After our day in the jungle, we came back to our cabins to find some shocking news. Apparently, the night before after lights out and after all the teachers had gone to sleep, a group of our little angels had snuck out and gone into each others rooms to experiment with some beer, vodka, and cigarettes. I won’t go into the details of what transpired because this blog is not the place for that, but the actions of our students was a challenge for me to handle. I would like to try and articulate why I had such a hard time with it now.
I am not fond of authority. I believe in a certain level of anarchy. I believe in questioning all authority. I always have. I believe that trust and respect must be earned and until they are all authority should or must be challenged. I am not a fan of mam or sir, or rules for the sake of discipline. I dislike the military and everything it stands for exactly these reasons. I believe in freedom. So the idea of being an authority figure does not sit well with me. I was the trip leader on this trip, however, and was ultimately responsible for all forty-one of these kids. So when I found out that they had broken trust and done something so wrong, I was crushed. Had I allowed too much freedom? Actually no, because, although I claim to be such a staunch anti-disciplinarian, I run a tight ship when it comes to my classroom. I am the strict but fair with a flair for fun type. It is a strange formula but it works. Treat the kids like you would like to be treated works surprisingly well. No one likes to be yelled out or forced to act a certain way, so I let the kids be themselves while understanding that their actions affect others in the class. So they have to learn to respect everyone else’s space.
The hardest part about being in charge, however, was that when I was their age, I was doing the exact same thing. So as I lectured them on the importance of following rules and understanding boundaries, a ghost of myself at age thirteen sat in my mind laughing at me. I felt so sorry for these kids; they looked terrified at the harsh tones the other teachers and I had adopted. What did they know about cigarettes and alcohol? Almost everyone in society, their parents included, does it. They are in every movie they see, all the TV shows they watch, older kids and siblings do it. Almost all our cultures are soaked in alcohol. I remember the lure of entering the world of booze and feeling so much older as the first taste of alcohol dripped down my throat. No one ever explains why it is okay for mommy and daddy to get wasted with their friends, but not okay for their kids to do it. We are told, as children, that it is an adult thing, but a thirteen year old needs, demands a better answer. Maybe we need to examine the role of alcohol in our society and how much we as adults promote it before we admonish our children for simply wanting to know what it is all about. I was speechless on what to tell them. I was not their father after all; it was not my responsibility to talk to them about the hypocrisy of a society that promotes a type of behavior for one group of people, but refuses to explain why it is bad to their children.
I started drinking when I was thirteen, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it until I turned thirty-two last year. These kids don’t need to be told drinking is bad, or breaking rules are bad, they need to be taught why. They need tenderness, care, and love to show them that they don’t need to buy into what the world is selling. They need to be talked to and more importantly listened to, not left to rot in front of a Playstation or a television screen. They need to be taught how to be themselves in world that is programming them to be consumers of the very products we are telling them not to consume yet.
I remember that at that age, a parent or teacher was the last person I wanted to talk to, but now as a parent and teacher, I am wondering who is out there to teach my kids that they don’t need to get drunk to build an identity. Who or what will balance the invasion of my child’s psyche from the advertising world, when she will not feel comfortable to talk to me. Children don’t need to break rules for the sake of being cool. They need to learn when and where to fight their battles, which rules need to be questioned and which ones are there for their benefit. A society is a complicated organism and we need to teach our kids how to function in one.
Monday morning, we will be dishing out disciplinary actions; I hope we find the appropriate balance. Because teenagers are a volatile bunch and one step in the wrong direction can have dire consequences. We hope to create intelligent, sensitive, citizens who question authority while participating in bettering their society, not drunken criminals who hide behind their anger, or a uniform and a gun.
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