Getting Everything Wrong and Giving No Credit

It’s been a rough couple of days at our house. I won’t get into details, but suffice it to say that I will never understand teachers, guidance counselors, or administrators who seem to derive joy or a perverse charge out of belittling students. There is at least one of these trolls at every school. You know the one who prides herself on making tests that nobody scores higher than 75 on or makes belittling comments just because they have authority in class and because they’re the adult. Why would you use your authority to do that? I don’t know why, but I know that there are too many of them out there. Two of these small minded ogres met with two of my children this week. I suppose that they assumed that my children don’t know that they shouldn’t be treated that way, that they wouldn’t tell me about it, or that my husband and I wouldn’t make our displeasure clear. They were wrong. Nobody of any age deserves to be treated like that. People do it to teenagers because they view them as “less than” full people. The two adults at my kids’ school have been made well aware of their errors. I don’t hold out much hope that they’ll change their ways, but they may be more thoughtful in the future.

Painting youth as less than full people is again a theme in the Washington Post opinion post  The whole critique smacks of condescension. This paragraph sums up the argument and the tone to me.

“Despite these heady sentiments, the film’s depiction of revolution is astonishingly simple, an adolescent vision of toppling an “evil” authority figure. Sure, this isn’t surprising as it’s meant for young adults, but in the context of political spillover this anti-authoritarian vision becomes more troubling.”

The whole thing makes me seethe.  I haven’t seen the Mockingjay part 1 movie, but I do know that the story of the Hunger Games is not “astonishing simple” by any measure. In the first two films, President Snow is definitely a villain, but he’s not seen as the only problem. Nor do any of the characters indicate that removing him will fix everything. The author in the post tears down a work of fiction adapted into a film, not a political text or a revolutionary handbook. His analysis gets it wrong on every point. 

Things that are meant for young adults aren’t simple. Neither are young adults themselves. When we consistently underestimate young adults, they underestimate themselves and stop taking risks of trying to make a difference and the whole world suffers. Instead of preparing them for making an impact, we tell them they can’t understand the world and that they should wait until they are older.  We pretend that we know what’s best for them and that they don’t know themselves or the world.  What a disservice we do when we tell them they can’t understand and we silence their voices. 

Which brings me to DC by way of Ferguson. At the March for Justice last week, several young adults took to the stage to speak. They had not been invited to speak and they were angry about it. Those of us in the crowd did not know what was going on and the scene seemed showed discord and in-fighting.  To me, it didn’t fit with the day, but I didn’t know what was happening. Now I do.

The full story in their own words can be found here.

Young protesters explained that when they started their protests and making their voices heard in the immediate aftermath of Mike Brown’s shooting death, they faced tear gas and rubber bullets as well as threats and other dangers. They kept protesting and fighting making noise. They thought that they would receive support and training quickly from established civil rights groups like the NAACP and others. They did not. When the established groups arrived in Ferguson, they did not speak to the young people who had been making a difference, they instead held their own events and didn’t invite or include the young protesters. The March in DC was more of the same. Many groups and speakers who have had no involvement in the ongoing dangerous and continuous protests in Ferguson were asked to speak and issued VIP passes. When the young Ferguson protesters arrived at the march, they were denied an opportunity to speak. Again, shut down by the older people who shushed them. They are refusing to be silenced and are continuing to make their voices heard. They stormed the stage and demanded to speak. They were grudgingly allowed to do so.

Young adults who understand their world and who are refusing to accept the status quo. We need more of them to make us all think and to add their voices to the world. Shutting them down is cowardly and wrongheaded. We can do better and if we do, they’ll make our world better.

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