…Unless You Don’t Own a Ladder

Recently, my oldest daughter, her daughter, son, and husband served together on a mission trip to an orphanage in Guatemala. She shared with me some stories about their experiences there, including several guest speakers who came to speak to their group, some of whom were older children being raised in the orphanage. The common question asked by the American students of each of these speakers was “What is your dream for the future?” Each speaker had a very detailed description of his or her dreams for the future. After each speaker left, the American teens serving on the mission trip would discuss the answers given, and how each Guatemalan teen not only had a clear plan for their future, but such seemingly lofty goals. The American teens expressed how incredible the Guatemalan goals were but how unfortunate that their dreams were unattainable.

Why did the American teens believe that the goals were unattainable? Because in the United States, our teens are often told that their dreams are impossible. Yes, we live in the “Land of Opportunity”, but the statement isn’t truly believed by most. Students, like those serving on the mission trip, have learned, whether told by a teacher, parent, or significant role model, that “You can be anything you want to be” has some limitations, like money, education, and social standing. The idea that for some children, the goals they set for themselves are unachievable due to these limitations makes us uncomfortable. We might even disagree with the idea, but can we truly discount that it’s not true in many cases?

The children in the Guatemalan orphanage have been told “You can be anything you want to be” and they have no reason not to believe it’s true. Sure, they may not have personally witnessed someone reaching the same seemingly unattainable goal that they’ve set, but they’ve not have their dreams stifled by obstacles like money, education, or social status. They believe they can do whatever they choose; knowing only that it takes hard work and determination to achieve their goals.

A recent article in the New York Times describes the stifling of the dreams of children as “being honest” with them. Discouraging a child who does not have the grades to get into Harvard from setting that goal for himself is viewed as helping the child. But, do grades truly reflect a child’s potential to succeed at Harvard? Of course, that is not true. The list of reasons why a child’s grades might be poor is too numerous to list.

I’m not advocating encouraging children to live in a fantasy world, but I am asking myself whether I’m a “dream crusher” or a “dream supporter”. Guatemala was just named as one of the top ten “Happiest Countries”. Perhaps there’s something to be said for allowing dreams, even those that seem unattainable, to live inside a person’s head and heart, especially if the outcome is happiness.

Randel C. Goad – Mandt Faculty Supervisor