t have many resources, you’re re-inventing the world. You’re doing it with scraps from dump heaps and in places where there are few books and only occasional electricity.

I’m envious. You’re just newly arrived here on this planet and yet you seem to see much more than we who have been here for many decades. Perhaps we have become jaded or too resigned to the world we know?

Of course it helps that you don’t have to invent mathematics. Or the printing press. Or the Internet. With easy access to the collective pantry of human ideas, you are deftly repurposing and reconfiguring what you find here.

And you do this despite what you learned in kindergarten, one of the first lessons in school: stay inside the lines. Luckily for us, you realize that colouring outside the lines can create a completely different picture. It’s outside conventional lines of thought that creative solutions lie. As you are well aware, it’s outside we’ll all have to go if we have any hope of leaving a livable planet for your children.

You’re quite concerned about the state of the planet you find yourself on and so apart from all the scientific breakthroughs you’re making, you’re also stirring change socially and politically in ways that sometimes stuns.

Those of us who are watching you know that Malala Yousafzi is not an anomaly, that there are many like her who refuse to accept the norm as normal for young women. We know not all 12-year-olds can start an organization like Free the Children but there are many more like Craig Kielburger who want to end social iniquities such as child slavery. We know that First Nations youth are “idle no more” despite their inheritance of a painful legacy. And we know that Victoria Barrett, who is suing the Obama administration, is at the vanguard of youth demanding that something be done to mitigate climate change.

There are multitudes of you with many brilliant ideas but too often those ideas are being buried beneath your boredom and frustration in schools. It was no surprise to see in a recent study by Yale that 75 per cent of you are either bored or frustrated or tired in schools. It’s certainly no surprise to Sir Ken Robinson who has for decades been urging schools to allow you to be who you are: creative problem solvers.

But despite his message resonating with teachers worldwide, too many politicians insist that you become human calculators, writers of the five-paragraph essay and memorizers of the information you can access within nanoseconds on that device in your pocket.

It’s no wonder that many of you are tired. I would be exhausted every day if I had to adjust and adapt to a new environment every hour as you do in schools. How do you cope with being in biology for an hour and then completely changing your train of thought to adapt to French or physics in the next hour? How do you adjust to the emotional climate of so many different classrooms and teachers each day? The effort must be daunting!

I wish that schools nurtured your creativity instead of punishing it. I wish that you were given time each day to allow your ideas to gestate. And I fervently wish that public schools were funded as a priority so that you had all the tools you needed to show us what we cannot see.

If these wishes came true for all of you and not just a few, I can’t imagine what you could do.

But I bet you can.

In admiration,

A Teacher

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