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I’m Seventeen

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Kate Simonds is a seventeen-year-old senior at Timberline High School. In February of 2015, she took the stage at a TEDx event in Boise, Idaho.

She started off her talk by addressing the ‘elephant in the room’, her age.

“The only qualification to being a TED speaker is to have an idea – an idea you think is worth spreading,” Simonds said. “I don’t think that I should have to be a high school millionaire or to have cured an epidemic to be worth listening to. . . Any idea should be respected no matter the age of who it comes from.”

Simonds pointed out to the audience that unlike other TED talkers, she had to gain their respect.

“I hope I’ve gained your respect,” she said. “I say gained because unlike other speakers I didn’t have it initially. There was an inherent paradigm of doubt [because I’m 17].”

Several minutes into the video, Simonds reveals her concrete idea.

“A world of creative collaboration between adults and students,” Simonds said. “It’s a world where adults listen and respect student ideas and a world where students respect and listen to their own ideas.”

According to Simonds, the benefits that would come from this idea are extensive.

“The education system will improve dramatically,” Simonds said. “Students will care about learning because they know that their education matters. In the current status quo[,] once you’re educated past a certain point you’ve learned all about failure.”

Simonds believes teachers are being told to teach students to “lose belief in possible change or perfection.” She has noticed over her education career in public schools that she and her classmates are being taught to stop “thinking outside the box and to accept adequacy.”

A LiveScience article written in 2011 on today’s youth and their creativity level provides similar statements to Simonds. “Experts say creativity is innate, so it can’t really be lost. But it needs to be nurtured.”

“Experts say creativity is innate, so it can’t really be lost,” Rachael Rettner said. “But it needs to be nurtured.”

“The current focus on testing in schools and the idea that there is only one right answer to a question may be hampering the development of creativity among kids,” Ron Beghetto, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, said.  

Simonds continued reiterating the fact that the school systems in America need changing.

“As students, we have no say in what we learn or how we learn it, yet, we’re expected to absorb it all and be able to run the world someday,” she said. “We’re expected to raise our hands to use the restroom [and] then three months later be ready to go to college or have a full-time job, support ourselves or live on our own – it’s not logical.”

Simonds believes if teens voices were respected and listened to, students would be more “fearless” and committed to actually learning the information they need to work well in today’s society.

“Think of the creative ideas that could come of it,” Simonds said. “Once students know their voices matter they’ll feel obligated to participate[.] They’ll feel responsible for where policies are headed[,] and with improved efficacy comes progress across the board.”

She claims most of her knowledge and push to bring awareness to this issue is from a program called One Stone. One Stone is a student-run official 501c3 nonprofit. Simonds joined the board as a sophomore in high school.

“I learned how to create a budget[,] how to run an interview[,] how to speak in front of large groups and[,] most importantly[,]  how to problem-solve,” Simonds said. 

Simonds aspires to spread the kind of environment she experiences with students in One Stone everywhere. “[There,] no one [has] ever questioned the validity of my thoughts.”

“[There,] no one [has] ever questioned the validity of my thoughts,” Simonds said. 

The mindset of students (and teenagers in general) not deserving a voice or control over how or what they learn is toxic. Society is teaching them to question their creativity and their judgment solely because they don’t come from adult minds.

“Maybe the problem is that we should be harnessing these ideas – we should be tapping into these spontaneous brain pathways and using them to solve problems,” Simonds said.

In other words, maybe the ‘crazy’ ideas of young teens aren’t too bad after all; with some structure, they could be helpful in dealing with the many challenging problems we face today, such as government corruption, food and water security, and climate change.

“Ask us about Social Security. Ask us about environmental destruction. Ask us[,] ask us about anything. Let us know that we matter because we do,” Simonds said.

One point that Simonds emphasizes throughout the TED talk is the stereotype that teenagers don’t know much of anything about what’s happening in the ‘real world’.

“Just because we’re teenagers doesn’t mean we don’t understand politics, and similarly, just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean that you do,” Simonds said.

Overall, Simonds stresses that we as a society need to “hold each other accountable [in order] for any progress to be made.”

Simonds closes out her talk with this statement:

“Teens, you need to believe in your voices, and adults, you need to listen.”


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