In a speech during his bid for president, now President Barack Obama referred to a “young teacher” at Dodge Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago, who addressed him.

“She spoke about what she called “These Kids Syndrome”–the tendency to explain away the shortcomings and failures of our education system by saying that “these kids can’t learn”; or “these kids don’t want to learn” or “these kids are just too far behind.” And after awhile, “these kids” become somebody else’s problem. And this teacher looked at me and said, “When I hear that term it drives me nuts. They’re not ‘these kids.’ They’re our kids. All of them.”

I have heard the phrases “these kids can’t learn”, “these kids don’t want to learn”, and “these kids are just too far behind” flow from the mouths of some educators and parents and into the ears, hearts and minds of anyone willing to listen as easily as water flows from the mouths of rivers and rush downstream and over falls into great waters waiting below. I suspect that these statements may have developed out of frustration from a great many well intentioned people who truly desired to make a difference in the lives of children but found that the road to making a difference could be long and riddled with obstacles.

Instead of throwing up your hands in frustration and joining the choir of nay sayers, who blame the very people that they initially desired to help, open your mind, ask questions, roll up your sleeves, and seek the answers. Do the hard work that is necessary in helping another human-being to fulfill their promise.

Replace “these kids can’t learn” with “How can I help you to learn?”, then listen for the answer. Next replace “these kids don’t want to learn” with “How can I get you interested in learning?”, and listen for the answer. Finally, replace “these kids are just too far behind” with “How do I get you up to speed?”, and again, listen for the answer.

Human-beings are individuals so the answer may differ a bit from child to child. This is a process that requires time, patience, and flexibility. However, if you are diligent and you continue to ask questions and listen for the answers, you will start to notice patterns that will allow you to reach and help many children over time. After all, “They’re not these kids. They’re our kids. All of them.”