Updated: Jul 3
...and I almost lost Keshon.
Over the past 5 years, these are the names of students, of young men, I’ve mourned over…
What I'm about to say, I've said for many years in private conversation, but at this point, I believe it needs to be written. What I'm about to say may ruffle some feathers, but the truth often does that.
I live in a little city with a big problem. Crime and murder. Who's often involved? Youth. Teens. Young people who've barely lived. Being an educator has given me a front-row seat to watching some of these young people literally grow up before my eyes and get cut down before their prime. Being an educator has given me a front-row seat to the lived experience of some of these young people over an expanse of at least 4 to upwards of 12 years. I guess you can say I have anecdotal longitudinal data to back up the points I'm about to lay on the table.
Who's at fault for the lives lost? The crimes committed? The lack of respect we may see in many of the young people we come across? We are. The collective.
Educational Systems. Many school systems are taking the quiet quitting approach to our young people. Hear me out. The term quiet quitting has been used in the work world to describe when an employee doesn't outright leave their job, they just commit to doing the bare minimum. These employees essentially quit the idea of going above and beyond. This is what many school systems have done over at least the past 4 years (actually far beyond, but that's a convo for another day).
Instead of school systems holding a standard of accountability for all, they've found it easier to do everything necessary and possible to push youth (with low to no academic or life skills) out with a diploma... in the name of graduation rates. I focus my attention on school systems because I personally know and have worked with many teachers and school staff who despise the way systems push them to "help" students pass or get to the finish line.
When Covid hit, certain schools shut down for extended periods of time and there was little focus put on stabilizing the mental health of our young people. Communities across the nation rightfully kept their children home to keep them safe from getting sick but failed to think about the weakened mental immunity this caused our most psychologically vulnerable population of people. When the world was deemed safe enough to once again congregate... many spaces treated that 18-month span of time as a blip on the chronological radar and imposed a 'business as usual' approach. For 18 months these teens that are now stealing cars and bleeding out in these streets took care of themselves and often their siblings. They saw and experienced things many of us could never fathom and learned firsthand about survival at an instinctual level... then we told them to get back in the classroom, focus, and make it happen. We basically told these kids, "You're fine, you've got this!", and "Let's get you graduated and out into the real world", but failed to assess the scope of their actual ability to get back to whatever normal looks like. We failed these kids monumentally.
Parents. As parents, many of us can attest to doing the very best we can with what we know and the resources afforded to us... but there are also many parents who have taken to a style of parenting that lacks healthy boundaries, explicit standards, and accountability. As old school as this may sound... teens need an adult in their lives who model what it looks and feels like to be accountable to self, to others, and to the community. When parents run up into schools to fight other parents or other people's kids, what are we to expect from the children? When parents cuss out and threaten the teachers who are supposed to prepare these teens for greater, we shouldn't be shocked when the children do the same. When parents fight random folks in the street, record said fights, and post them to social media... well, you get the point. If this doesn't apply... let it fly. Many parents have forgotten the importance of allowing the community to correct their kids when they are not present. I do also understand that many have lost the sense of or importance of community altogether.
The Economy. I don't think anyone can deny that the cost of living is high... especially if you lack education. Rent, mortgage, utilities, food... the price for all has gone up exponentially. The divide between the haves and have-nots in my community is a disparity of endemic proportion. How does this fit into the context of this conversation you may ask? Well, many parents today are working hours that parents from previous generations couldn't imagine. Some parents work multiple jobs and countless hours to make ends meet because they lack the educational credentials necessary for higher-paying careers. This isn't to say that parents in this generation are fundamentally dumber than the previous. The cost of higher education has increased exponentially as well. So what are we dealing with? A generation of children who reside with parents are a part of the working poor. These parents, as well-intentioned as they may be, are often put in the predicament of having to put more time in at the workplace and less time at home. So who's raising the children? I don't care what anyone says, you cannot convince me that this hasn't been by design.
The Justice System. I’ll keep this one short. I’m not one for capital punishment or the criminalization of our young people… but catch and release is clearly not the way.
Don't think I'm letting these kids, these children, these teenagers off the hook. Yes, they should be held accountable for their actions. Yes, there is a small population of teenagers involved in life-altering criminal activity who've been afforded a community that's taught them right from wrong through word and deed however, the number of those who've lacked a model and measure of accountability far outweighs the former.
There's no way around it. This generation of adults in power (be it on any of the systematic fronts stated) collectively failed this generation of impending adults way before we started reaping their incessant pain and sorrow. This is only the beginning. Food for thought. You do the dishes.