Junot Diaz, kids, and showing up

Posted by on Apr 1, 2011 in General | One Comment

I found this interview yesterday and loved this response to a Dave Eggers question about speaking at a local high school:
(warning: some explicit language)

I’m sure, look, this is the kind of crowd that’s self-selected; in other words, if you’re here, chances are you’re the arts or you work with young people—how many of you work with young people, raise your hand? All of you. See that’s crazy. This audience knows the deal. It’s no mystery, and we know this, either we know it directly or indirectly: things have really shifted, not only in the culture of education but in the larger society. Young people are more isolated from adults than they’ve ever been. Unless you’re an adult who is getting paid to somehow be involved with young people, chances are most adults have no contact with young people that they’re not related to. And the isolation is kind of structural and it’s very deep and it’s very visible. It’s basically divided the country into people who have daily contact with youth who are not related to them, and people who don’t. And what’s sort of extraordinary about this is that it’s not fucking rocket science—young people need a tremendous amount of support and they need a tremendous amount of conversation and people to listen to them. And all you’ve got to do is just show the fuck up [laughter] and actually give a shit [more laughter]. I mean it—the severe lack that so many young people encounter means that very little seems like quite a lot. And that’s more of a side statement than anything about what I do when I meet young people—it’s just that they’re desperate for us, man. It’s that artificial isolation that people pay for the most, you know, and we pay a price, too, being removed from young people the way most people are.

The larger point — how little time most adults spend with kids — is critical. But this interview also made me think about the ways in which most schools prevent or at least obstruct teachers from showing up, caring, and listening. How many teachers spent the past three weeks watching the PSSA leach the life out of their students? How many class periods are routinely disrupted by irrelevant nonsense? How many times have teachers been deprived of the opportunity to make a genuine connection because their “instructional leader” declares some trivial matter more important?

In trying to figure out how to open a school, one of the things we talk about most is how to build the entire school around the relationships, the collaborations, and the challenging conversations that occur when adults and kids show up and listen to each other.