I loved “my” teens. So this winter I jumped at the chance to teach a co-op class for homeschooled teenagers. We’re tackling King Lear, and I’m pleased that my students enjoy the class and understand the play. But I’ve been most struck by the truth of a goofy axiom I once heard: “kids is kids.”
My public school students were immigrants learning English at a large urban school. Some had been taught basic skills in makeshift classrooms at refugee camps; others weren’t refugees, but hadn’t been in school at all for years. So I wondered how different my new charges – all educated at home for their entire school careers – would be from those kids.
But, apart from obvious language and cultural differences, they’re more similar than different: the over-achievers anxious to ace everything; the ones who seem disengaged but somehow soak up and deeply process the material (still waters run deep!); the giddy ones who squirm at the gory scenes and beg for group work. And the sweet-natured underachievers.
At East High, it was Luís. Now it’s Zach. Both thoughtful young men, engaged in class discussions. Kind-hearted and family-oriented. But neither interested in devoting more than the bare minimum to academic pursuits; the C obtained without studying is “good enough.”
Zach’s mom and I recently had a conversation I had not so long ago with Luís’s folks. The upshot of which was that the choice is the child’s at this age. Zach’s mom can and does provide time and structure. But she cannot force him to pursue excellence over mediocrity. She hopes the evaluation of an “outsider” will wake him up. It may; I hold Zach to high standards because he is capable. But the choice is still his.
Zach’s mom faces perhaps the hardest decision in parenting: allowing her child the freedom to fall down so he might learn for himself what he’s not listening to from her. Heart-wrenching as it is, she’s making the right choice.
At the right time. Better to learn at 13 in a safe environment than to be sheltered from natural consequences until he’s an adult. We’ll find out on Wednesday if he’s taken his latest assignments seriously!
As for Luís, he had his share of hard knocks. Nothing devastating, just a few bumps. But he’s now a successful corrections officer in Texas, training for which I know he took seriously. It took awhile, but he “got it.” Most kids eventually do.