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Teen Passion Needs Social Justice Outlet

"It's not fair!” Full of angst and rebellion, the teenage delinquent, arms crossed, leans against a concrete wall with a surly look. Heavy eyes searing under a furled brow, lips pursed in a snarl. This stereotypical portrayal of teenagers is ubiquitous in media and seems to represent society's general opinion of this age group. Unfortunately, society doesn’t have the full picture here.

"It's not fair!”

Full of angst and rebellion, the teenage delinquent, arms crossed, leans against a concrete wall with a surly look. Heavy eyes searing under a furled brow, lips pursed in a snarl. This stereotypical portrayal of teenagers is ubiquitous in media and seems to represent society's general opinion of this age group. Unfortunately, society doesn’t have the full picture here.

It's not that I haven't heard “It's not fair!” mumbled under the breath of a grumbling adolescent or experienced my share of push back from teenage students. However, part of transitioning from child to adult is the realization that the world is not perfect and “not fair.” Challenging the status quo and dissatisfaction with traditional thinking is not only a normal part of a teenager's development, but it is the way change and improvement happen.

I’d like to offer an alternative to criticizing the rebellious teenager: Give their passion and energy an outlet. Unlike jaded adults who may have given up, teenagers, in general, still possess the hopefulness and idealism of youth. Combine this optimism with the “rebellious nature” of teenagers, and you can create real visionaries, world-changers. 

It is because of this reason I love teaching A Christmas Carol and about the Holocaust. Over and over again, my middle school students cling to the idea that justice needs to be served. They desire to stand up against social wrongs, the “evils of the world," to bring about justice for the voiceless and ignored.

A year after studying A Christmas Carol, a student donated $100 saved up from birthday and Christmas gifts to help a family in need during the holiday season. After reading the Holocaust-focused novel, The Devil's Arithmetic, another student decided with her mom not to buy a Christmas tree but donate the money instead to help end genocide in Darfur.

I don’t ever want my students to read a text and think, “Well, that’s just terrible what they did to the Jews” or “Oh, that Scrooge sure did get a lucky break.” I desire more. I want to harness that passion teenagers display when fighting with their parents over matters of curfew or appropriate skirt lengths. The world’s social injustices could use the “It’s not fair” attitude.

However, the best part of it all is I really don’t have to try hard or push them towards this concept of social justice. It is innate. I lay no claims of perfection to my students, but I have seen a glimpse of the leaders of next generation of leaders that they will become. And, borrowing a little from my students' idealism, I believe they will change the world. 


Sansbury is a middle and high school English teacher in Georgia.