I am a writing tutor. Up until a few weeks ago, I spent my afternoons driving from one house to the next, sitting at kitchen tables with students ages 8 to 16, talking about reading, writing, homework, life. Writing touches everything we do, and I didn’t quite realize how involved I would be in students’ lives when I started this gig. When I walk into a house, it’s because a kid has hit a brick wall. There’s something in the way, blocking what’s in their head from coming out on the page. Sometimes that thing is simple vocabulary. Sometimes that thing is more existential. So, we talk about more than just writing. We talk about what they want to do with their lives, and why. Hopes and dreams. Fears and preoccupations. As you might imagine, my job has gotten a little intense, of late.
I live in Seattle. The epicenter of The Whole Damn Thing here in the U.S. of A. I’ve been meeting with my students via video-chat for the last three weeks, and I have to tell you: In spite of all odds, the kids are gonna be alright.
Kids are, at their core, very cool, and very weird. We don’t always see that in our day-to-day hustle of prepping for vocab tests and filling out reading packets. It turns out that when you let kids loose, tell them to go find something they really want to work on, direct them to chase their passions and convince them that they can do so uninhibited … they do.
I’ve got one student writing a science fiction story set in an underwater colony, after all of humanity left the Earth’s surface to give it time to rehabilitate. I’ve got another student who is writing a paper placing "The Great Gatsby" in historical context. I’ve got two students collaborating on a cooking website full of recipes based on ingredients you have in your pantry (I’m not telling them about SuperCook until they’re done, and don’t you either). I’ve got a student researching technological breakthroughs in prosthetics; a kid writing a love story set across two warring nations; a kid writing about the Houston Astros cheating scandal; a kid writing about mythological beings coming to life in the modern era; a kid working on the history of cleaning products. All this, just in the past week. I have a fifth-grader creating a pop-up book. A sophomore researching educational best practices. A middle-schooler turning all the characters from a book series into a collectible card game.
This is not a complete list, and I have to tell you, not one student has come back to me with a project idea that is frivolous or without merit. They’re all chasing down something valuable, even if that valuable thing isn’t part of curricular standards. I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that schools will not come back in session this year, but I’m excited to see where these kids go next.
Excited — and apprehensive.
I have a student who is self-quarantining. Her volleyball coach tested positive after their final practice, and she doesn’t want to infect her parents. She has been in her room for a week and a half. When we talk, I don’t ask her what’s new, or how she is, or any of the normal questions I used to ask every week, just to get a conversation started. She is 13 years old, she is bored, and she was completely over staring at the walls of her bedroom a week ago. This is a heroic effort. She is being an absolute and utter champ.
Tell your kid to go after the thing they like best.
All of my students are being champions and heroes. My tutoring parents are worried about the future, as they should be, but for myself? Where I’m sitting? I love these kids fiercely, and I am so proud of each and every one of them. They’ve been thrust into a fantastically crappy situation, and they are taking a big bite out of the one part of life that still belongs to them: their imagination. Are they still kids? Yes. Are they running feral through the house, playing too many video games and eating all the cookies? Undoubtedly. But to be fair, so am I, and I’m guessing so are you.
So, my message to parents, if I have one, is this: Tell your kid to go after the thing they like best. Better yet: Have someone else tell them. (I swear, half my job is being The Adult Who Is Not the Parent.) Tell them to dive in head-first, and immerse themselves in a project that is entirely theirs. Let them off the leash, don’t let them eat all the cookies, and I think we’re all gonna be okay.
This article was originally published on Medium.