Denise Clay is a past President of The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists,and posts regularly at her blog The Mad (Political) Scientist
English: The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the things I’ve found myself saying to people of late is that while the First Amendment guarantees your freedom of speech, it doesn’t give you a license to say whatever wackadoodle thing that pops into your head.
It also doesn’t give you permission to talk as loudly as possible about things that are really no one’s business but yours for hours at a time despite the entreaties of others that you Shut. The. Hell. Up.
But while I’ve said that to people, I’ve never written about it until now. In fact, if it weren’t for something that happened to me yesterday, I probably never would have written about it.
However, I feel compelled to do it now….
When I’m not sharing my thoughts on all things political I find myself in a classroom in an alternative high school here in Philadelphia teaching Media Arts.
The kids I teach are kids aged 16-22 who have either dropped out or have been asked to leave most of the other schools they’ve tried to attend. For some, the impetus to leave came from the discovery that they were about to have a kid of their own. Others had to leave due to one of the hazards that come with a career in what I call Street Corner Pharmacy: a date with the Criminal Justice System.
Others just left because they felt that a regular school was too constricting because in order to do well you’re required to come in every day and it’s a population of kids that with very few exceptions is African American.
They’re a challenging group because they’re largely raising themselves. And when you’re raising yourself, you kind of feel like no one can tell you anything. Most of them have parents who weren’t too much older than they are now when they were born. Many of them are on their third or fourth foster home. Others have been on the streets since they were old enough to walk.
Because of that, the phrase I hear most commonly is “I’m grown! You can’t tell me nothing!” I also get a lot of lectures from them about how I have to be respectful to them despite the fact that they often come into my class and talk nonstop while I’m trying to present a lesson.
But despite their best efforts to run me out of the building, something that several of them have admitted to me since, they’ve found that the only person more stubborn than they are in some cases is, well, Ms. Clay. Occasionally, I’ll hear a student tell a classmate “Don’t mess with Ms. Clay! She’s not trying to hear it!”
(That makes me smile by the way…)
Anyway, among the things I try and get across to them is that you can tell what’s going on in a particular society by the looking at the art it produces. I also try to get across to them that how they’re perceived by the larger society is directly connected to the face they put forth to the world through the prism of media.
I often tell them that the reason why folks clutch their purses a little tighter when they get on the bus, or would rather not sit next to them when they get on the subway is because they present themselves in a light that is far less than complimentary.
So as a means of self-exploration, I gave my kids the choice of two assignments for their final project in my Media Arts class: they could either do a documentary on anything they were interested in taking a long-form look at or do a photo essay of 6 to 8 pictures that took a look at a day in their lives. I was hoping through this essay that they would take a look at their everyday lives and maybe see what was good, bad, or needed changing.
So, I figured that because it was a high school Media Arts assignment common sense would prevail.
That hope was smashed against the wall when one of my students wanted to include a picture of someone having sex “doggy style” as part of her final project. After I got a look at the picture, I said “NO! You cannot include this!”
Her response: “Don’t judge me Ms. Clay! This is what I like to do!”
I wasn’t judging. I just didn’t want to see it.
And I really didn’t want to hear the conversation that came next….a conversation that included such things as how much “dick” someone was going to get over the Thanksgiving holiday, a story from one of my kids about how her lesbian lover “sucked her ass” and made her reach orgasm, the various sex toys lesbians use, how a kid’s naked mother came busting into the room where she and her boyfriend were having sex and said that if things didn’t quiet down that she was going to join the party, and, this is my personal favorite, how having braces can be an impediment to having good oral sex.
And this was just in the first three minutes of this conversation and despite my constant interruptions of “Could you please stop this?!” followed closely by “Could y’all shut up and leave my room please?!”
After they left, I relished the quiet.
I also wanted to go home and take a shower because I felt so sexually violated.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a prude or anything. But I couldn’t help but think that these kids were having this conversation in front of a teacher.
Someone who is technically an adult.
Now I’ve had Klansmen say some pretty vile things to me, but this conversation yesterday just made me want to cover my ears like a little kid and go “lalalalala”.
And why in the world would you think that it’s proper to share the disadvantage posed by braces when performing fellatio in your high school Media Arts class?
Springer giving a speech at Emory University in 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I guess it’s because we have largely become a TMI society. Thanks to folks like Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, Dr. Phil, the Bad Girls Club, and Shaunie O’Neal‘s “League of Extraordinary Jump-Offs”, otherwise known as the “Basketball Wives“, the perception is that we can and should share every aspect of our lives.
I mean hey, that’s why the camera phone was invented, right? I know that my goal in life is to wind up on World Star Hip-Hop…
(Actually, it isn’t. But folks Sarcasm Meters are still a little off post-election…)
In any case, when I walked into class this morning, still reeling from getting taught some serious sex ed. from a bunch of kids yesterday, I said the following to my students:
“I’m letting you know right now, if anyone even mouths the word “pussy” and “cat” doesn’t immediately follow it, you’re getting suspended!”
Like I said earlier in this piece, one of the problems that these kids have is the fact that they’re largely raising themselves and when you’re raising yourself, you see yourself as the adult, something that can cause a problem or two.
The Bad Girls Club (season 6) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It also means that the adults that are supposed to be your role models are more like the Bad Girls. Or the League of Extraordinary Jump-Offs. Or the Drug Man on the corner. Or that much older man (or in some cases woman) who has introduced you to a sexual world that there’s no way you can understand or successfully negotiate at your age…even if you think you’re grown.
But it’s not always as bleak as yesterday felt. I do have my victories.
For example, there’s one kid in my class that’s either walking into my class late and being really disruptive (meaning that he wasn’t able to connect with the weed man that morning) or is totally mellowed out (meaning that said weed has been acquired.) One day, an obvious Day Without Weed, he did the whole manic thing.
I told him, forcefully, to sit down. His response was “My Mom don’t talk to me like that!”
My response: “Well maybe if she did, you wouldn’t be doing this mess!”
I haven’t had much of a problem in this regard since. I guess it’s because every kid is looking for someone to set a boundary. My colleagues are much better than I at that, but I’m getting there.
However, I’m feeling really burned out.
So I’m going to make as much of a difference as I can until that happens because as I said, many of these kids have kids….and I’d like for them to have the chance their parents didn’t necessarily get.