And ain’t nobody fighting.
Cause nobody knows what to save.
—Gil Scott Heron
Everything that is learned must be taught. –Lev Vygotsky
On September 24, 2009, on sixteen year old male, a honor student, was beaten to death on the south side of
And as I suspected, just as always has happened, for a few days, for a week or so, we were completely infuriated by the incident. For a few days, for a week or so, we walked around shaking our heads, wondering just how an incident of this nature might happen, wondering just what malevolent forces could drive young men to commit such a heinous act. For a few days, for a week or so, we talked about it, and we blogged about, and we looked for answerw.
But as soon as the furor died down, the whole episode seemed to just fade away, and we moved on to the next new outrage.
The president even dispatched a team consisting of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to
Please do not misconstrue this as acrimonious; however, perhaps within the comfortable, safe confines of the four seasons hotel was not the best place to hold the meeting. The meeting should have been held there in the very streets where the violence occurred.
And though more funding is desperately needed, money is perhaps not the greatest need; we have a bad habit of throwing money at a problem, and then standing back waiting for the problem to solve itself. But what we really need on the south side of
We need teachers, and by teachers, I do not mean school teachers. I mean those who have come from similar backgrounds, those who have faced similar obstacles, those who should have been statistics but ended up otherwise, those with a testimony to give. We need those people to come back and maybe take responsibility for as many as they believe themselves to be able to handle, and teach those who need instruction the most. Based on my experience with working with inner city youth, the five lessons that follow are those that need to be taught first:
- Every action has a consequence.
I teach my own children this very same lesson. Every action, no matter how great or small, carries with it a consequence. For every positive action, the consequence is usually positive; conversely, for every negative action, the consequence is usually negative. But the catch is we cannot the magnitude of the consequence.
I don’t think those young men meant to kill young Derrion Albert. This type of incidence occurs with such frequency in inner cities that the young men involved thought nothing of it. However, this time it was caught on tape and somebody died. Now as a consequence of their action, their lives are forever altered, which brings us to the next lesson:
- In only a brief moment, your life can change forever.
My grandmother was fond of saying, “In the twinkling of an eye…” In just the time it takes you to blink your eye, the action you take may have consequences that could irretrievably alter your life. The whole notion of being caught up in the moment, in the emotion, is inexcusable. Take time to think.
- There are no acceptable excuses.
It seems to me that we give our children far too many excuses to fail. I attended the sentencing trial of a young man recently, and for almost a whole afternoon, person after person—relatives, neighbors, psychologists, former teachers, coaches and other individuals—took the stand to offer excuse after excuse for this young man’s behavior. In the end, the judge simply shook his head and handed down the maximum possible sentence.
Then a few days later I was speaking to another young man about his behavior. I usually begin such conversations with the question, “Why?”. Often in the process of trying to articulate the rationale for their actions, they realize how utterly foolish their actions were.
But this young man took me completely by surprise. He gave me the most learned, clinical explanation of inappropriate behavior that I have ever heard. He had been through so many hearings that he had memorized and internalized those very excuses we had given him as excuses in our pleas for leniency.
- Everyone who tells you no is not necessarily against you, and everyone who tells you yes is not necessarily for you.
Often I meet with groups of students who, for whatever reason, are behind in their studies. And when I say behind, I mean fifteen and sixteen year olds in middle school. There is one main theme to the excuse I hear most often: I am in the condition I am in because someone did not like me.
It seems that too often our children are under the impression that for someone to have their best interests at heart, they must necessarily say yes to all their whims. They must always offer them the path of least resistance, and God forbid that anyone should take the time to reprimand them for improper behavior.
However, those who are really on your side, those hoping most for you to succeed, will offer the appropriate response and will point out the most efficacious path, and they will offer praise and reprimand as needed. And it is not necessary for them to smile when they do so.
- Life ain’t fair.
There seems to be some prevailing notion that life is somehow fair. But I found out a long time ago, this is not always the case. However, I have find that somehow I can manipulate the curve simply by putting forth the very best effort I can offer and preparing myself for that day when things do go in my favor.