Posts tagged #education

mad as hell.

This past month, my students have been working through my favorite unit: "Mad as Hell - The Community's Response to Homelessness and Poverty." It's my favorite for numerous reasons, but mainly because it gives me the opportunity to see the heartbeat of this generation. And it's not what you think. This morning, one of my friends started talking about a girl in her class she was worried about because despite her desire to be the head of her class - in GPA, social status, and everything else high school requires of teenagers - she had fallen severely in her work since her boyfriend broke up with her. It's a common motif, unfortunately - one I see far too often. And I think the answer is simple.

Students need a significant task.

Once teenagers enter high school, something shifts inside of them. Seriously. Suddenly they aren't quite old enough for complete responsibility, yet aren't young enough to be passed over. It's this awkward stage of limbo - and as a society, I think we've done the students of America an incredible disservice not trusting their inclinations and ideas. Brain-based learning states unless a student emotionally invests in a lesson, schema is not built. There is no prior knowledge for a student to fall back on, because she's been detached the whole time. However, if a student buys into the lesson and emotionally invests in the topic - understanding the relevance to his or her life - schema is built and knowledge is retained.

And this, of course, should be our goal as educators. But. All too often, our best intentions are laid waste by the expectations already given to us by the state. There has to be some kind of in-between, though. There has to be  a way we can make lessons relevant and at the same time, meet standards.

I don't claim to know all the answers, but I do know what's happened in the past. I know about the student who quit cutting once she found a niche in Invisible Children. I know about the kid who finally let go of his anger once he realized he wasn't alone when we shared our stories. I know about the girl who felt the sweet release of admitting her history of drug abuse in a class discussion about ramifications of the drug culture. And I know the Mad as Hell unit hits more nerves than anything else we discuss.  When we watch GOOD's Skid Row documentary, students often respond with, "I didn't even know this existed in America!" Teenagers have an innate desire to know. They are insanely curious about the world around them. I can't tell you how many times students get down right angry at the injustice of human trafficking. It only makes sense - if we don't invest in their skills and believe in their ability to achieve change - they'll find something else to investigate.

This is why I believe so strongly in service learning. Service learning, at its core, empowers students to look around them and initiate change through creativity and at the same time, meet curriculum standards. Students are no longer just sitting in a classroom, memorizing quotes and facts and information not useful in a society influenced by excess and profiteering. Through this unit, I've learned the heartbeat of this generation is making a difference. This generation is no longer satisfied with the status quo, and it's our responsibility as educators to motivate and facilitate a learning environment where students can effectively create change.

Don't believe me? Here's what my students have said:

"America has always been about change. And we are that change."

"I never would have taken a Pre-AP or AP class with my weed addiction. My mom went into debt getting me out of addiction. I'm going to have a better life because my mom gave up hers."

"Our generation is where it starts. We have the creativity and ability to make a change."

"The biggest problem in our world is apathy."

"I'm just so sick and tired of talking about it and not doing anything. I say there's nothing to do, but there's everything to do. Let's start."

"People doubt we care about anything 'important' and they are wrong. We do. We care more than they think."

"I walked away from the man asking for change and thought about this class - and for the first time, felt guilt about not helping when I had the resources to do so."

Please. Before you go assuming things about this generation, know there are plenty of teenagers just waiting for a chance to prove themselves. Our kids are mad as hell about the injustices of this world and they aren't going to take it anymore. What are you going to do to help them create change?

Posted on April 20, 2010 .

a story of hope

in order to live an epic life, you're gonna face conflict... i say this to my tutorial students and try to ignore their yawns of boredom and indiscreet glances towards their phones. i press on, continuing the lesson, stressing the importance of realizing story within one's own life before looking around for others.

i press on because i need a reminder. these past few months carried more than their weight of conflict, and on the tail end of just catching my breath, i need to be reminded of purpose, of a story weaving its tapestry throughout my life - regardless of whether or not i remember or buy into it.

i ask the kids to write down goals for their lives this next year - promising the connection between story and three-act structure to what they want to accomplish. as they scribble short notes on a piece of paper, i think of my own.

  1. finish my manuscript. pursue publication.
  2. draw concrete plans for my dream of writers' workshops within high schools - flesh it out and begin putting action to my thoughts
  3. pay off debt
  4. find true community - embrace authenticity and brokenness
  5. gain serious ground in pursuit of adoption/foster-care

and as i look at this list, i begin to shrink away from the discomfort. i realize the leaps of faith needed for some of these to happen, and for a few split seconds, i even consider erasing and replacing with something attainable. something safe.

and then i remember: in order to live an epic life, you're gonna face conflict.

i wonder how many times we shrink way from God's master storyline simply because our discomfort makes us wince?

i wonder how many times i've hidden from his glory radiating from my life simply because i didn't want to take the risk?

i don't think our lives were meant to be safe. there's comfort in knowing and realizing the sovereignty of Christ, through the fellowship of suffering we are pruned and purified to look more like him. through conflict our eyes are focused on the One True Sustainer - and the results are far more beautiful than if we tried on our own.

the other night, russ and i were in the middle of a deep discussion and he tilted his head and asked, "i wonder why so many people try to run from conflict - or when they find themselves in the middle of it, they try to immediately fix it. it's through conflict some of the most beautiful gems are created - and after a diamond has been purified, no one wants it to return to where it was as a piece of coal."

yes. there's beauty in brokenness. hurt and pain, albeit difficult to wade through, produces character. and conflict, whether from outside forces or from within, produces understanding. restoration, although beneficial, does not always set things perfectly straight. the scars are there for a reason. the markings are there to remember.

"what do characters have to experience in order to live an epic life?" i ask the students at the end of class.

"conflict." a small voice answers. his paper is empty. he has no goals.

"right." i respond, trying not to focus too long on his rigidity. i look at him again and ask, "so what do you think you will experience if you want to live an epic life?"

he raises an eyebrow and pushes the eraser against the desk - avoiding my gaze.

"conflict." he says. he still hasn't looked me in the eye.

i close my eyes for a brief second and say a silent prayer that somewhere, somehow, this boy will understand the importance of his story - the story within him written by a brilliantly creative Author - the story begging to be released.

and then i pray for myself. that i would remember there's a story inside of me begging to be released. a story including pain and hurt and conflict and awkwardness but resulting in beauty and risk and adventure. a story of hope.

Posted on February 18, 2010 and filed under story.