Here’s a story about Crosby, Stills & Nash, and “Teach Your Children Well,” set in my middle school:
The Respect Team (an ad hoc committee) has agreed to do the display case in the front hallway for the whole school year. We want to build honest, respectful relationships in our building–we’re concerned about the building climate. It’s the 1990s, and our students’ behavior has, in our humble opinion, grown coarser and ruder–toward other students, and toward their teachers.
But we know that respect must be earned–and the foundation of respect is not fear, or anger. We can’t punish or publicly condemn our way into the two-way street that is respect. We meet often, suggesting ways to weave discussions and writing about respect into the curriculum. We post students’ writing–poems and short essays–about heroes, people we admire, in the display case. We have a school-wide assembly with a Holocaust survivor. Students create art around the theme of respect.
And then, it’s May. Only one more display case to be responsible for. We’re tapped out of ideas. Plus–well, it’s May. If you’ve been a teacher in May, you know how stressful it is to wind up a school year.
A last-minute, throwaway plan emerges: We’ll get teachers to give us pictures of themselves as teenagers–graduation pics, a school photo, a prom picture. And we’ll type the words of “Teach Your Children Well” using the single computer in the library, blow them up, and–the only place in the school we can do this–print them off!
Teachers grumble. They’re too busy to go through old photos! And what’s the point? So kids will laugh at their haircut? We go to each teacher individually, however, to explain–and eventually all but one or two give us a photo. We do not label the photos by name–just staple them up with the words…
You–who are on the road–must have a code
that you can live by.
And so–become yourself.
Because the past is just a goodbye.
We substitute the word ‘pain’ for the actual C, S, & N word ‘hell’
because we don’t want some hard-ass parent complaining.
And–BOOM. The display case becomes a kid magnet.
And a parent magnet. And a teacher magnet. The principal stands out there, checking the photos–hers is there, too.
Who ARE these people with the bad haircuts–or in their too-short basketball uniform–or the long white gloves and fluffy prom dress? One now-sturdy teacher with three sons gives us her wedding photo, where from her 22-inch waist spills a ballroom gown skirt and train.
It’s a bulletin board of shared youthful dreams.
… And you of tender years can’t know the fears
That your elders grew by.
And so, please help them with your youth
They seek the truth before they can die
Rest in peace, David Crosby.