The first period of class at Arundel High School starts at 7:17am. Trying to get adolescents to wake up this early in the morning, let alone care about SAT prep class, is a tall order. One morning, I was trying to wake them up by listing all of the things I could die from in Sub-Saharan Africa. This was on my mind because the previous day I’d been getting inoculations in preparation for my work as an Advocacy Peace Fellow working with young people in Nairobi, Kenya; these blights included typhoid, yellow fever, polio, and a slew of other diseases my students had only ever read about in history books.
After the laundry list of viruses and bacterium, we played, “Guess how much my immunizations cost?” And I felt like an auctioneer as they yelled out.
Try a grand total of $650!!
My students, on cue, let out various exclamations (most of them classroom appropriate) in disbelief on how much staying alive can cost. And then Kayla, a junior, piped in. “But Mrs. Dziedzic, I just spent $600 on prom and that’s only one night. Think about how much more meaningful what you’re going to do is.”
These kind of moments always blow me away not because they are unique, but because no matter how often that they happen, I still find myself frequently forgetting just how potentially marvelous and mindful youth can be. Youth have a reputation for being emotionally volatile, deceptive, ornery, reckless, and unpredictable. And they frequently are. But, as you can see from Kayla’s remark, they are also compassionate, brutally honest, tender, passionate, and wear their hearts so close to the surface you can see every beat. They are also inherently interested in youth beyond the borders of their literal community.
On the first day of school this year, I told my classes that I would be both a full time teacher and a full time student working on a degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. I told them I was doing this because I believed in the power of education and every human being’s right to tap that power. When I say things like this, when I stray from the curriculum to talk about why there are pirates in Somalia, when I tell them what the “youth bulge” is and why it is, when I tell them why I’m spending my summer teaching youth in Nairobi Kenya, I watch as they wake up, lean forward in their desks, and wipe the boredom out of their eyes. It’s not that young people today aren’t interested in learning, it’s that the learning they’re interested in doesn’t fit well inside the four walls of a classroom and neither do they.
They are divergent thinkers trying to live outside the box. This is in part because the rules of the box weren’t made to favor them. The rules of the box were made by and for their elders. To be a youth, is to be constantly pushing and prodding, erasing and redrawing the lines they’re stepping on and over. This is true of suburban youth in Gambrills, MD. It is probably even more true of urban youth who have grown up in the slums of Nairobi where many of the rules and regulations in place are part of a system of inequalities that have kept them on the street, out of school, and in the margins. So much of the tensions that run just below the surface in Kenya are not ethnic divides, but generational divides. The question becomes, how do you give young people a platform to be heard and validate that creative spark in a way that won’t threaten the elders that are the gatekeepers of this place called adulthood?
I have learned-my students have taught me-if you point to a path that will meet their needs, fan the flames of their loves, and make their community proud, you better get out of their way because they will knock you over to get started. Getting young people in Kenya to use blogging as a constructive outlet for their hopes and fears, getting students at my high school to connect with youth from a diverse background, and getting adults to look at youth more closely and remember their power and potentials, this is what I hope to support with the project at the Undugu Society of Kenya.
Posted By Barbara Dziedzic
Posted May 27th, 2009