8.07.2005

patterns, behaviors, and plaid

when do we decide how we're going to live our life? and how do we arrive at these conclusions? i re-read marc's piece (see below) and immediately recalled the show laguna beach - aka "the real life oc" airing on mtv. why the connection? b/c one of the girls on the show (from season 1) is the daughter of a well-known preacher, who, as is made obvious by his family's inclusion on the show, is quite well off. in one particularly memorable scene transition, the daughter goes from discussing her upcoming gospel performance at the church and praying with her family to singing along with 50cent in her very expensive car.

what's the problem, people might ask? well... i wonder whether one can espouse charity and the "christian" spirit, chastize individuals who live "the wrong way," and consume like there's no tomorrow all at the same time. how do the youth who are growing up in our increasingly hypocritical world making sense of it all? of the competing messages bombarding all of us, and especially addressing the "disposable income" generation...

goldhaber writes about the "attention economy", a concept taken up and expounded on by colin lankshear and michele knobel. the basic premise: it's the attention, stupid. perhaps that's oversimplifying things greatly, but all three scholars are inviting readers to consider the real commodity involved in influencing the practices of youth: attention. so, who's competing for youth attention? it's too simple (again) to say everyone... but it certainly seems like it. young people are the focus of school reforms, censorship ratings on television, advertisements, video games, toys, magazines, and on and on...

but, does any of this matter? or, rather, in what ways does any of this matter? and what are we missing?

schools are so desperate to get and keep young people's attention, yet so often it seems that school practices run counter to what we know about the attention economy. like one young man i know once said: "there's too much attitude in school." he was referring to the relationships between teachers and students, but i think that his observation could extend to the broader point about adults and youth and the not-so-delicate maintaining of power in one direction. what would it really mean to reimagine institutionalized education as a series of experiences in which youth expertise was taken seriously and not as a threat. currently, it seems like our thinking about the attention economy continues to situate the proverbial ball in the adults' court. that is, we are wanting adults to find new ways to reach youth, to engage productively with youth. this is necessary. but if we truly believe that young people are engaged in meaningful activities and practices, then how about enlisting their help and input.

i wager that our adult-focused questions about how young people do what they do and are who they are will experience a shift when we take seriously the lives and intentions of youth; and hope that we start asking different questions. maybe then we'll better understand how a 16 year-old finds it a seamless transition to move between dinner table chatter and lyrical head-bopping... and why it becomes increasingly difficult, as youth transition into adults, to maintain those multiple identities as too many of us give in to rigid definitions of who to be, what to do...


postscript: one of my friends, one of the warmest people and most committed teachers i know, was sharing a story about his kids with me. she is 8 or 9 and was visiting a friend who lived two towns away. my friend and his kids are african american and her friend and family are white and jewish. when he went to pick up his daughter my friend spent some talking with the friend's mother. they realized they had much in common - both are writers, as well - and talked for thirty minutes while their kids continued to play. as he recalled the story to me during a conversation about racial dynamics and interactions, he noted that he was from a generation that still maintained its borders and how unlikely it would have been that he and the friend's mother would have talked if not for their kids. he mentioned a combination of historical, geographical, and social factors that influence his patterns of behavior. when i asked him if he thought his daughter would have the same choices to make he shook his head no and said that she had friends of "every shape and color" and that it was with the kids where even the invisible barriers break down. i said i hope so... but couldn't help think of all the reasons why persist...