Common Core, meet Barron
Buy-in will be lynchpin to the success of Common Core. Nowhere is this more true than where the rubber meets the academic road… in our schools, within the hearts and minds of our students.
Common Core, meet Barron. (And please, please, please do not lose sight of him in the midst of all the political education shenanigans going on right now.)
See, I just got done doing a student assembly in Columbia, South Carolina. Sure, I do “talk to teacher gigs” all the time these days but having the chance to put on my YA author hat and talk to kids is where the real juice is. In South Carolina, they assembled 700 freshmen to hear me speak. Here’s a pic of them filing in. (Ladies and Gentleman, don’t try this at home. 🙂 )
After I did my little thing with the students, I was flooded with kids who wanted to chat, get autographs, take pictures and so on. Charles Barkley famously said, “I am not a role model.” Me, I think he was wrong. I do consider myself a role model and I try to carry the responsibility in an admirable fashion. From kids on the edge to aspiring young writers to drifters who are just lost in the discombobulation of American youth, I absolutely feel it’s my job to inspire youngsters with the juice of positive vibes.
Being a geek is my profession. (Hey, we are what we are, right?)
This is how I came to meet Barron. He was the last kid in the auditorium on the second day of my “fire up some students in the South” outing. Long after the teachers had ushered everyone else back to class, there was Barron, a kid who clearly wanted to talk. But even more clear was that he was nervous to say what his heart really felt like expressing.
My words had touched a nerve in him. My books would touch other nerves in him. He just wanted to meet me.
No problem, right? Well, when you keep your ears open in this world, you will be amazed at some of the things you end up hearing.
Barron is sixteen. Barron is one of sixteen kids. Barron’s real father is in jail, his mom’s current boyfriend is currently out of jail and Barron has, as you might expect, seen his own fair share of trouble.
Look, I meet a lot of young people across the country however, sometimes you encounter a student who just has some sort of instantly recognizable bright light burning inside of them. Less than two minutes into our conversation, I could see that Barron was one of these kids.
He’d been born in Southern California and had scores of siblings and cousins in gangs, both Crips and Bloods. His mom had moved him out to South Carolina years ago but he still got back to his old stomping grounds once every two years. The more Barron talked, the more I realized how genuinely likeable and bright he was.
“Dude, it’s clear you’re really smart. What do you like?” I asked.
“Programming computers or fixing computers?” I asked.
“Both,” he said as he pointed towards my MacBook Pro. “I could take that thing apart and put it all back together in an hour for ya. But also, I could write programs and code, too, if you want.”
“Like build an app?” I asked.
He rolled his eyes as if I’d just asked Michael Jordan if he could dribble a basketball. “Yeah, like build an app,” he answered. Right then I realized that Barron was surely WAY more proficient with my computer than I was and yet, Barron also probably didn’t even own a computer as nice as mine, if he owned a computer at all. How he got so good? Just one of life’s little mysteries, I guess.
“Also, I got two different girls pregnant already, neither one ended up having the baby, I been jumped twice in the past year and…”
“Barron,” I interrupted. “You kind of like trouble, don’t you.”
“I do,” he said with a smile. “And also, I don’t.”
He looked down. The conversation had just gotten deep.
“You ever hear the saying, ‘Never trouble trouble til trouble troubles you?” I asked. He looked up and our eyes met.
“Like I want to be a computer technician when I grow up.”
“How are your grades?”
“I start every year with straight A’s. The work is easy,” he said. “And then I stop doing it. Gets boring,” he confessed. “Right now I got like a bunch of D’s. Who cares about those dumb-ass tests they make us take?”
“But you could have a bunch of A’s?” I asked.
“Easy,” he said. “I just don’t do my work.”
Here’s a picture of me and Barron. I show it because our country is populated with tens of thousands of Barrons. And they come in all races, creeds, colors and stripes.
Some might not be as sharp, some might come from more stable homes, some might achieve in the class a smidge more and some might achieve a little less but at the end of the day, Barron is the ground soil of American education. If we can’t get him to BUY-IN to the value of his own learning in our schools, then Common Core is just going to be another dog-n-pony show coming on the coattails of No Child Left Behind.
See, while I am a fan of the Common Core ELA standards, I also realize it doesn’t matter what comes down the pipeline from D.C., the State Department of Ed, the district office, or the Vice Principal’s memo sheet.
Common Core, meet Barron. You may think he needs to come to you but really, you work for him. And if you lose sight of that, you’ve lost sight of it all.
And the kicker is, your success will ultimately be determined by students very much like this young American man.