I try to keep up with many of my former students’ lives. Over the years, I have taught so many; I’d like to say I remember them all, but that would be a lie. I do remember all of those with “promise” and all of those with “struggles” as they took most of my attention and heart during the time I had them in the classroom. It’s impossible for me to say who touched me the most. Was it the ones that had so much potential, and actually went on to accomplish great things after they left me, or the ones who had overcome great odds and just getting them to come to school and eventually graduate high school had been a feat in itself? I can’t say.
In today’s high-tech society it is easy to follow their progress… or lack of. Often they contact me themselves, my email has been the same since AOL’s inception and my students have many times told me…”It’s so you, Ms. Brown!” For that reason alone, I will always keep it. Lately, it has not been difficult to track them down on the Internet. Sometimes, it’s through one of the conventional social connectors: i.e. MySpace or Facebook or now they tell me to Twitter them, but it’s also easy to Google them and see what they’re up to.
AND…every once in a while, I am sent a news article that delights me or causes me concern. Technology makes us all connected… good and bad news.
It was one of the latter, that has been consuming most of my thinking the past few days. I was forwarded news about one of the students that had held so much promise. He was gifted academically, a wonderful athlete, a leader in his class, and was ultimately accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the Northeast. He has now been out of college for quite a few years. The article read that He had just been sentenced to prison for the next decade of his life… on drug related charges. It took my breath away. How had this happened?
His proverbial fall from grace not only astounded me, but made me cry. He was a student that had passed through my life and yet, I felt like I had failed him. I can’t even imagine the raw emotions his parents must be having. The feelings must run the full reign from anger, sadness, failure, and shame… then back to anger! I know that’s what I felt anyway. How dare he throw his life away like that! Life is about CHOICE and with each and every positive choice we make we define who we are. What I couldn’t get my mind around was how selfish this young man had been. He had thought of no one but himself with his destructive actions. Hadn’t he seen that? Where had he “learned” that he could do whatever he wanted to and not be accountable?
When we are given gifts and/or talents in our individual journeys, during this time on Earth, and we throw them away… we are being disrespectful not only to our Creator, but to all who love, nurture, and take care of us. It is hard for me to reflect on the number of young people who come from really difficult backgrounds and home lives and do go on to make the world a better place for those who will follow them. There are many of those, but many “choose” to go the wrong way too. This was not the first former student who had chosen a destructive path in their lives.
It is then that I wondered with guilt if Society, as a whole, has just been too easy on America’s youth and young adults in the past two decades! I am the first to acknowledge that there are many wonderful young people, but have we lost something that used to be present years ago, by giving too much and asking too little of them. When do they stop asking for: cars, trips, and parents to “bail them out” when they get into legal and/or financial trouble. It appears that we have created a generation of “entitlement” in our country. There is an unspoken ME, among many of them, that is troubling. We love them so much that we honestly believe the way to make them love us back is to always give, forgive, and ignore their negative choices.
Perhaps, we adults/parents are the selfish and needy ones. It is difficult to have our children not “love us” or even dislike us from time to time. What I’m professing is that being good parents, (coaches or educators as well), requires a strong backbone. Being strong parents is necessary and we must be consistent, even when our “children” get older. There can be no coping out because it’s easier to say “Yes,” or “I’ll get you out of it,” or “Here’s the money for…,” saying “No” is difficult, but often the only right thing to do. However, America’s youth are accountable for their own screw ups and there are always consequences for bad choices. They did not consult with us when they had unprotected sex, bought and used drugs/alcohol illegally, ran up credit cards, or dropped out of school. We need to recognize that they can learn from their mistakes. We did.
We can not cure the problem(s) of our country’s upcoming generations, but we sure can start fixing our own mistakes in how we love them and guide them in positive directions. Right now, we must start by being stronger parents/adults ourselves, giving our children less, and speaking up about any negative choices in their lives when it’s necessary.