I’m supposed to be doing tons of things for school now and besides that, I should be preparing dinner since P’s arriving from work any moment. But as usual, the urge to do something other than what you must do is stronger.
Today’s the first day back to school. It started out fine with my eighth graders generally receptive to my introduction of, drum rolls please, the Sun. I had three straight classes from 8 til 12 noon and it was exhausting. My ninth graders had a poetry exercise to start the year and our A Separate Peace
unit. I gave them one of those formulaic creative writing, which I wouldn’t normally give but works great when kids just need to let their thoughts out freely and without care for the more disciplined poetic standards. Here’s one of the more striking ones:
“I seem to be a Great tree
in the rainforests of Africa
but I am just a leaf on the ground
waiting to be stomped on…
I seem to be like a Wolf,
Proud and wild
But merely I am a dog, tamed
I seem to be the cub,
carefree and playful
But in spirit I am the lion,
Taking care of the pride…”
- K, grade 9
One of my eleventh graders submitted his paper on Gandhi, which was actually a consequence for violating a school rule. But more than a consequence, it was also supposed to be an act of atonement. This boy is one of my most intelligent, stubborn and opinionated students. He doesn’t mince his words, is a self-declared capitalist who vows to be filthy rich (even richer than his family is now) in ten years and do this at all costs. He sees a Darwinian world where one survives “by thinking and acting only when it benefits you”. He likens compassion to a condom—you whip it out only when you need it. Some colleagues were bothered. I am, too, of course. But then I realize that this ignorance as I’d like to call it is the reason why teachers really do have an important task in the education of adolescents. I’ve had this boy for two years now and when I first heard his ideas similar to this one, I was appalled and bothered for days. I pointed fingers at so many things: the way he was raised, the wealth of his family, TV and so many other things that I thought had to do with why he thinks the way he does. I wanted to blame people, former teachers, parents… I was even close to resigning to the idea that this kid will turn out to be a really despicable person in the future especially since he is far from being nice at present. In fact, he’s a real challenge—to his teachers and classmates and to his parents. I practically have conferences with his parents every month!
He’s just sixteen and clearly intelligent. And yes, he can do so many great and terrible things when he grows up. It’s scary isn’t it? I mean, we teachers have reasons to be bothered but we also have to face him and always bring his ideas back to him.
I look at him differently now. I see a boy, an adolescent who’s actually asking “why is the world this way?” When he says this is a dog-eat-dog world, I hear a voice saying “this is life, isn’t it? Why?” I actually sense fear and apprehension and I want to tell him “it’s alright, you
can do something about this.” WE will do something about this. Now, it’s even scarier.
In a way, I can’t help but think that it is OUR fault that this kid is starting to believe ideas like this. It is OUR fault that he is growing up in a world like ours. Soon I will ask him about hope. I know that deep inside, he has this.