Friday, November 5, 2010

The Real World

Yesterday I showed a documentary to my Child Development class called "I Am Promise" about an urban elementary school in Philadelphia. It was not one of those uplifting, inspirational, lifting oneself out of poverty kind of films. It was a peek through your fingers, is the world really like this, thank god I don't live there kind of movie. It was full of graffiti splashed abandoned buildings, crack heads on the corners, indifferent and abusive parents, and overwhelmed and overworked teachers on the verge of giving up. I wanted my students to see how poverty and indifference affect children's lives.

My students (mostly college freshman, and middle and upper class) are good kids, but not always the most attentive and active students, sometimes dozing off, doodling and staring into blank space after a hard night of partying. Needless to say, I had low expectations for a spirited discussion following the film. But surprisingly as I looked around the room in the semi-darkness, expecting drool on the desk and drooping heads, I saw instead rapt attention. And when I started the discussion by going around to each of my 30 students asking for an adjective to describe their feelings about this community and these kids, I was startled by their sensitivity, and emotional responses. They were hooked by real life, not the movie version of poverty, but what poverty really feels and sounds like, and it startled them, and shocked them, and caused them to pause and actually think about the world outside their protected universe. As the students walked out of class, somber and thoughtful, many stopped by my desk to thank me for showing this film, and for opening their eyes to the "real world". It was a good day.

I was reminded again of the potential our teens have for reflection, and thoughtfulness. It is so easy to label our teens as superficial, mindless, and insensitive to others, because so often that is what they give us. But underneath those designer clothes and ear buds are multi-layered human beings full of new feelings, new thoughts and new ideas not yet expressed either to themselves or others. I think my students surprised themselves yesterday with their own reactions and deep thoughts.

So the work here is to find something that taps into this developing teen that helps them to articulate this new ability to think deeply and thoughtfully. Just asking "so what do you think about...." usually elicits an "I dunno" kind of answer. In my students case, it was realizing that what they were seeing was real not a Hollywood version. These were real kids, real crack heads, real parents. Now you can understand the appeal of reality shows like Jersey Shore. Here's a suggestion, there is a wonderful documentary called "An American Teen" not to be confused with the TV show The Secret Life of Teens.( I know netflix and most libraries have this film) This documentary is a year in the life of 5 students from a large midwestern high school. Each of these students has their public persona, what their parents see, what their friends see, and then the movie allows us to also see their private side, their agony and their ecstasy. The things that happen to these kids are the things that happen to your kids, but maybe they can't tell you about. Watching this movie together about these real kids might give you an opening to find out what your kids are really thinking and feeling, without asking directly. Here is an opportunity. The key here is to share your thoughts and feelings as well, in a truthful non-lecturing way. Let this film move you, as it will move your kids, and share a feeling not a lesson.

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