Getting Real

Speaking of American Lit.

We are now well into the Civil War era and all the nitty-gritty realism that entails. We took a breather from death and depression and the question of today was, “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?”

They recounted everything from, “Don’t stop when you hit the ramp; just keep pedaling” to, “Expect the best; plan for the worst.”

We then read a letter from Robert E. Lee to his son, in which he gave his son various tidbits of advice. I assigned the class to write a letter of advice to anyone their heart desired. In their own language. About any topic.

I then alternately laughed and cried and sometimes did both at the same time as I read heartfelt words of wisdom from 16, 17, and 18 year old high school students to the people they care about most: little brothers and sisters, despondent friends, and future children.

“Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. I used to think it was funny to play dumb and then nobody would take me seriously. No matter how hard I tried to change it, they still saw me as the funny fat kid. Nobody could see me as intelligent.”

I put down the letter and asked this (clearly, obviously, absolutely) brilliant 17 year old kid when that happened. I was met by confused silence, so I clarified my question. “Did they treat you that way in grade school or middle school or what?”

Here, the student’s eyes welled up ever so slightly. “Yeah. But they still think that.”

Gah. You’re killin’ me. 

There were gang-members pleading with little brothers to steer clear of the wrong crowd, boys instructing imaginary sons  about how to be men, and girls pleading with future daughters to not sell themselves short.

Not one of them complained that they didn’t know what to write about or who to write to; they had thoughts that mattered and they wanted to share them with real, flesh-and-blood people.

I seriously love these kids. I wish we could learn together for longer than one short semester at a stretch. The semester is almost half over.  I’m just now getting to know them, and I can already feel June 6th rushing onward at a relentless pace.

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