Ninth Graders, Know-It-Alls, and Social Justice

In a lot of ways, teaching the ninth graders reminds me of trying to have a conversation with a fellow believer about the racial climate of our country.

You are nobody unless you have a tribe of sycophants backing your every observation. You do whatever you have to do to keep that tribe happy, even if it means snubbing the girl who you’d secretly love to be friends with, and ragging on her Sailor Moon backpack when you think it’s cool. Put in adult terms: snubbing the author you secretly agree with about the issue and ragging on her logic because she used terminology that triggers your tribe.

 

I teach humanities at a classical Christian school in Mississippi.

Though there are black students there, I am the only black teacher, and my class is full of bright, exuberant, and precocious white kids.

I teach them for three hours twice a week using a combination of print and online resources, primary and secondary sources, and entertaining YouTube videos. My powerpoints are epic, we read aloud together, and we have Socratic seminars and dialogues about everything from the NFL protests to gun laws and the Las Vegas shooter.

We are studying a lot of the historical moments that have that shaped the very battlegrounds we are fighting on today, particularly about prejudice and the American experience (currently camped out in the Ellis Island, the Civil War, and Reconstruction).

In a lot of ways, teaching the ninth graders reminds me of trying to have a conversation with a fellow believer about the racial climate of our country.

THEY NITPICK

Today, I said, “Guys. This classroom is out of control, and we’re only thirty minutes into class.”

Inevitably, a student quipped, “Thirty-one minutes.”

I am often having my lesson plans corrected, my lectures scrutinized, and my opinions met with a chorus of “well actually…”

We’re supposed to grow out of that impulse to nitpick and into the habit of patiently listening and then critiquing well-formed thoughts. Part of what I’m teaching my students is to put their opponents’ arguments in the most compassionate terms possible… not to rip their opponent to shreds over a single ambiguous phrase.

A lot of us haven’t outgrown it.

THEY GANG UP

Tribalism is the backbone of a ninth-grade student.

I’ll hearken back to my own ninth grade experience (albeit at a homeschool co-op): cliques reigned.

Think Mean Girls, but with overalls and retainers.

You are nobody unless you have a tribe of sycophants backing your every observation. You do whatever you have to do to keep that tribe happy, even if it means snubbing the girl who you’d secretly love to be friends with, and ragging on her Sailor Moon backpack when you  think it’s cool.

Put in adult terms: snubbing the author you secretly agree with about the issue and ragging on her logic because she used terminology that triggers your tribe.

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