May 4, 2017
This past weekend, I found myself alone in the house for the first time in years, literally. Saturday morning, I decided that I would watch Collateral Beauty starring Will Smith. I avoided it for months because I didn’t want to cry. The opening scene shows Smith speaking to a room full of ad executives. He asks them, “What is your why?” I engaged immediately.
In my experience, asking why provides wisdom and discernment not attainable through questions of what or how. I find myself regularly reflecting on this question. When I face decisions that impact the staff or students, I wrestle with the why. When students struggle to make right choices, I seek to know why. As I listened to Smith’s character inspire his colleagues with his speech, I found myself contemplating the question too.
Once an English teacher, always an English teacher. As the movie progressed, I found myself examining the “collateral beauty” of middle school. Day in and day out, middle school students face a myriad of obstacles. They navigate heartbreak, academic challenges, peer pressure, and a host of other challenges. How many times have we, as adults, said with empathic passion that no one could pay us to go back to middle school?
Stop and think, really think, about our middle school experience. If I had to choose to go back to my middle school experience or to grow up as a teenager today, I would choose to go back to my experience in a heart beat. Our middle schoolers face things today that 20 years ago would have been unimaginable. Gone are the days when passing notes caused the greatest controversy in class. Each and every day, teachers juggle the balance of imparting academic knowledge and navigating the distractions of society. Middle schoolers today, as my son would say, are the real MVPs.
There are days I question how on earth we can expect students to implement the Quadratic Equation or to argue the value of capitalism in a Socratic discussion. I question because I know the internal battles they face. Social media suffocates them. Screen time consumes them. The need to know who is doing what? when? and with whom? controls their every waking minute.
As the movie concluded, I realized that the collateral beauty of middle school rests in the success that they find when they battle and win. They battle to think critically and to learn the importance of balancing equations. They work to support their claims with solid data. But they also battle to become honorable leaders despite the pressures they face. They struggle with making the right choice. They battle to find themselves. They battle to develop strong character. This is their collateral beauty and in their collateral beauty lies the why of my love for middle school. I’m thankful they choose to battle. I celebrate it.
Honored to Serve You All,
Food for Thought: As I share on this topic again, three more DCSD teens from neighboring schools, both middle and high, are fighting for their lives after failed suicide attempts this past week. Psychiatrist: Netflix Should Remove ’13 Reasons Why’ Immediately (Caution: This article links through the Today Show; so I cannot block the ads that may appear. Though all are “TV” appropriate, they may address topics that are questionable.)