I taught middle school for thirty-three years and find myself wondering how I might deal with the current adult nonsense if I were back in my classroom.
The personal attacks I see on the news remind me of those I saw during my career. Attacks hurt at any age, but they are especially harmful when we are beginning to define our individuality personalities. They are devastating for those students who become the scapegoats of disgruntled gangs.
Adults are forming nasty gangs these days, and you can believe middle schoolers are paying close attention to what’s going on in this election. Families, communities, and the world are not what they imagined them to be. The small family circle and close-knit community is not as safe as they once thought. It saddens me to see adults behaving like middle school bullies because it frightens fragile folks who are stepping out of their comfort zones and exploring their world on a larger scale. It also encourages those who bully others and find name calling to be an effective weapon.
It’s hard for children to go through the transformation they must go through in middle school, but I counted it a beautiful blessing to go through that with my students. I love butterflies and used their metamorphosis to help guide students through a difficult leg of their journeys. I hope I showed them that change is worth the pain. I suppose I would tell my students today that not all adults are ready for transformation.
Yesterday, while talking with two young women who work with children in crisis, I wondered if maybe adults could use a little middle school attitude during this stressful time of change in our country. Young voters love Bernie Sanders for the same reason I love him. He has faith and believes in what he’s doing. He behaves in a way that makes us feel safe, and that’s an important quality in a leader. I know that he won’t be able to do all he wants to do if he makes it to the white house, but he has a dream.
Others have had similar dreams for change, and I loved introducing my students to such dreamers because dreamers make us want to dream. Whether in fiction or in real life, we learn that all change begins with a dream. Change may be painful, but growth doesn’t happen without it. No one understands growing pains better than a middle schooler because their bodies, minds, and emotions are growing in ways that cause them to hurt. That pain causes them to act out or speak out when they probably shouldn’t.
I had a middle school moment myself yesterday when my granddaughters were not being nice to one another. I laid down the law and raised my voice. They were going to be nice to each other in my house!! It was immature, but very effective. I apologized for getting upset with them, and told them I would love them no matter what they did or said. I also told them how much it hurt me for them to hurt each other. There is nothing I love more than watching them love each other, but there is no greater angst than seeing them argue or trade insults.
God understands my hurt because He loves it when His children get along, and it breaks His heart when we hurt each other. He could make us behave if He wanted to, but He knows that kind of obedience is worthless. It might help if we got a little middle school attitude when it comes to fairness and justice and used our adult hearts and heads to help right what is wrong. Maturity has taught me that true change cannot take place in the world until it takes place in me. Gandhi said it well, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
God is helping me understand this beautiful truth, but it isn’t an easy process. It involves letting go of my desires and trusting God to give me His. I cannot right wrongs or bring needed change until I find peace myself. It’s easy to storm in or demand my way as I did with the girls yesterday, and I know how to get a crowd to go along with me. Some middle schoolers find comfort when they learn they can easily control others, but they soon learn the crowd isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and will turn on you when the next bully comes along. When the tables are turned, they learn a new lesson about how it feels to be a scapegoat. Hard lessons are necessary for all of us, but that’s what makes them stick with us and, hopefully, change the way we act or think.
Reinhold Neibuhr says it best in his Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
Middle schoolers have trouble accepting the things they cannot change, but they try desperately to change the things they can. They may lack the wisdom to know the difference, but so do we. Perhaps, we can recapture a little of that middle school attitude when it comes to changing what we can while remembering the pain of trying to fix what we can’t. Then, perhaps, we will come to that sweet place of peace that comes with the wisdom of knowing the difference. The Holy Spirit comes in very handy in that department.