Lately, I’ve been greatly concerned with the misconceptions and myths that continue to be perpetuated about youth in our society. For Black youth in particular, we are often subjected to ahistorical misconceptions that revolve around notions of youth apathy. We often get projected as rebellious ciphers that are for some reason less respectful, less conscious, less focused, and less empathetic than many of our elders were in those nebulous and perpetual “good ol’ days.” In order to fight those myths, it becomes necessary to spotlight significant moments where youth trumpet their resiliency and agency in an adultist culture that continually acts to render them voiceless.
The above video shows a young woman from a high school in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago expressing her dissatisfaction with her teacher’s alleged failure to provide her with an “education.” The visceral nature of the video itself makes it a hard pill to swallow for many who wish to simply dismiss the student’s rant as “disrespectful.” Instead of critically evaluating the student’s words, many would rather focus on the fact that traditional notions of adult-centered authority are being challenged. This is perhaps unnerving for a lot of people. Of course, I value loving and peaceful communication with all people, and would most certainly have preferred a less vitriolic exchange. But I refuse to deny the truth of a youth asserting her right to be educated on the basis of tenuous notions of respect that are archaic and give no credence to the humanity of youth. In her outpouring, the student alludes to the fact that the teacher might berate students in the classroom by announcing which students are failing or by calling the student herself a distraction. I do not know the situation in the classroom itself, but it is clear that as the student “disrespects” the teacher, she too has felt disrespected and infantilized, or “treated as little kid,” as she says. My point is that respect is a reciprocal phenomenon, and often, students are expected to infinitely acquiesce to the whims of teachers and administrators with little attention given to the needs of students themselves. To be frank, adults in school communities can be guilty of launching hurtful and dehumanizing language to students themselves. So we should not be so shocked when students refuse to tolerate a “do as I say,” mentality.
Of course, not much evidence about the classroom culture can be gleaned from a three-minute video, and I do not wish to diminish the efforts of the many teachers and school administrators who effectively and diligently work to nurture their students. But the nuance in this video lies in the young woman’s resistance. For too long, students in urban communities have dealt with an inadequate education. Students not only contend with poor academic standards and resources, but with an increasingly standardized test-driven, art deficient, neo-liberal and obsolescent form of education that denies their complexity as a whole being, and doubtfully prepares them to participate in the unpredictable demands of a 21st century era. The effects of the recession have arguably hit youth the hardest, and that coupled with the decreasing security of a college degree have created a country where education should no longer be as enchanting as it once was.
But nevertheless, youth still have faith in their school systems and education in this country. From student walkouts in Detroit, to sit-ins here in Chicago, students are starting to become more vocal and reactionary in asserting their right to have an education. Youth who are called apathetic and misguided are still rising up and showing their faith in institutions that have given them little reason to be persistent. In this video, incendiary as the delivery might be, she is only asking for an education. We should be both concerned and appreciative when our students are filled with such anger about the lack of education they receive. In response, I say we heed the student’s call to arms. We better teach something.