To start our next novel, I gave my students a questionnaire about becoming an adult. You know the type – there’s a list of statements and you rate each one on a scale of one to five, with one being strongly disagree and five as strongly agree. As I looked over my students’ responses, some of them really surprised me. For instance, this one:
There are certain things you have to do, have or accomplish before you can be considered an adult.
I fully thought they would say no, that you just become an adult. But they didn’t. A few did, but most of my students rated this a 4 or 5. However, none of them wrote about this statement, so I don’t know why they answered that way (they got to choose three statements to write about). This makes me wonder: What do you need to have to become an adult? What do you need to have done? Do they think you need a driver’s license? A high school diploma? To have moved out of your parents’ house? For the most part, I agree with them. I think you get maturity and awareness through experiences. However, I don’t think it’s as easy as a checklist. Hmmm. Moving on.
Here’s another one:
Adults have an easier time making plans for their lives.
I thought they would say yes, but no one did. The highest anyone gave this was a 3. But, again, no one wrote about this one, so I don’t know what they were thinking. I figured they’d say yes because adults have more freedom, more money, more opportunity for mobility…but maybe they realize how limiting your life can be (or just feel) when you’re an adult. Maybe they realize that sometimes making plans and carrying those plans out takes money and sometimes money falls short more easily than you’d like.
Sometimes, things happen to you that make you feel like your eyes have finally opened.
I have reasons for thinking the way I did about this one: they complain. A lot. About everything. Especially when it’s new or difficult. In my experience, teenagers on the whole are not a group of people excited to suck the marrow out of life. They want to sit around and do the same old thing that they do every day and then complain about how tragic life is. So when I asked them this question, I fully expected them to be like, Naw. I get it. I got a buddy who did that. Is a’ight. And then I would be like (in this farcical conversation), No, it’s not all right. Sometimes you just don’t know until you know. But I didn’t have to. In class, they told me, “Well, that one’s obvious.” OK. And a kid wrote about that one: “I feel like people can’t understand what somethings are like unless they go through it like first time standing up surfing.” Another kid wrote, “Living on your own is much harder than I thought it would be, the cost of living is expensive. Esspesially when your 16, it is hard to find a job or anything.” And someone else said, “There are things you absolutely cannot know unless you go through them yourself. People don’t understand what it is like to have your parents doing drugs and getting caught and being taken away by CPS. You have to go through that in order to understand it.” I think they’re all right. Absolutely correct.
School doesn’t teach you about things that are really important in life.
They didn’t surprise me on this one – they almost uniformly agreed with this one. A few kids marked this as a 3, but for the most part it was 4s and 5s. Except for two kids. Two kids disagreed with this statement. As a teacher, clearly, I disagree with this statement. I think that kids (and teachers and parents and administrators and legislators) get too bogged down with the facts that kids leave school with and don’t look enough at the skills. I don’t remember what the krebs cycle is (or if I spelled it right or if it’s supposed to be capitalized) or what year Shakespeare was born or how many men died at Shiloh, but I know how to look all that information up, how to write about it and present it in a professional manner, how to organize my work and turn it in on time, how to put my name at the top and check the directions to see what color ink my work needs to be completed in. I think when we start focusing on the skills rather than the facts, we can make school more of a place of learning and less of a hoop to jump through. These two kids who disagreed with this statement, I think are starting to see that. One of them I only just met at the beginning of the quarter last week. She’s told me a couple of times that school is important to her, that she went through a time when she thought all she wanted to do was sit around and smoke pot, but then she realized that wasn’t going to get her a job or a diploma or a family. So she changed. And she likes this lifestyle a whole lot better. The other kid I had last quarter as well. He talks all the time about partying and drinking and how awful he is in school and he dresses like a stereotypical stoner, but I have seen the other side. I have seen his work. This kid is smart and when I tell him he can do better, he does. He has a good heart and he is kind. He listens and he processes what you’ve said before he responds and he’s OK admitting that you’re right or quietly standing his ground and just not engaging. I think he gets the point of school and I think he is probably sober more than he’d care to admit and I think he’s going to be a great adult some day.