This morning I was struck with a bout of flu, so left school before it even started. I have spent the day reading, sleeping, and movie watching. I could have chosen a new film, but I saw that Amazon Prime recently added Stand By Me to their list of films. I have not seen it since the 1980’s, and for some reason I have been thinking about it a lot lately.
I remember I had read the novella The Body by Stephen King well before the movie ever came out. It was an exceptional work. I remembered it had the four boys and they walk a long way to see the body of a dead boy. I remembered nothing else about it.
Much to my surprise, it is about a writer who reads in the paper that his childhood friend had been murdered trying to break up a fight in a fast food restaurant. The story is his remembrance of the journey they took, and how they were there for each other through some pretty rough stuff. It was a different time in 1959, but the problems the boys faced were not a lot different than today. Abusive or neglectful parents. Unfair comparisons. Being blamed for things just because of who you are socially and economically in the town. And the part that really struck me–knowing that you and your friends are viewed differently by the educational system, a system that is about to separate you into different tracks.
In the end, it is the friendship that helps one of the characters pursue a different life than he was targeted for, according to the outside world. And it would be his constant inner goal for peace that would get him killed.
The characters are about to enter junior high, and since that is the age group I teach, I was really paying attention. The take away for me was that I have to remember that the young people I teach are desperately afraid of their own humanness. They see a world that might not care about them very much. And certainly, so much of what is happening in education does continue to separate them from their peers, and make life difficult. It is easy for many of them to feel like the boys in the film–just plain dumb.
We have a system of labels now that consist of the numbers 1 through 5. We have reading level numbers as well. Kids know their numbers, and so do their peers. Just like in 1959, kids know who the smart ones are, and where they stand in the pecking order. The most we can do as educators is try to minimize the damage through true caring, listening, and encouragement.
I hope this message will stay with me for a long time.