Some readers may be old enough to remember the very cute TV show called, “Kids Say the Darndest Things” with Art Linkletter. There is a more recent version of the show currently on air. The point is that children see the world and make sense of conversations they hear or what they observe in clear, unfettered terms. They voice what they hear and see in the most straightforward, honest and often comical ways.
We expect this refreshing clarity from young children before they become jaded, disappointed or get pummeled into silence by rejection, life experiences and putdowns by bullies, incompetent parents or uncaring teachers.
While this is not the case for all children, by any shape of the imagination, it is the reality of many of our island children who experience failure in school and head straight into the winds of trouble. Often, these fragile young people act up, check out, drop out or get pushed out. They end up at DYA or worse, in the Guam penitentiary. Many find solace in street gangs. When does this departure from the warmth and laughter represented by kids who experience the world as a beautiful place of discovery and affirmation occur?
Last week, Samuel was asked to speak to a 7th-grade class at Agueda Johnston Middle School. He was slightly apprehensive as to what he could say that would make a difference in their young and sometimes turbulent lives. We are well aware of how middle schoolers are fighting hormone wars, disciplinary challenges, traumas of all sorts amid peer pressure, a desire to belong and look cool, and massive confusion and trepidation about what lies ahead. He shared some of his own experiences and challenges with them. He talked to them about how important tier two words were to their academic success. He inspired and entertained them in his unique fashion as an “edutainer.” He read them the column he wrote recently titled, “A Stone from my Father.” He spoke to them about finding their voice and the need to use it as a force for good. They listened, rather intently. I asked him how it went. He said it was a BAM! Later in the week I asked him what he talked about. He handed me a green folder with reflections about his visit from the students he addressed. He said, “Best that you hear it from them.” I offer readers the same experience.
Here goes. “You taught me never to give up. Even if I want to, cause I can succeed.” “You forgave your father, even though he didn’t treat you like a son, wow.” “We all as persons have our ups and downs but you made me understand we are not alone in the struggle.” You are one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. Some of the things you said were very moving and it hit hard. One thing you said that really got me was if you are good enough for God, then you should be good enough for yourself. You made me realize how much I have.” “This generation is a sad one. Most of the kids are depressed and they need a voice to guide them. So, I would love it if you could come back and talk to all the 7th graders.” “I’m so glad that I got to meet Dr. Betances. He’s the reason that I am going to do better in school and work harder to get an education.” “One day, I want to be an educator just like you.”
These voices, often hidden or silenced, tell their own story. Our children are hungry to be affirmed. They long to have role models they can follow. They are fragile and vulnerable. They have learning spirits that need to be nourished by the people around them. In truth, 7th graders can indeed say the wisest things. Let’s take heed.