Last week, I wrote about the importance of developing and educating forward-thinking young men. The topic made me think about my days as a principal in Topeka, Kansas. I’ll never forget a young boy who was enrolled in my middle school after he had recently moved to the area as a new student.
Prior to moving to Topeka, he had grown up on the Potawatomi Indian Reservation approximately twenty miles north of Topeka. He had moved away from the reservation to live with a relative after some family matters required him to leave home. But I was never really told or learned the real reasons why he needed to leave the reservation.
Carl (not his real name) wore his hair down to his shoulders causing him to stand out among his classmates. His hair was neat and clean, light brown, almost blondish, and longer than most of the boys. The length of his hair became a topic of conversation among some students because it was unusual and unique for this school.
For Carl, the process of getting acclimated to life away from the reservation, in a public education system, was more difficult than it was for other students. For example, he had some difficulty answering questions required on our school enrollment form. One of our female counselors stepped in to help him complete his form. According to the counselor, Carl seemed to balk when responding to questions regarding his family. Finally, he told the counselor that he was not sure who his mother was. He explained that he had moved to Topeka to live with his grandmother who lived in town and near our middle school.
His fellow students were curious about him. He seemed like a misfit and far different from all the other students. There was no question, Carl sparked a great deal of intrigue among his fellow classmates and a host of the staff members as well.
One of the things that made him stand out certainly was his chronic inability to arrive at school on time. Carl often missed his bus and walked to school. Unfortunately, he routinely received tardy passes from one of the counselors, me, or one of the other administrators. And Tardy slips usually resulted in after-school detention.
It seemed that no matter what Carl did, he was either tardy or showed up late to school intentionally. Some of the adults in the school surmised his tardiness was an effort to demonstrate his disdain for his new life, dictated by time, and the strict nature of abiding by a clock, or because he saw no purpose in living by the clock whatsoever.
But I had a far different, more optimistic and understanding belief about his lateness. I came to believe that Carl was routinely tardy because he took the time to enjoy his surroundings; he was confident in who he was and seemed to treasure the lessons of the outdoors and nature much more than the lessons found in books, crowded hallways, flirting with girls or junior-high pranks.
To other students, Carl seemed like a loner and a boy with no friends, but I always thought of Carl as an independent boy, quiet, not boisterous and very observant. Something about him spoke to me. It was as if he heard the beat of his own drummer; he hummed his own distinct tune.
Something about Carl also called to my better angels. I was sure Carl would grow into a man who knew who he was, and what he and his community stood for. In my soul, I believed that he would be a man who honored nature, respected his peers and family, and lived a good life.
When Carl was old enough, he left the public school system, went back to the reservation and I never heard from him again. But I was grateful to have known Carl. His experience in a school system makes me wonder about some questions. What if adults would step back a bit and allow our young people to explore their world more? Would more kids truly discover what they would like to do with their lives?
The rigidity and boundaries of a public school system never were going to work well for a boy like Carl. What if we had been able to offer him more ways to express his creativity? His love for nature? Would he have been able to connect with his fellow students and educators in a more profound way?
If adults in schools, at home and in our communities are true examples of success, they will give more space for the creativity of our children and let people like Carl thrive in the special ways in which they need to learn. If that were to happen more, I believe that we would have happier, smarter and healthier generations of young people.
© 2020 Tyra Manning