You had better believe they care
It is something you hear often from adults when they are bemoaning the ills of society and the actions of the few. Headlines scream about the crimes committed by young people, but the positive stories rarely catch the attention of the masses, at least not in the way that changes hearts and minds.
When I hear an adult say something along the lines of, “Kids these days are always on their phones and don’t care about anything,” I am the first to speak of my positive experiences with our youth.
They may be on their phones, but you had better believe that they care.
I have spent the last two years teaching at Iowa BIG and all of my students have been involved in projects they have chosen, working together to solve problems in the community and fill gaps that we have left open as adults.
Whether it is connecting our homeless population with the public, raising money for local suicide prevention programs, designing an outdoor recreational space that is inclusive for Camp Courageous, creating a recruitment video for the local police department, running a book drive for underprivileged youth, or working with the community to create butterfly sculptures to spread awareness of the decline of our pollinators, you had better believe our kids care.
Their passion drives their purpose and although we would like to believe our traditional educational system is efficient and functional, it is because of the learner-centered environment at Iowa BIG that these projects had the chance to incubate.
Students are walking out of here with authentic community experiences and a feeling of purpose, as well as the confidence to navigate their next stage of life. Most importantly, students realize their connection to their community, which is what many young people complain about: feeling disconnected.
After working in education the past nineteen years, I am far more optimistic than many of my peers working in other professions. The somber “kids these days” conversations they are having frankly depress me, although I recognize that older generations have historically looked down upon the aspirations of the younger generations (just listen to baby boomers talk about millennials!). Instead, I try to start the conversation with an enthusiastic, “Kids these days!” and focus on all that they are accomplishing.
To witness the energy that a group of passionate students can build toward a common goal in an unrestrictive environment is inspirational and at times jaw-dropping. I believe that teenagers are our most underutilized resource and while we focus so much on all of the times they let us down, it is really us that is letting them down by not changing traditional schools.
We trap them in an assembly-line inspired school system, and despite the efforts of our most creative and effective educators, they are often creating products for the sake of a grade, which is possibly the least authentic measure of success.
Instead, we must create an environment where all students are creating something REAL, and are operating in a REAL environment, and are collaborating with REAL people in the community like the environment created at Iowa BIG. It is only then that we will truly recognize the potential of “kids these days,” and in turn, they will recognize it within themselves.