This year, I watched both my students from last year and my students from this year graduate from eighth grade. Both graduation ceremonies were the sort of thing I would have paid $100 to skip while I was driving there. Yet when I arrived at the ceremonies, I found both to be worthy beyond measure. I didn’t speak at either graduation, but while watching the 300 kids I’ve had the honor of teaching over the last couple years throw themselves wildly at their futures, I started to think about what I would have said.
Young People, We’re Giving You A Project, And It Won’t Be Easy
To the Youth of 2018: We didn’t do this for nothing. You owe us, big time. We didn’t leave you a world in trouble, a world with such division, for nothing. We thought you needed a project. We didn’t want it to be easy. So, we gave you a resurgence of racism, the kind of hatred you may have thought was beaten, the kind that we knew still whispered itself in the shadows. We thought, yes, let it grow there, out of the way where we won’t have to think of it, where we can pretend it’s no big deal until it stands in our city squares with the slogans and imagery of wars you only know as black and white semi-fictions. We brought it back for you. Gave it life and light. It’s for you. We gave you a country so in love with the promise of enormous wealth that it hates its poor. A country so in love with guns that it easily accepts the collateral damage of your safety. We gave you that. It’s for you. We gave you grownups who have no trouble finding their fury about kneeling or standing or tweeting, but can’t seem to do more than shrug about the families we tear apart, about what it must be like to walk through this country as a person of color, as a person who is or is assumed to be an immigrant, as a young child practicing Islam, any day, every day. We gifted you these things and more, but even then that’s not all. We tried to get you ready, so we tried really hard to build you schools that tell you to conform and be subordinate. We told you you should always be comfortable in conversations, to stay away from the tough stuff, that fear of anything different is called a “difference of opinion,” and it is OK to hold onto that fear, that it is important we let you hold onto that fear. We gave you dress codes that were
sexist, suspensions that were
racist, funding that was
classist. We did that for you.
We took away shop classes and most of your music and art. We used the most powerful and versatile piece of information technology in history to develop very fancy worksheets and ways to test you constantly on whatever they were supposed to teach you. We gave you all these things because the only way to get ready for the big fight back is to practice tiny rebellions. We didn’t do this for nothing. You’re welcome. Also, you’re ready. More than that, you’ve begun.
It Won’t Be Easy, But You’ve Already Begun to Fight
At the center of nearly every movement of virtue in this country are young leaders. They are loud because they have been told to be quiet. They are unapologetic because they are being told to be careful. They are powerful because they have been treated like they are weak. That’s you. That’s you now, or in the years to come. We’ve given you this thing, wrapped this world around your necks. We’ve been drawing it tighter, waiting for your hands to push us back. You are ready. You are pushing. You are powerful. We will owe you, big time.
Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog. His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called "IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching."