Truth Number 1: You are irreplaceable. You are unique. There is no one in the world that has your mind, your body, your precise talents and feelings. You deserve the attention of the world, the adoration of people whose lives you touch, the sense of belonging and welcome and feeling like you are known and appreciated and loved. And if you’re a young child, you should be brought up knowing all of this and surrounded by adults who make you feel like the special person you are.
Truth Number 2: You are completely replaceable. You aren’t that unique. Maybe no one in the world looks exactly like you or thinks like you or feels like you, but so what? Hundreds or thousands or millions may have more intelligent minds, attractive bodies, extraordinary talents and let’s face it, any feeling you’ve had has probably been felt by just about everybody else since time began. The world doesn’t really care all that much about you and if you don’t rise to your talent or claim your genius, well, it’s a shame, but the world mostly won’t notice and it will certainly go on. And even if you’re a Martin Luther King or a Bob Dylan or a Meryl Streep, the world will bemoan your passing, but the earth will still revolve around the sun and people will still go to work, shop, cook and go to parties. And if you’re a young child, it may be fine to grow up thinking you’re the center of the universe, but you’re in for some hard knocks when the world kicks your butt.
Of these two truths, my school has leaned heavily towards the first. And the result is that are kids are confident, fearless about expressing their thoughts in public, ready and eager to take risks and encouraged to claim their character and let the world know that they are here and ready to swing it around by the tail. Like the three kids that performed with me at SF Jazz on Saturday. One decided that night before that he would join me, learned the words I sent him at 9:00 pm the night before the 11:00 am show, rehearsed for one-minute with us during the sound-check and killed it when he got on stage. As did the other 8th grader singing Motherless Child and the 4th grader who fearlessly and joyfully belted out On the Sunnyside of the Street All well and good as far as it goes. And in fact, in situations like that, downright great.
But we’re also discovering that “as far as it goes” is nowhere near far enough. I love my 8th graders, but am finding myself loving them just a wee bit less with their constant side-conversations when I’m talking or entitled sense that they can vehemently protest about holding them past their recess time during a crucial rehearsal before our concert tomorrow night. Even though I knew precisely how to make this work while giving them their full recess. One walked out convinced that his right to recess superceded my judgment as his teacher. It’s too much. Time to steer them toward truth number 2.
I did let said child know that even though he has two special parts in the concert tomorrow night, I’m perfectly happy to play them instead of him—ie, he’s replaceable. Without a gesture from him that shows he understands he stepped too far over the line, my job as a responsible adult is to be serious enough to follow through. And so I’ll call his folks tonight. The success of the call depends on their understanding of both truths. As has been said by many before, the old reaction to a kid in trouble in school was: “What did you do?!!” The new reaction is: “What did that mean teacher do to my poor darling?”
And so Truth Number 3: Both of the above are true and we would do well to keep them in conversation with each other.
PS A happy ending to that story. Guided by his parents, I received a sincerely apologetic letter from the child where he took full responsibility for his action and he's back in the concert. Hopefully with a lesson learned.