When I first started teaching, I wanted to tell of my experiences and what I've learned from my kids in a series called "Advice from Teens." In the past, I've generally written a reflection of when I was closing a certain chapter, but I've been blessed to have been working at the same high school for more than three years now. It's been wonderful to be in one place to get to know the same students year after year.
I wanted to write this series (and wanted to become a teacher) because I think that there's a huge lack of respect toward the ideas and opinions of the young people in our world. Society tends to push away or ignore teenagers' opinions, dismissing them simply because they are "young" and "don't know what they're talking about."
That is far from the case. Most of the time, my students see things and understand things in a way that most adults fail to.
This was especially apparent in the election this past season. My students were able to have honest and open conversations regarding issues that adults were avoiding to mention (ie. race, sexism, sex, etc.).
This morning, I was chatting with one of my seniors that I've now known through his whole high school career. He's a young, black man that has struggled to gain respect, despite his efforts to always show it, and has faced the reality of the racism that still exists every day.
He was telling me about his frustration with talking to his peers about politics (especially when it comes to economic issues).
"The people that think they know it all, have it all," he said.
I stopped him in his thoughts and wrote it down on a post-it and told him to autograph it. Because that's one of the most straight-forward truths I have ever heard.
Privilege has been a buzz-word these past few years, but I fear that people still fail to recognize it.
Sadly, in these past few months, empathy, listening and understanding have been lacking in our political and social lives. Most people think that they are correct and disregard people that disagree with them. But we fail to remember that when we disregard other people's opinions, we are also disregarding their experiences. After all, what shapes us more than that?
It's so important to recognize the privilege in our own lives. I am a white woman raised in a middle-class family. Growing up, I never worried about where my next meal was coming from, I was never afraid of walking around my suburban neighborhood at night. That's the privilege I was born into.
Not everyone is born into that privilege. There are many people born into this world where the color of their skin still dictates their path in life, where their economic status is destined to never change based on the lack of opportunity, where their lives are constantly in danger based on where they live and can't escape from. We need to recognize our own privilege and more importantly, recognize other's lack of privilege. We need to listen to each other and revalidate each other's experiences. We need to acknowledge that maybe we don't know it all and that our own privilege has made it unnecessary in the past for us to.
But it is necessary to know it all. To validate and recognize all experiences.
Until we validate experiences and learn to understand people who have had different experiences than we have had, we will never be truly equal.
I have hope that this will happen. I see it in our kids; I see it in our teens. They are shaping the world around us as we speak and they're shaping it with empathy and truth.