I wonder where we as a society steer people wrong a lot—where we as teachers could do more to serve our students. What are the unintended consequences of good intentions? The news these last many months is more an indictment of our society in totality than it is of a specific political trend or system. Kids are growing up on reality TV where stars are made for just being lucky enough to be born in the right town, at the right time, to the right people. Education and hard work are so easily trumped by the allure of fame and fortune—even when for everyone I know it’s just an allure. Many of my friends still dream about that big break.
How do we go about fixing the fractured sense of personhood or the recent decline of out-in-the-open civility when our sights are set on just making it through another meeting-filled day so we can work toward paying next month’s credit card bill? My friends and family and coworkers all seem tired. We are pushed to do more with less, but I wonder when the cost of trimming fat becomes unhealthy and I wonder when we will realize a need to reprioritize our basic needs.
That little social preamble leads me to this observation. Not too long ago I overheard an interaction with a little boy and his young mother. The boy’s shaggy hair covered his eyebrows and he blew at it to keep it out of his eyes. He grinned when he talked. That grin opened into a bright smile when he skipped up to his mother. He, unlike me, was not burdened with supreme court hearings or tribal politics or the tears of students’ anxiety and distress that spill into my office on a weekly basis.
“You’re not a girl,” his mama said.
“That’s for girls.”
“But it’s pretty.”
“I’m not buying that hat,” she said, “Do you hear me?”
“Girls get to have more fun than boys,” the little boy said without the irony of today’s #metoo framework rattling around in his head. His immediate interest was simple. He liked, for whatever reason, this all too innocuous, even if it was pink, cowboy hat.
His mother snatched the hat from his hand. She leaned down and hissed, “Shut your mouth, son.”
“Shut up. We’re done talking about that hat,” she said. She tossed the hat to the top of a clothes rack and grabbed her son by the upper arm, dragging him from the dressing room.
Girls need all the mobility of today’s social focus. It’s time I stop hearing my students discuss where they keep their pepper sprays and what time of night it’s still safe to go shopping on their own. It is way time for that nonsense to be shelved in a history book. Here’s a thing though. Maybe it’s time we be gentle with our boys too. Our social norms are arbitrary, but we all desire something greater than our own experiences. Let boys be boys and girls be girls in whatever ways they deem okay. Let experience be okay. Even in the classroom, experience might be what a student needs over whatever lesson I deem so important that week.
Let your boys, if they want to crown their shaggy bowl cuts with pink cowboy hats for whatever mysterious reasons, let your boys walk out of a clothing store proudly wearing whatever color of cowboy hat they choose. Let’s not minimize those choices. What could it hurt if we focus on good experience rather than forced expectations? It’s a thought I’m tinkering with that maybe college for some is about repairing hurts and pains from childhood—and maybe that experience is worth having even if it misses the point of earning whatever grade on whatever day.
Let your students be students. They are working on some really tough stuff, the stuff of life. It doesn’t mean just granting everyone a passing grade, but maybe it means realizing when a student just needs someone to support a crazy dream or a silly idea or a pink cowboy hat.