Saturday, February 12, 2011

Choosing Carefully

A small selection of the foot apparel at yesterday's dance...

I had a good talk yesterday with my kids; you know, those students I am paid to hang out with on a daily basis. While the last three weeks have been consumed with structured, academic style writing, we finally got to transition from our research project to a novel.

The Outsiders is definitely a book about choices. Some situations in life are handed to you; some situations are the direct result of the choices made in life. I had a student ask me the other day why we were allowed to read this book. “It has smoking and drinking and gangs and fights; the school is okay with this?”

Yes, because it also has truth.

The book isn’t a picture of what we wish high school was like, or what we wanted high school to look like. The book is a reflection of the author’s true feelings about social classes, high school cliques and gangs, and the difficult situations that are handed to teenagers by their parents. And these situations strike pretty close to home for some of the students that sit in my class every day.

So what exactly were we talking about yesterday? Being guilty by association. In this day and age social networking is easy and available to anyone and everyone. It’s easy to broadcast your feelings to the world. It’s also easy to broadcast pictures of where you go, who you hang out with, what you do while you’re together. Facebook doesn’t discriminate between appropriate and incriminating pictures, but your future employer might.

“Besides,” I remind them, “What do you want to be known for?”

I started to talk to them about the decisions I make, living in a town when it is very likely I will run into a student or parent just about anywhere. Personally, I don’t want to ever be embarrassed by a situation I might find myself in if I were to be confronted with one of them.

Granted, there are times when I try to avoid running into students. I don’t exactly love it when they are across the restaurant while I’m out on a date with Curtis, and I’m not totally thrilled when I’m in sweatpants at the grocery store and I spy them further down the aisle. But wanting space to myself aside, it still matters to me that my students see me as a role model—whether I am in or out of the classroom.

The students had a lot of questions after I opened up this can of worms, mostly about what organizations and businesses are legally allowed to take into consideration when they accept or reject you. In a lot of ways they were very good questions, ones that our society grapples with more and more as social media further pervades our everyday life. Despite the questions, the message I was trying to get across to them doesn’t change: You need to decide who you want to be for yourself, because the choices you make determine who you are.

We will keep working through this book for the next couple weeks, and as we get to know the characters better, we will see them grapple with consequences for their actions—both positive and negative. I hope that today’s conversation was the beginning of them choosing more carefully—who they spend time with, what they spend their time doing, even what they post on Facebook. Because as much as they’d like to think their teenage years won’t affect who they are as adults, they are choosing who they will be come a little more every day.

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