Today I found out that one of my favorite students is in prison for murder.
He is only nineteen.
My friend and teaching colleague shared the news via facebook. The way it was stated, I thought for certain that this must be a joke. It has to be. This is the same kid whose parents picked him up and dropped him off at school. I want to call attention to the incredible responsibility we all shoulder regarding our young people.
I don’t have all of the answers. I wish I did.
I am not sure that I have any answers and yet there have got to be some solutions. Where were his parents ? While I taught him, I often had conversations with his parents. His father, who obviously felt much love and frustration regarding this individual, would often state “we can’t do anything with him”.
This is the same student who told me that his mother lied about his age so she could get him out of the house.
He was four and in no way ready for school.
This is the same student who told me a teacher called him a dumb ass. After this proclamation, the instructor told the class that if he could do the work anybody could do it. Where was the outpouring of community concern ? There was no one willing to say, “send him to me; I’ll handle him; I’ll turn him around.
What has happened to a community wherein the youngest get avoided and ignored.
When I was his age and younger, my parents and the adults who knew my parents were aware of my goings on. I am always shocked when I talk to young people whose guardians have allowed them to do whatever they like with little to no accountability. Equally stunning is the phenom wherein parental involvement has ceased and the young person most affected by this decision is nine.
Our children need more involvement from us not less.
They will not figure shit out on their own. Between the media and their peer groups, who often know less than they do, there is little chance for our young people to grow up into responsible critical thinking individuals. Without our assistance and firm and gentle love and guidance , our young people are left to navigate a world that is strange, competitive, narcissistic and changing in such an expedient fashion that without us they become and remain lost.
Without our assistance, how will they develop the sense of self to not apologize for making productive, life enhancing skills.
For example, another one of my students began taking my class late. Even though he entered my class one month after it began, he wanted to catch up and do well. He asked about missed assignments and from day one performed the best out of all of my students. His mind was sharp, able to immediately see all and any connections but at some point gave up and decided that doing well in school no longer mattered.
The first week he dedicated himself to doing well and beamed with pride when I anonymously used one of his writing assignments as an example of the type of stellar work I expected from all of my students.
This quickly changed. At one point, he became antagonistic and hostile.
It became more important to display the “I don’t give a shit” attitude. I have no idea what brought about this bizarre and disturbing turn of events. I had not changed. He no longer saw learning as cool and his instructor as an adult who cared. I refused to let him slide and produce anything less than what I knew he was capable of.
When he confided in me that he was a teen dad, he was seventeen and his daughter was three, I redoubled my efforts and reminded him that he had someone dependent on him.
I struggled with both these students trying to make sense of a world and a way of thinking that made no sense. What could I have done differently ? Was I just another black teacher with middle class values trying to instill them in young people who were neither concerned nor impressed with my “alternative” ways of viewing the world and how they would enter into it or refashion it to make it fit their desires ?
Having worked with a number of young people from all walks of life, I have some insight into what makes certain students turn right and others turn left.
It is a collaborative effort. Everyone involved in the young person’s life must make their education and subsequent successes a priority.
The parents and students and instructor must all agree that success is achievable and expected. Then all parties must gather and map out both a strategy for attaining success and the part everyone involved will play in making sure that this happens. It does no good to point fingers and blame.
No solution was every created by pretending that there wasn’t a very serious problem.