Yesterday was my fourth inning as a Wisdom Champion with the YWCA’s Boys 4 Real program. As I have done in previous weeks, I will try to summarize some of my thoughts and feelings as I go through the process.
My anxiety about working with kids has faded to a cautious wariness. I know that the second I completely stop being worried about how I’m doing is when I start to make mistakes. The consequences of mistakes are somewhat magnified, I think, because of who I’m working with. At the same time, these aren’t infants I’m working with – they’re young adults who have families and home lives and lots of adult figures in their lives other than me, a guy who hangs out with them for 2.5 hours a week.
Listening to Tobold Rollo has changed a lot of my thinking about young people, specifically children. I had long embraced a sort of benevolent paternalism when it came to kids. Born out of a reaction to former practices that treated children as small-statured adults, possessing the same mental and emotional capabilities as a fully-grown person, I went to the other extreme. Children were in need of protection, for their own good, and needed to be sheltered until such time as they were mentally mature enough to assert their autonomy. This model treats children as proto-human; figures that will some day become people. It is, by definition, a dehumanizing doctrine.
I have instead tried to treat the participants in this program with the same deference and respect that I had previously reserved for adults. They have my trust until they demonstrate they are not worthy of it, they are peers rather than subordinates, and I don’t make decisions on their behalf. I catch myself periodically dipping into my previous patterns of adult/child dichotomy, but for the most part as long as I remain mindful of it, I think I’m doing okay.
The thing that keeps catching me off guard is how compliant and non-defiant the guys in the program are. If they are asked to do something they do it, and while they are energetic and easily distracted, they’re engaging earnestly and thoughtfully with me and the other leaders. I expected to have to deal with a lot more snickering and misbehaving, but instead we’ve been able to spend time discussing and planning and conversing, which is definitely my preference.
One thing I am still struggling with is the sheer amount that we are expected to cover in an hour-long session. There has not been one week where we have done every activity in the book, regardless of how scrupulously we try to stay on time. I also question how much of the material is being absorbed as opposed to merely being ‘worked through’. My brief stint as a violin teacher has taught me a bit about how to distinguish the two processes. The things we’re talking about are large topics, but we’re spending maybe 20 minutes on them. I know there’s an issue of boredom to factor in if we don’t keep the days moving, but most of the time I feel very rushed. We’re not spending as much time as I’d like on the specific topic of high school either, and I think that’s the biggest source of anxiety for them right now.
We’ll see how it develops as the term moves towards its end.