What I learned about aspiration from my students

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In last week’s blog, we introduced you to Manatee class. This week, Manatee teacher, Claire Brewin, reflects on her students’ ambitions for life. As Claire explains, some aspirations from her students in the community of Flora Tristán surprisingly taught her more about the future than she expected…

There’s a theory in the modern world that all people are the same. We all want to be loved. We all strive to become more valued individuals. And we all want to become something ‘better’ than the person we already are.

When I was thirteen, my dreams for the future were set. I would grow up and become a West End actress, be married with two kids, and live in a four-bed detached house in the countryside. When I look back on that idea now, I realise that those dreams were merely everything I already had.

Of course, I wasn’t married, and I wasn’t a teenage mother. I also wasn’t playing a run of The Sound of Music in London. But it was everything I was used to. I grew up in a very middle-class family, in a very middle-class village, with a very middle-class view on how I wanted my life to pan out. So when I stand now, in front of my class of teenagers from Flora Tristan, Peru, as they sit in an age of wishing and hoping, I ask myself the question: do we really all want the same things? Or are our ambitions and expectations simply shaped by our surroundings?

It’s tempting to assume that anyone living in an impoverished community longs for nothing more than to escape their unlucky life for a more inspiring one elsewhere. It’s also pretty tempting to assume their ambitions would be fairly low-key. So when one of my fifteen-year-old students told me she’d like to be a lawyer, and if that fails, she’s going to be the President of Peru, any preconceptions of culture were let go of in an instant. She wants to go to university, she wants a husband who will love her, and she wants two children in a happy family.

I paused.

This student lives over 6000 miles away from the home I spent all 19 years of my life growing up in. Her childhood village appears to be nothing like the leafy green village of my own. Yet her hopes for the future, and those of her equally ambitious classmates who aspire to be doctors and engineers, echo loudly those of people in my own country.

So is there really any difference in what us humans crave from life, if these teenagers from the community of Flora Tristán in Southern Peru, share the same ideas as the kids of 24-hour Facebook and drive-thru Starbucks, all those miles away?

The answer lies not in their ambitions, but in their reasonings. My student wants to be a lawyer, not because it is seen as a good career, earns a high salary, or because she particularly cares about the study of criminal justice. She wants to be a lawyer because she wants to help those dependent on justice to end the suffering her people have already experienced themselves. And when I asked her why she didn’t want to continue her career when she later becomes a wife and mother, she simply couldn’t give me an answer.

The real reason we may want something extra in life might not be a matter of what is intrinsically viewed as good or bad, but a product of what we have already experienced, seen, or heard. However, another student, aged 13, told me that he wanted a big house, with many floors, and many rooms, just because he “wants to be something”. So, maybe that modern world theory which suggests that every one of us primarily wants to be loved, valued, and always strive to become someone ‘better’, is – after all – true today in whichever part of the world you grew up.

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Written by Claire Brewin

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One thought on “What I learned about aspiration from my students

  1. Hope you’re going to write a book about this when you return home Claire. Really thought provoking stuff xx

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