And just like that, the number 69 is funny.
For the past 12 years I’ve been teaching 7th and 8th grade. This year I am teaching 6th graders. 6th graders (on the whole) are a lot more kid-like than young adult-like. 6th graders like to get up and dance when I have random disco dance breaks in the middle of class. 6th graders REALLY like to talk. They talk when I ask questions, and often when I don’t. 6th graders will tell you when it’s their dog’s birthday.
With 8th graders you’re lucky if you register a pulse before 11 am.
6th graders don’t think the number 69 is funny. At least until about 3 weeks ago. I can’t tell you how it happened but all of a sudden there’s a lot of whispering about locker 69, about page 69 in a book. And lots and lots of giggling. I’m fairly certain there’s no detailed understanding here, but they know they’ve stumbled upon something. Puberty. It’s got to start somewhere.
Back in September, I thought I had taken a job teaching fetuses. They were so small, and so incapable of punctuation. But the other day a few 8th graders wandered down to our wing and my jaw dropped. “Are you guys from the high school?” I stammered.
“No. We go to school here,” they said. (While undoubtedly rolling their eyes and thinking, whatever, weird lady.)
They looked like adults to me.
I shut my classroom door and retreated back amongst my small people. “Who wants to tell me about their pet? Anyone have a good Halloween costume this year?” 6th grade conversation starters that can keep a class going for hours. At least until someone’s voice cracks.
This morning I listened to a re-broadcast of an interview with David Denby on his book Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives. There were a few moments when I was white knuckling the steering wheel from annoyance. Here are two older white dudes hemming and hawing about kids on their smart phones and the fact that no one reads Huck Finn anymore. In the next breath they were totally dismissive of Twilight and The Hunger Games, which great or not, got thousands, if not millions of kids to read.
There is so much wonderful YA literature beyond the mega-franchises and the interviewer and his guest were acting like reading Dickens is the only way for teenagers to become readers. There was also an element of youth-shaming. As if it’s all well and good for adults to be on their devices 24-7 because they actually read Tom Sawyer (and not the Spark notes) when they were in high school.
Technology is not destroying culture. Stories will always be relevant to our society even if the form they take is something different than what we’ve seen before.
Here is MY list of “great” books to engage your teenage or old fuddy-duddy self in reading.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Winger by Andrew Smith
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Gabi a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
I’ll Give You The Sky by Jandy Nelson
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Feed by MT Anderson (see this one for commentary on technology in society)
In Darkness by Nick Lake
Today a student asked me that. She was in the midst of an argument with another student, who I suspect was just trying to provoke her. But nonetheless I responded, “Do you want my answer as a science teacher, or a flaming liberal?”
I always assume my students can see my political flags flying a mile away but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about middle school it’s that you should never ever assume the students are actually listening to you. Most of the time you’re just that Charlie Brown teacher up there nattering away about something that is way less interesting than a snapchat from their friend about a chicken nugget that looked exactly like Harry Styles from One Direction.
But someone was listening because they asked me what a flaming liberal was. It could be that they’re truly interested or it could be that they smelled a way to get their teacher to go on a non-homework related tangent for the next 8-10 minutes while they snapchatted or texted under the desk. Regardless, I took the bait.
What’s a flaming liberal. Hmm, I thought about it for a minute before I began to rant.
“I’m a flaming liberal because I believe that everyone has the right to love and marry whomever they like, because I think all children deserve food and clothing and the semblance of equality in the quality of their education. I think everyone should make a living wage. I think the top 1% of our country should not control 35% of our nation’s wealth or that the wealthiest 85 people in the world should not have more resources than the 3.5 million poorest put together.* I think that everyone has a right to free healthcare and medicine and that older people should be taken care of regardless of their ability to pay. I think women and men should be granted a minimum of a year’s paid parental leave and I’m more than willing to pay loads more in taxes so that all this can be paid for by our government. And yeah, global warming is real.”
Seriously, that is what I said. The 8th graders looked at me a little bug eyed, at least the ones who were still listening. Then we went back to standardized test prep -because unfortunately, flaming liberals like me do not yet rule the world or the educational system.
*okay, okay I didn’t really have these facts off the top of my head but 51% of all statistics are invented anyway.
This is the sign that hangs above the door on the way out of my classroom. It’s also the most important rule (to me) governing behavior in the tiny microcosm of controlled space which is my classroom.
I care that students learn about science. I hope that they find the world around them as fascinating and exciting as I do. But if they learn nothing from me all year except the importance of being kind….I would be okay with that too. Kind to others and kind to themselves.
Over the weekend we were again reminded of the violence of the world we live in. The violent actions of those with guns who seek to make their point by cutting down the lives of others. Not just in Paris, but in Lebanon and in Syria and too many places around the world. I wrestle with the relative safety I feel in my every day life. Lucky? Guilty? Privileged? All of the above?
So what can I do? What can any of us do in our every day lives to resist, to feel less helpless, to inspire peace in others?
Here’s my short list:
- Be kind to others
- Be kind to yourself
- Read a book to understand the perspective of another
- Listen to someone else’s fears
- Give your time to someone else
- Find and do work that you love
Maybe it seems trite or cheesy but it helps me, and I do believe it matters. And that is the best I can do in the place that I am right now.