I’m fairly convinced that all high school students are brilliant in their own unique way. Maybe not in obvious ways like an IQ score, academic achievement, or artistic ability but somewhere deep under all the blank stares (boredom), apathetic attitudes (disengagement), and mighty swagger (just the age), there is a brilliantly creative individual. Sadly, we squash so much of their imagination and creativity with our factory-designed schools. Read this chapter, answer the questions, study for a test, and then regurgitate the memorized material on a quiz. Repeat for the next unit. Feels a little like doing the laundry. Yes, a sweeping generalization, but for the most part, it seems high school hasn’t changed much since I was there, and that was too many moons ago to count. Yesterday, I met one of those brilliant high schoolers that, for the most part, had been written off by the traditional schooling system.

I’ll call him Brian. He’s roughly 17 and way behind in school. Missing too many credits to count, he spends his days at the alternative school in town sometimes going to class, sometimes not, mostly on his computer instead of doing his assignments. I had a chance to meet Brian because he is interested in making a video and he wanted some help. Okay, I can do that. I began by asking him questions. Simple ones, like have you ever made a video before? Sure, he replied. On iMovie. I taught myself last year. Okay, that’s great, I answered. Can you show me something you have made? He paused for a second, and replied slowly, sure. But the rest of the meeting was anything but slow.

The light in his eyes began to beam, and for the next 15 minutes, he showed me his brilliance, his imagination. Video game commentaries he created. A logo he designed for his video game team. The website with company sponsors and team apparel. He explained he wanted to learn Cinema 4D and After Effects so he could create his own opening for a video about his team. He talked about his interest in graphic design but wasn’t sure about it because Photoshop was hard. I kept asking questions and he continued to give me brilliant responses. And when he stopped he said, I’ve learned most of this on my own, and I want to learn more so I need some help. No wonder he is bored and underperforming in school. He already owns his own business!

We spent the next few minutes talking about basic shot composition in visual storytelling. He told me his idea for his video and how he would go about doing it, the questions he would ask those he interviewed and the type of shots he wanted for broll. We decided he would shoot his video on his iPhone and edit on Adobe Premiere. I asked him if he knew who Michael Bay was. He gave that swaggering high school smile and said, of course I know Michael Bay. He’s one of my favorite directors. Good, I said. Go watch some of his movies and see how he directs his shots. Look at his angles and movement and maybe try some of those techniques in your video.

I could not stop thinking about this boy the rest of the afternoon. His brilliance. His imagination. Maybe his story is a little extreme, but my guess is there are many more high school students out there who shut off their imagination and creativity every day when they come to school. I watch my own children, who are not quite in high school, navigate the Minecraft world, programming different mods and designing 3D structures. They have even created Mother’s Day and birthday cards for me on Minecraft. And I worry they don’t know how to write a narrative essay.

Engage the imagination. Whatever we are teaching, whatever standards need to be “covered”, we, as educators, need to remember to engage the imagination of our students. Unlock the brilliance. It’s there.

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