For twenty years I worked with seventh and eighth grade children in a public school and must confess it was, at times, depressing. They often acted bad – disrespected teachers and staff, turned on one another (sometimes violently), dressed inappropriately, cursed openly, hated school and hated adults including their parents. Being in that environment day after day had an ill effect on me – tainting my opinion that all young people were worthless wastes of time just needing to grow up and get on with their lives as soon as possible. Periodically a child would do something kind or completely unselfish and my opinion would change once again. It was really an ebb and flow emotional ride. Now I find myself a year removed and firmly planted in retirement and my perspective has changed again – somewhat.
It may have been good for me to get away from that world every ten years or so – could have used take that time to heal up. If I could recommend anything to my friends still working with young people day in and day out – time away periodically may be the best medicine to help regain a healthy perspective. I’m not sure two months off in the summer can quite do that. Take a year away – even if it means financial sacrifice and then get back into it. It may make your next decade much more satisfying.
As I retrospect my years working with kids – I am aware that I am sounding more and more like the old farts who have been disparaging young people since the fifties. The generalization that all teenagers are juvenile delinquents is wrong-headed at best and dangerously destructive at worst. I would never have wanted my two children to be lumped into the same categories as the young criminals that are making headlines daily. It is completely unfair to allow the destructive conduct of a “few” – shape ones viewpoint of the “many”. Admittedly – I had reached that point in my career where it became more and more difficult to find the good in any of the young people I worked with. I knew – it was time to get out.
Still I am fighting the urge to judge kids I see – even here in Kingman – with the preconceived idea that they are worthless, trouble makers. I have seen enough kids being escorted out of the local Wal-Mart in just the two months we have been here to have reason to believe the youth culture here is in real trouble. About the time I am close to convincing myself all teenagers are Satan’s seed – something happens that changes my mind. Something like what I observed yesterday.
There is no place to shop here in Kingman except Wal-Mart. Because of that – I spend a good deal of time there – far more time than I would like. One thing about it – Wal-Mart draws people from all walks of life and if I’m really bored I may just sit and watch all the “Wal-Martians” go by in the latest “Wal-Martian” hair and clothing styles. (I never knew hair could be so green or purple spandex so tight). Yesterday afternoon must have been Wal-Mart ‘Mardi-Gras’. I would say the place was a zoo but that is being cruel to animals.
As I sat drinking my Diet Coke at the Wal-Mart McDonald’s (could there ever be a more deadly combination) I noticed many young people milling around and making a lot of noise. Several of the young men were wearing the latest style in sagging, underwear revealing jeans. For one young future leader of America I noticed he had to keep one hand on his waistband at all times for fear his pants may slide all the way to the floor. The young ladies bounding behind the guys were equally impressive in their costumes that would make “Hooters” shut down. I was immediately disgusted and prepared to leave before the party got too intense. As I was gathering my things a man in a wheelchair rolled up to the booth next to me and I noticed he was a double leg amputee struggling with his food and a case of soft drinks laying in his lap. After he finished his meal – I watched as he rolled his chair to refill his drink and he had to ask the gathered throng of punk kids to clear a way for him to maneuver. As he balanced the case of drinks in his lap – I noticed one of these geniuses with his girlfriend walk up and thought they would certainly make a joke about the poor man – which may have sent me over the edge and probably in jail. The young man walked up and asked if he could help the man with his drinks. What? Am I seeing this? I cleaned off my glasses and blinked a few times. I could not believe what I was seeing. The young man then took the case of drinks (I’m not lying about this) and with his girlfriend at his side began walking with the man through the store while he finished shopping and then walked with him outside to his car. At first I thought they may have known one another – may even be related. But I soon realized they were complete strangers. What a moment – what an incredible young man.
I don’t know if I will ever see that teenager again – but you can bet I will be looking for him every time I go to Wal-Mart. He made me change my mind about young people – again. There are some amazing kids out there doing some amazing things while overcoming some incredible obstacles. Now I remember why I worked at a middle school for twenty years.
Whoever that young man is – thanks!