So as friends of mine have posted about David Bowie and the impact he had on their lives, the power his music and performances brought to their creative sides, I was immediately reminded of a lyric that always resonated with me. Perhaps it’s because it’s from a John Hughes movie that came out in my High School years – The Breakfast Club. This lyric from Changes that was used then has often served as a reminder of what my middle school and high school students face and how easy it is for “we the adults” to forget our own past.
I have worked in secondary schools for 24 years within a large urban school district. I taught in schools within communities that were incredibly poor as well as within schools that had healthy diversity both economically & ethnically. I have interacted with kids from every type of background and in nearly 1/4 century I have determined that it is absolutely true: kids are kids. And the challenges they face every day may come in new shapes and sizes, and definitely come at faster speeds with less time to react, yet these young people are just like we all were. They’re all just trying to figure it out.
Generation X. Generation Y. Millennials. It doesn’t matter the name we give them as each young person faces the struggles of a first crush, a friends betrayal, a family health issue, and the seemingly never-ending quest to find their place in this world. Yet too often adults – mostly those that do not work in education yet feel that since they went to school they must be experts on teenagers and their needs – are quick to reference days of past while chastising “today’s youth.” And those taunts hurt me. They strike at the work I love as an educator and they also offer a gut punch to role I play as a dad.
Students today have to process information at greater speeds then we did because we have created such a world. It was not their decision to have information about them flying around at warp speed via achievement data, discipline data, nutrition, quiz grades, project completions, music choices, games they play, parties they attend, pictures they take, articles or videos they like. People tell them that they must have grit and resiliency and the ability to overcome. And at the same time another group of “wise adults” is telling them that they are not as good, that their schools are letting them down, and that their teachers are the problem. And if they just went back to basics and sat at the dinner table, then somehow that would cure all the ailments they face. Finally, for those young people that do push the envelope with new ideas or reach out to the world in new forms, the same adults often respond with a declaration that these youngsters don’t understand the “real world” and that they won’t be prepared for success.
My suggestion is to offer respect instead of advice. That instead of talking to them we should instead be quiet and listen. Some will struggle to find the words they need and we can fill in those gaps. Others may need guidance with how to channel emotion and we can support that. Speaking about the 3500 students in my school everyday, I can say that the majority are more self-aware than any other generation. So let us each approach them with an open mind and a commitment to respect the very real – often very raw – emotions they are feeling & world they are experiencing. Then offer them the space and time to make their own decisions. I know I have faith in them.
David Bowie may have been inspired to share such advice for other reasons however I think it is his background as an artist that brought him the clarity. He was judged and evaluated in his prime as he morphed identities and challenged the norm. And as tributes and applause have come forth after his death, I would argue that we add wise to the list of adjectives used to describe him.