Sometimes I want to run to the streets and scream as loud as I can about the injustices I see. I want to scream so loud so that the whole world will hear. Sometimes I think my notion of my profession is a little too Romantic. A little too Dangerous Minds. But I can’t resist what I feel in my heart. I don’t just feel it in my heart, I feel it in my soul. And I am mad!
This draw and need to give youth a voice. That isn’t Romantic. It sure doesn’t feel like it. It feels urgent, necessary and important. I stand in front of my classroom on the daily and tell students their voices matter and probably 70% roll their eyes and think, “Yea every teacher says that.” But every once in awhile one will speak out and I think, “Dang, maybe just maybe they do hear me.”
Last week I had a student in my speech class give a speech about spoken word. He wanted to teach his peers about his spoken word poetry that he writes. A poetry that is emotional and hard to deliver. But what I noticed in the weeks prior to this is that he would write these amazing poems and then would end up tearing himself apart and tossing them in garbage.
Somewhere along the way someone told him or taught him his words didn’t matter and that what he had to say didn’t matter. And that frustrates the heck out of me. Seriously…Why do teenagers voices not matter? We push them to be adults and get jobs and do important things in the world and when they try we hush them and tell them they don’t understand the real world. We force them into mini molds of what we expect of them.
It isn’t my job to tell them the reality of the world. It is my job to teach to them to communicate those words so that people hear them. I have always believed that. Then I hear today about what is happening in Baltimore and I can’t bring myself to listen to news reports or watch footage. I heard three things. Riots. Caused by black teens. Thugs.
And I shut down. Why? Why? Why? Seriously how are we not passed black teens and thugs? And why is that the part that is news worthy? Maybe a little more addressing the actual problems that exist would get us passed this surface assumption? I am sure there are facts in there that someone will tell me I am missing. But why? They are teenagers and they want to be heard. They are trying to be heard and their reward is to accentuate their race and call them a thug? And what exactly is this solving?
It pushes them into the roles that we force them into. A life of a thug or white trash or fill in whatever crappy adjective you can conjure that adults say about teens when they don’t follow our preset rules. I am not saying lawless activity is okay, but I am saying it never has to get to that point.
So yea that isn’t Romantic. Our teens are fighting against tides that have absolutely nothing to do with them. They cry out in social media. They cry out in classrooms like yours and mine. They cry out in the media or in the wrong ways. They cry out in their homes or in their bedrooms or in gangs. But that is because they are teenagers. They are supposed to do it in wrong ways.
I can’t quit shaking my head in disbelief. I cry out instead for all of us to give them an ear. They need to be heard. They need to know that the world can be a better place and empower them with the ability to create it. That doesn’t happen when we see skin deep and shut our eyes and ears and expel our prejudices and stereotypes.
There is no magical school of thought in that. This isn’t the beauty in the classroom I am talking about now. This is the real, raw and tough to talk about stuff that needs to be taking place in our classrooms. If we can’t talk about it then why are we there? Am I to teach them how to behave in a manner that suits the media and the adults who run it? Or I am to teach them how to talk so that none of those stereotypes and prejudices matter? Prove them wrong I say. Prove what they think and say about you is wrong. There is a greatness in that that no one can touch.
I tell my kids (real and students) to be a doer. There is nothing wrong with being a dreamer, but a doer goes out and does it. They don’t take the no’s. They don’t accept the prejudices and they ignore the names. But we have to help them. By we I mean the adults in their lives. The parents. The teachers. The friends.
We all have to step up and be a bit better. A better listener. Empower our kids with voices that are heard so that violence is not their last call to action. Stop being satisfied with calling them a thug and washing our hands of it and changing the channel to something more appealing. We have to expect and demand more of our teens. And I promise you this sometimes we may be disappointed because they may not met those demands, but I guarantee you this….if you actually listen and give them a voice THEY WILL TRY!
And that try is worth something and they are worth something. So let’s hear them no matter where they come from.