I was sad to find that I’d had a complaint over a previous column I wrote about a drunken night out. The naughty part of me felt cool for a second. But I am not terribly naughty and certainly not cool, so I mostly wanted to make reparations. The person sounded nice. I like nice people; I don’t mind saying I want them to like me too.
The complainant said that people with profile should not write in a way that could encourage impressionable teenagers to drink unwisely and get in dangerous states. I absolutely agree. I do not encourage that in any way.
However, I feel there is more to say beyond that.
I think columns reflect life in a way that reportage can (and must) not. I think columns have a bit more freedom to be human, and thus imperfect.
Here’s something I don’t think I’ve written about in my columns. I have been co-Head of English in an Alternative Education centre, have taught kids who have been moved out of mainstream education because it does not work for them, nor they for it. I love these kids. I know their lives and I worry for their futures.
Because of who and where and why they are, these ‘kids’ need a different tack to the one you have to take in mainstream schools. They are not curriculum kids, they are more real than that and won’t be lied to, nor hustled in directions they don’t want to go. They like honesty. They may seem rude and unreceptive to outsiders, but they are dying to respect someone. However, role models to these kids are not those attempting to be perfect. These kids would play up, play games if you tried to suggest they learn from someone whiter than white, (and they would win). For those who do not patronise them, who respect them enough to be real in front of them, they’ll turn up, they’ll open doors, more importantly they’ll do their work and understand that what work they do now might impact on their entire lives. They did not do this at school. I feel for school teachers who are not free to get the response they want from the kids they are losing.
Kids see life all around them. Life does not hide itself anymore. They don’t have to go out into the big wide world to see it, the big wide world comes streaming into their lives at indefatigable speeds. It doesn’t need doors or cables anymore. It is glowing in their palms at all times. They could not stop it if they wanted to. Parents cannot stop it, teachers cannot stop it. We would be doing them a disservice to not prepare them for it.
There is a connection I feel between what I do here and what I did there, between ‘influence’ in the press and in education. School is like the reportage; the restrained good examples, the dry facts. Alt-ed is like the columns; a more personal comment on life.
Some of the best teachers I have known have had colourful pasts; drugs, alcohol, violence, even prison. Some of the best adults I have known anywhere are those who occasionally mess up yet who talk about their lives honestly, with humility and remorse, and who pass on any wisdom they have picked up along the way because they have truly learned it, first hand, gloves off, fingers sticky from the mess of life.
No one is perfect. I occasionally do silly things, like get drunk and write about it. I learn new things all the time. But I know that kids learn more from people like this – they find life less daunting if they feel you are with them, and so do most adults.