Had an interesting chat with a group of seven students today in my weekly Work Experience class. We were talking about paychecks and gross verses net pay when the topic suddenly changed to whether a student who turns eighteen and has a part time job should be made to pay rent while still in high school. Of course that topic didn’t last long either, as we were soon having a discussion on prejudice and derogatory labels and names. I tell you, at times this class is more of a sociology class than work experience, but that’s okay it’s all related, besides it’s fun to get the seniors talking.
As I mentioned we were talking about paychecks when one of the students said that he doesn’t have much check left after he pays his rent. That led to the rent discussion. It seems that two of my eighteen year old students are paying rent. One actually moved out of the house and is living with friends of the family because of the rent issue. The other is paying 3 – 4 hundred dollars a month to live at home. We were having a interesting discussion on the fairness of the situation and the general consensus seemed to be that while in still in school, both high school and college, a student should not have to pay rent. I told the students that as long as my children were in school they did not have to pay rent, but when they got part time jobs they were responsible to help pay their car insurance.(we provided the car and gas) The students seemed to think that was fair and one student mentioned that she gives money to her mom even though she doesn’t have to, just to help out.
It was then that my rent paying young student who is quite opinionated and outspoken, made what was taken as a derogatory remark about his father Mexican heritage. It wasn’t said maliciously, but as more of an explanation as to why his dad charged him rent. I know he had no idea that his comment would have the effect it did and was taken aback when the comments started flying. He was actually very quiet as he listened to the student discussion and believe me that was very unusual for him! Students shared their stories about prejudice they’ve experienced or have witnessed and questioned the unfairness of racism and racial slurs. I told them about a some of my experiences when I attended AHS in 1969, how I had been labeled a ‘coconut’ (brown on the outside, white on the inside) by other Mexican American students because I had Caucasian friends, and the problem that I encountered because of it. In fact one of the other counselors even joined in the discussion were blown away!
I have to tell you it was quite refreshing to listen to these 12th graders as they discussed prejudice and racism, sharing opinions and brainstorming ideas and solutions. I was very impressed by their insight and sensitivity on the issue. It was fun to be in the mix and reminded me of the years I spent in the classroom. Sometimes I miss the classroom and the opportunity it afforded me to stimulate students, playing devils advocate in an effort to engage students in meaningful discussions. Yeah sometimes I really miss having 36 eighth graders engaged in – Wait! Did I say 36 students? Hmmm? On second thought maybe I don’t miss the classroom all that much. Actually my little Work Experience group of seven students works quite nicely. I think I’ll stick with that!