My college does this really cool thing where they go and teach middle schoolers about writing. So every Friday they graciously let me go spend time with 12 and 13-year-olds. I think mostly I have very little business being around children. I’m not a very good disciplinarian, and I like talking to them more than I like teaching them. But whether or not the students get anything out of it, I love hanging out with them.
Yesterday was our first day of this year, and so we spent our first lesson doing introductions. Introductions are interesting things. As adults, we’ve figured out how to finagle the system. Growing up should really be called “growing better at avoiding meaningful interactions with other people.” When we introduce ourselves, we use a script. When you ask my name, I will say Spencer, maybe Spencer Smith, but never Spencer James Smith. When you ask me what I do, I will answer student but never how I sometimes sit in my apartment eating Rice Crispies and watching marathons of The Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo. And when you ask me how I’m doing, I will always say good. Even if it’s not.
Twelve-year-olds haven’t figured that script out yet. They still value things like creativity and individuality. Certainly, by the end of the year they will be much more scripted, but for now, they are pretty honest. Funny thing is, though, that their educators only push them more and more towards the script. As part of the introductions, each student in our class was asked to write a brief bio, the contents of which had been determined for them – a couple words to describe themselves, their likes, their dislikes, their fears, and their hopes. Amazingly, though, even given physical scripts, the students were themselves.
They talked about fearing robot uprisings, being hurt in football, and losing loved ones. They talked about loving school and hating school. They talked about their dislike of the difficulty of dieting. And they talked about being adopted, their compassion for famine in Africa, and moving to a new country. And I learned all of these things from a 30-second scripted introduction.
I have a friend who is obsessed with being genuine and another who is obsessed with innocence. I laugh at them when we are together because they think they are arguing when they are actually agreeing. Innocence allows us to be genuine. As we learn more about the world, we also learn that it sometimes makes people uncomfortable when we are completely honest. And so we stop being honest and genuine. And we start saying things like “My name is Spencer. I am from Springboro, Ohio and I am 20 years old. I like ice cream, pizza, and reading. I dislike exercising, peas, and textbooks. I fear snakes. I hope that one day I will graduate. And one day I would like to visit Egypt.” Who’s the twelve-year-old now?
Someone said she sought someone
Per positions plagued perilously,
Ergo ego economically
Now new inquiries inside.
Responded, “I am Spencer.”
*I’m going to try and do the same assignment that we give the students each week just for fun. This week’s: acrostics.