Today I read a letter from a high school teacher that was addressed to Stephen Curry, the highly coveted point guard for the Golden State Warriors of the NBA. Matt Amaral, the author of this letter, claims to be a big fan of Curry and an avid follower of the NBA. Yet in his letter Amaral begs Curry to never come to visit the high school at which he works, despite admitting that Curry is a hero to majority of the students there. Amaral's intent with his letter is to point out that Curry has been given every advantage in life and that is how he became the legendary player that he is today. On top of minimizing the plethora of work it takes to be a professional athlete and one of the greatest players in the NBA, Amaral condemns his students for wanting to imitate Curry's success. In his mind, Curry's presence will only feed a fantasy which is already poisoning many of his high school students. Of course, that fantasy is to play a professional sport and to reach a high level of success, which as Amaral points out, is less likely than winning the lottery. Instead he believes these adolescents should be solely focused on their school work because it is one of the few facets of their life which they can control.
After reading this letter several times over and analyzing Amaral's intentions in writing it, which for the record I believe were pure, I decided that the best format for a response would be to write a letter back to Mr. Amaral himself:
As I read through your letter, I had a series of reactions, and I'll be upfront with you, most of them were not positive. After reading the letter, the initial thought I had was, "Matt Amaral is a moron." My next thought which may be slightly less insulting, maybe, was, "Thank God that man was never my teacher." You see Matt (I hope you don't mind if I call you Matt), you've got it all wrong. Do you honestly believe that Steph Curry's journey into being one of the greatest NBA players on the court today is as simple as being fortunate? Do you really think that the formula for becoming an exceptional athlete is having wealthy parents and hitting the genetic lottery?
Your entire article is based on the premise that your students are extremely naive, while you yourself point to a legend like Steph Curry and say, "How fortunate for him to have had a father in the NBA, and a family that supports him." Well I'm here to tell you that if I were Steph Curry and I read this article I would be insulted, and not just because you've overlooked the countless obstacles and unmeasurable amount of work I'd put in to get to where I am today. No, by far the most insulting part of this letter is your view of the children you are paid to educate. You give them no credit and offer them no hope, despite the fact that you recognize they are in desperate need of it. I am not calling you a bad teacher. I have no reason to doubt your abilities as an educator, in fact I bet you are a pretty intelligent man that is quite capable in the classroom.
But I have to ask you to do me a solid and make sure you don't ever teach at my future child's high school.
I am sure you do great things in your community, but you are a horrible mentor. I have to ask you. What are your goals as a teacher and what kind of values do you want to instill in the children that you teach? It seems to me that you are telling your students to settle for mediocrity instead of pursuing what they are passionate about. Now, don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree that celebrity worship is a major problem in our culture and particularly in America's youth, but the answer is not to tell the kids to stop dreaming. I mean come on Matt. Do you really believe that you're going to help out an adolescent boy by telling him that he'll never play in the NBA? Or that you're going to redirect a struggling young girl's life by telling her that she'll never be Beyonce? Give me a break. If you're so insistent that none of your students will ever do anything as great as Steph Curry in the eyes of America, then at least start giving them advice that will help them.
I know when I was in high school, I wouldn't have given the time of day to a teacher that didn't believe I would accomplish my goals and fulfill my dreams. However, I did have close relationships with teachers that would often remind me of the reality of injuries in sports and the variety of factors that could result in ending my career in sports. My teachers made sure that I knew they believed in my goals, but they prepared me for wherever life would take me. These are the kinds of influences that high school students need, because maybe they don't have all of the things that Steph Curry had growing up, but good teachers that believe in their students and encourage them to pursue what they are passionate about is something every high school student should have.
I suppose that what surprised me as much as anything in your letter was the overwhelmingly pessimistic generalizations that you made about your students. For example, "The kids I am talking about do not play year-round, they are not in a traveling league, and they have never even heard of a McDonald's All-American; they just eat McDonald's two meals a day and have Hot Cheetos in between." Or my personal favorite quote from the letter, "Because the worst thing you won't tell them Steph, is that they can't do it."
Perhaps what made these statements even harder for me to swallow was finding out that you teach in Hayward, Calif. After reading your letter and what you had to say about your students, I assumed that you must teach in an extremely impoverished area at one of the worst schools in America. But no, you teach at a slightly below average school. Maybe what bothers me is that you teach in a school district that is not so different than the one I started in, and the one many of my peers went to. I, like many of your students, had aspirations of being an athlete at the highest level. My sport of choice is wrestling, and since I was about six years old I have dreamed of wrestling at a Division I school and eventually in the Olympics. Throughout my middle school and high school years, I had a number of speakers that came to my schools. I couldn't tell you what most of them said, or even most of their names, but I do recall having Lynn Swann speak at my public middle school when I was in the 7th grade.
In case you're not as into the NFL as you are the NBA I'll clue you in. Lynn Swann is a Hall of Famer who played football for the Pittsburgh Steelers and helped them win four Super Bowls. I remember how every young athlete's eyes lit up as they watched Swan walk onto our middle school stage. They sat in awe as they watched one of their heroes explain the type of hard work it takes to achieve the kind of success that he had. Now I would be lying if I said there weren't at least 20 teenage boys that left that auditorium feeling like they would win a super bowl some day, but I would also be lying if I told you that Swan's speech stopped them from doing their homework that night. On the contrary, his speech ignited a fire in the hearts of the children in that room that looked up to him and gave some hope to the kids in the room that were struggling. The whole reason I remember that assembly was because it gave me a vision. It allowed me to see that being passionate about a sport can lead you to great things in life if you combine it with hard work in the classroom and good character.
So Matt, I write you so that I may urge you to stop telling the kids that they can't. I was one of those kids, and I did, and it was because I had role models like Steph Curry and teachers that believed in me. This fall I will be a sophomore at Harvard, and I will be starting for their Division One wrestling team, and I didn't get here by just doing my homework. I got here because I had a dream, I had people that believed in me, and I had a deep passion and love for the sport of wrestling which ultimately led to me being recruited by the Harvard wrestling coaching staff. So please, next time one of your students says they will be in the NBA, encourage their passion and reinforce the importance of academics, and if Steph Curry ever does want to come to your high school then thank your lucky stars and welcome him with open arms.
**Note: You can find Matt Amaral's original full post here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-amaral/dear-steph-curry-youre-the-man_b_7502850.html**