Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In the Power of the Evil One

This year at my high school has been a real eye-opener. Teaching in general has shown me that my home life and family situation as a child was far better than most average kids' in America. But even more so, my new school is giving me an education. Sadly, I hate what I'm learning, and the past few days have nearly brought me to tears.

1) Richmond may not be Chicago's South Side, but it can be a violent place. We have fights at least weekly, if not several days per week. Last week a female student of mine clawed up another girl. There was blood on the sidewalk, along with tufts of weave. It was nasty. Then on Tuesday after lunch, outside my classroom a girl slapped a guy, who responded by straight up punching her in the face/head. She collapsed to the pavement. Kids are constantly talking about solving problems through violence. "Shut up or I'll punch you in the face" is actually pretty common. I also recently overheard, "She ain't no friend to you; she ain't shit to you. You should go beat the shit outta her and put her in her place." A few of my students even stayed late after school devising a plan for what to do if one of them got shot or hurt while walking home.

2) A student in my seventh period biology class, A.G., moved down from New Jersey, where her brother was shot and killed a few years back. Her teenage sister was also stabbed to death by another girl in 2008. I found out last night that A.G. was listed on the Virginia Missing Persons Registry, having gone missing back in March.

3) Today P.A., a student in my fourth period biology class, came in with no backpack and had his head down on the desk all day. (He usually is eager to share the latest baseball news with me.) I asked him if anything was wrong, and he wrote these words on a sheet of paper:


What he did next startled me: He pulled back his sleeve to reveal about ten parallel razor cuts on his right forearm. I told him that whatever tough stuff he was going through, he didn't have to go through it alone, and this surely wasn't the solution. I assured him that I am a safe person to talk with and that I really care for him.

4) I have had a few students this year who were temporarily homeless and moving every few days or weeks. I also have had three students in foster care who switched foster parents during this year, which really messed them up. A few others entered my class late, having spent the earlier part of the year in juvenile detention.

As if all this weren't enough, tons of my students are failing. It's literally--and psychologists and social workers will corroborate this--that students are trying to fail. If they have positive expectations and actually try to reach them, yet do not succeed, they feel like a failure. So why not just not try? That way, failure won't reflect poorly on their ability. Failure will just be a result of not trying. Other students act out in class in order to try to provoke me to anger or to get kicked out of class so that they can say, "I failed because Mr. Hall got mad at me and kicked me out of class," thereby placing the locus of blame outside of themselves (or so they reckon).

If they're not failing, then many are stuck in a morass of hopelessness. They have few goals in life or dreams of what they could be and do after high school, and at this point many are too far behind to reach those goals. All they can do is hope to experience a little pleasure and approval today and get through the day. If they can, then that's a success. With their perspectives so out of whack, degradation and banality reign: new shoes, Lil' Wayne, sex, gold-covered teeth ("fronts"), sex, Gucci Man, cell phones, sex.

The Apostle John wrote that "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). Sadly I see every day that this is true. It nearly crushes me some days to see the hopelessness of these kids' lives--kids who are otherwise bright and longing for love and meaning and approval. They and their world have fallen so far from the glory of God and from wholeness and shalom, the abundant life which God desires for them. When Jesus came to Lazarus's tomb at Bethany and saw the devastating, life-erasing effects of sin and death, he was "deeply moved [or indignant] in his spirit and greatly troubled" (John 11:33). Some days I feel his same indignation in my soul over how messed up these great kids are, yet I wonder: What can I, as one person, do about this so late in the game?

Will you do the one thing that can make a difference and join me in praying in Jesus' name for my students and all the millions of others like them?


The Rev said...

Andrew--powerful post. Thanks for sharing these stories and reflections. I'd love to have you share some of this as a personal update during living our faith some time.

Andrew said...

Thanks, Rev. Is this Erik? Or just some other coffee-loving City Church member?

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for sharing this, Andrew. As I think of this I'll seek to pray for you and the students.