The other day, we were in the middle of reviewing literary devices when I asked for a student to remind me of what sarcasm is. “It would be like someone saying, ‘I reeeeally like that blouse you’re wearing today’.” Sometimes, I just walk right into. My stomach hurt by the time we all got done laughing.
Truth be told, I imagine most adults have been outsmarted by a child or teen at some point. A clever quip, an unforeseen loophole, an infallible counterargument. But this week I was absolutely amazed to realize that when it comes to purposeful living and personal finance, teens know quite a few things that we seem to forget as adults.
S.E. Hinton penned the short story that evolved in The Outsiders when she was 15 years old. The full-length novel was published when she was 18. That means somewhere between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, she crafted what I would consider to be one of the greatest universal truths about money and mindfulness:
“Rat race is the perfect name for it. We’re always going and going and going, and never asking where. Did you ever hear of having more than you wanted? So that you couldn’t want anything else and then started looking for something else to want? It seems like we’re always searching for something to satisfy us, and never finding it.”
I’ve had the fortune of teaching The Outsiders for two years now, and this was the first year that I decided to have my students react to that specific quotation. I was expecting puzzled looks, raised hands, silent keyboards. Instead, my seventh graders pecked ferociously at their keyboards with looks of great resolve, pleading for more time to write. In the ultimate sign of don’t-bother-me-teacher-I’m-thinking, I even watched a few tongues poke out of corners of mouths.
I was bracing for mediocrity at best, utter confusion at the worst. I mean, to begin with, it’s impressive that a teenager came up with that quotation. Surely, she must have possessed some special talent or keen insight that set her apart. I teach wonderful kids, but published teenage authors they are not.*
Instead, I was floored. Paragraph after paragraph contained remarkable kernels of truth. Even my students who struggle with comprehension or sustained writing tasks baffled me with their insights.
Rather than having me paraphrase or summarize, I thought I’d share some of their wisdom with you:
- “It’s about being bored. If things come too easy to you, you have to find something else to work at. That’s why it’s bad for things to be easy. You need a challenge.”
- “Sometimes people do stuff just to say they’re doing stuff. They don’t have a goal. It’s just everyone else is doing things, so you want to do those things too.”
- “It’s why people are never happy with what they have. Especially the rich ones. They don’t appreciate it. Instead, they always try to get more money.”
- “Like the Socs, some people have way too much money. And when you have a lot of money, you have to find ways to keep making more otherwise you don’t feel good about yourself anymore.”
- “People who have a lot of money only worry about themselves. They should think about everyone. Don’t just make yourself good. Make other people good.”
While I may have adjusted for commas and capitalization in some instances, the content is all theirs. Ideas about purposeful living, independence, uniqueness, excess, consumerism, charity littered their pages.The discussion was even richer when they had opportunities to elaborate on their thoughts and when some were emboldened enough to make personal connections. Like all of the best conversations in life, I left my classroom that day with more questions than answers.
- How do we forget these concepts so quickly?
- How much of the blame can be placed on advertising, on social media, on friends and family?
- What should schools and communities do so that this wisdom isn’t forgotten but rather nurtured?
* Yet. It is my biggest teacher fantasy to have a student of mine get published at some point in his or her life. Every year, I promise to buyallthecopies when they make it big.
So Tell Me…Care to pose an answer to any of these questions? Did their responses raise other questions for you?