teenagers are somebodies
I had a very interesting and multi-faceted conversation with a friend the other night. We were talking about Antigone and the multiple difficulties inhernent in discussing the play, and in discussing with students who have never read Oedipus Rex. At some point, Antigone's age had become a point of discussion for the class (was she 17 or 13). That got us talking about teenagers today and how they are largely ignored. Now some of you are reacting this way: "What? But so much of society is geared toward the teenage consumer--what do you mean ignored?" True. Much of marketed products are geared toward teenaged consumers. But. How often does an adult take a teenager seriously? How often do teachers in the average school carry on discussions with their students in which the students opinions are given merit and weight? How many parents involve their teenagers in family decision making? Not enough. I think that a large part of so-called "behavioral issues" among today's student bodies can be chalked up to teenagers being ignored. Think about your high school years. How many classes incorporated serious, thoughtful discussion in which the students' thoughts/opinions were taken as serious talking points? I have a feeling not many, if you can think of any. The structure of today's classroom--despite serious modern undermining of professorial authority--is geared more like this: students sit in desks and have ideas poured into their brains by teachers who lecture most of the class and then ask basic factual recognizanze questions to discover whether or not the students are listening. Am I right? Here's a better model (and one that shows how much I agree with the classical model of education): high school students are given facts and context for what they are studying, then they learn to reason out their own ideas and opinions, and practice expressing them in class. Hmmm. In which model would teenagers feel usefull and significant? Here's the reason this matters: my friend is a graduate assistant in charge of leading discussions over reading covered in the class; he often struggles to get his college students to talk--to express their opinions and discuss them. Because the structure of most high school classrooms ignores the input of its students, when these students get into a college classroom, many of them have no idea how to form or express an opinion, but they are suddenly expected to. Now suddenly they are to be contributers, but no one has taught them how. How frustrating that is for both them and their instructors! The solution? Adults need to appreciate the significance of teenagers. This attitude that teenagers are troublesome and unreasonable needs to go. (Of course, that would be helped if we could get rid of the teachers who hate their high school students and think they are stupid--I've worked with some of these.) Don't anyone misperceive me, and say that I think teenagers are autonomous beings who are the same as adults. I don't. Teenagers still have a lot to learn, and just because you give them serious credit for their ideas and opinions doesn't mean you go along with them/agree with them/make decisions based on them. Teenagers are not adults, but they are almost adults and should be given credit for that. Teenagers have a lot to offer--adults, whether parents, teachers, or mentors, should recognize that. Ignoring the value of teenagers simply stunts their ability to interact as adults when they get there. And before they get there, it spurs them to act out to get the attention they ought to be getting for their ideas rather than their behavior. I think society would be amazed at the difference that would occur if teenagers were led down the road to adulthood with respect and consideration, rather than expecting them to be silent and swallow whatever adults hand them to swallow.
I hope all that made sense. At any rate, I try very much to treat my high schoolers as independent beings who have a great deal to contribute to my class. Their answers may not always be right, but when they aren't, we discuss why. It never fails that I have to fight against the fear of being wrong. Even with homeschooled students. There is so often a fear of saying something I won't agree with and that will be wrong. I tell my students over and over to just say what they think. Just because I don't agree with them doesn't necessarily make the answer wrong. If they can't defend their position, I'll count it wrong; but if they have good reason for their opinion, then points for them. We'll discuss it. Sometimes I learn a completely new way of looking at something because of a student. I have a broader knowledge base than my students, but I am still just as much a student as they are. If I discount their input, I rob myself and I undermine their growth. That's not saying I don't fight the temptation to always present my opinions as the absolute right answer--the power involved in being a teacher can be terribly mishandled and very narcotic--but they aren't. I've learned alot from my teenagers, and I hope above all else that I've taught them that they are valuable, they are contributors that matter in my class and in society. If other teachers did the same, if they made teenagers feel valuable rather than insignificant, imagine the adults we would be sending into the world.