July 7 2010
Absorbing the blow of a hard life is no easy thing to do. That’s why so many young people show up at school kind of beat up, cracked, angry, hungry, uncertain, wary, you name it. Students’ hectic, chaotic, secret lives come into school buildings by the millions every day: they collide, seethe, find solace, seek distraction. Every outburst, every uncontrolled moment, every disrespectful action or word emanates from some source elsewhere in a child’s life. Some raw-edged feeling has been building in a child’s life . . . and in it walks in the front door of our school with that child.
The old teacher’s saw “in the real world” is an insidious misnomer. There is nothing more real than a teenager’s life in a school: the girl who slights the disquieted boy; the young boy who tried to hard but still failed an Algebra test – will I always be a screw up, he wonders; the only trusted person in a junior girl’s life has just told a senior about her boyfriend; and on the list goes. Maybe it is that each of these three people come into my English class, sitting in opposite parts of the classroom, and we open to Catcher in the Rye and Holden is wondering about his little sister Phoebe, so pure, so smart, so unscathed by living, and all Holden wants to do is freeze time. What of Holden’s story resonates in the mind’s eye of these three teenagers? Who among them will lash out at me, just because I am the adult in front of them at that time?
And what should I do?
Sometimes, life is simply too burdensome a thing for a young person to withstand. Here it is that the adults, as a parent often does, absorb the anguish and pain of a child’s chaotic life. There are not two worlds – school and the so-called ‘real world’ – but one world in the life of teenager: whatever space and time the teen occupies, there lies what’s real – that moment and all of a child’s life with it. There are no compartments in a teen’s life, no clean separation between work and school, between dating and homework, between mom on drugs at home and the child without purpose at school. It is OneThing.