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  • Jeff Brown

Unexpected Strengths

“There are uses to adversity, and they don’t reveal themselves until tested. Whether it’s serious illness, financial hardship, or the simple constraint of parents who speak limited English, difficulty can tap unexpected strengths.” – Sonia Sotomayor

Complacency is what held me to a place of mediocre achievement in grade school and high school. I am not sure why I was complacent other than the self-esteem observation made just after High School. As I dig deeper, I have come to realize that perhaps my previous low self-esteem was bred by fear, centered around the adversity of my environment, up-bringing and early experiences.


It’s important to realize, respect and honor that we all experience adversity, which come in many forms. I appreciate what Justice Sotomayar was quoted as saying: “There are uses to adversity…and….difficulty can tap unexpected strength”.

In today’s world, as in previous generations, there is no shortage of adversity: poverty, broken families, drugs, crime, family size, homelessness, parental availability, diets, transportation, technology addiction, lack of role models, physical limitations, ADD, ADHD, mental limitations, language and ethnic limitations, deaths and tragedies.


The only comfort is that we all have adversities. The human condition is defined by adversity and our abilities to overcome adversity and ‘be better for them’. It is not our choice, but it is what we share in common, and when we know better, we need to do better by pulling together and helping each other.


“You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.” –  Michelle Obama

Our schools have been focused on solving the effects of adversity for our students now for decades. Well intentioned efforts have been made and some of them highly effective. These efforts include annual funding increases, busing, special education, new schools, nutritious meal programs, tutors, teacher aides, counseling and so much more. And yet, if student achievement is an indicator of effectively having addressed these adversities, then we have not made much progress in spite of the gallant efforts.

Adversity whether physical or circumstantial, is overcome in the chambers of hearts and minds, and through the struggle of overcoming (use a cocoon/butterfly example here?).


On the broadest scale of addressing adversity in the school district setting I ask:

  1. Is it more effective to help and encourage students as ethnic groups or by their wealth status, or is it more effective to help and encourage each individual with their own unique adversities?

  2. How can we help OUR students see their adversities as challenges TO overcome, versus seeing themselves as victims of a societal structure?

  3. How can CPSD staff and parents help each student conquer their adversities and unlock their potential?


“Adversity has ever been considered the state in which a man (or woman) most easily becomes acquainted with themselves.” – Samuel Jackson

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