A Knight, Errant

I love myself a good protest. Even if I don’t agree with the demonstrators’ point of view, the courage it takes to speak out against the norm is always inspiring. Last week, I saw the largest student demonstration in my time at North, a sit-in in the main hallway comprising about 150 students. They were protesting the dismissal of one of their favorite teachers, Nishan Patel, who teaches AP Studio Art and Art Foundation and advises two clubs after school. In fact, he seems to be everyone’s favorite teacher—even if they’ve never taken his class. I’m one of those students. I’ve never been interested in pursuing art, but Mr. Patel can be counted on to return my absent-minded smiles in the hallways with a genuineness that is both refreshing and rewarding. Plus, I’ve played Super Smash Brothers with him and lost humiliatingly, so he’s clearly a baller.

Students like me mixed with those whose lives he’d touched to form a massive peaceful demonstration of support for Patel in the main hallway. It was absolutely beautiful—when he walked past to resounding cheers and applause, I was nearly moved to tears. I hope the team of administrators and school officials who decided not to renew Patel’s contract are now moved to support a man who has clearly touched the lives of dozens of students.

The Patel protests show us that our voices do matter, even if they can’t break through the soundproof wall of apathetic bureaucracy that administrators have erected. Rather than the malaise of fleeting disappointment that usually follows the news of a kind teacher’s departure, a dedicated group of students garnered support by using social media and sheer passion to respectfully voice their concerns about the decisions of those in control. We can all learn something from them—I know I did. Their moderation and sincerity were far more potent than any angry yelling or obnoxious pestering would have been.

The second lesson that the huge wave of support for Patel teaches us is about the education system in general. Patel is known as an innovative teacher with genuine passion for his subject. He ought to be rewarded, not punished. Administrators should embrace the few teachers who reject the sort of by-the-book lesson plans that make high school such an incredible grind. Patel represents exactly what we need in education: creativity and change.

Isn’t education about the students in the end? If this is truly the case, district administrators should open their ears: the students have spoken, and spoken loudly. Even if the protests don’t achieve their goal, what they represent is far bigger than any one man, however awesome he may be. They show that there is a new way of thinking coming. The old way may still have power—but not for long. The world of education will, I hope, soon belong to the Patels of this world. The future belongs to those who want progress, and aren’t afraid to stand up—or sit down—for it.

Keep calm, Mr. Patel. We support you.

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