I spent Tuesday visiting a middle school about an hour from where I live. Three assemblies, lunch with the students — a lively, dynamic, day. I arrived to talk with an auditaurium filled with lively 7th graders, who were soon followed by some 270 or so 6th graders. Both sessions went very well — lots of raised hands, lots of interesting questions and answers — engaged kids being kids but also enjoying talking, thinking, learning about non-fiction. Lunch was similar as smaller groups of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders met me and asked more directed questions. But then in the afternoon I met the 8th grade.
One of the pleasures of this kind of school visit it the lesson in human growth it offers. Tadpoles and frogs could not be more different than those effervescent slight 6th graders and those large, doubting, 8th graders. One group are children, the other are adults — and I don’t just mean physically, though of course that is part of it. The younger kids were eager to please me, they were these sprites easily lifting off into the air of thoughts and ideas and curiosities. The older kids had a kind of weight, heavy in their chairs, a “prove it to me” skepticism — “show me that you are worth my while, otherwise I have enough here, in myself, with my friends, I know more, I don’t need you.” I craft different programs for each age group, but I left realizing that I have to rethink 8th grade — I have to find the hook that speaks to their world — deeper, more interior, more adult, more defined by their needs — what makes me, my work, my ideas, my research, important to them?
I had planned a talk on “race” that might have stirred them up — it has worked with 9th graders in other schools. But I am not sure. I really need to rethink how to engage a large tired room of 8th graders at the end of the school day — ideas anyone? What has worked for you? Just realized that when I met a small set of 8th graders at lunch they were terrific, but even there they are less eager to please, more thoughtful — have to figure out how to capture that — how to go from mass appeal to reaching in to individual minds. I might try music and youtube, but — well — what do you think?