I've been volunteering at the local high school lately, fulfilling my teaching “fix” since I've been away from the classroom for a few years. It's also the perfect research lab. A massive Petri dish of little teen organisms for me to observe, question, and prod. Not only are the kids really entertaining, but they've helped me a ton with character development.
The question I posed to them today was this:
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU KNEW YOU HAD A YEAR TO LIVE? Specifically, a year to live relatively healthy before a degenerative disease quickly takes over your body and mind. (It is the central problem in my new YA book…don't steal my idea!)
The answers were funny, insightful, scary and surprising. The Creative Writing teacher allowed me to work with two different periods of his class (Thanks, Mr. Huttle!!) so I got about 40 different answers and some lively discussion. Initially, almost every student said he/she would be adventurous, take major risks (including breaking the law), and do things he/she had never dreamed of before. Most also agreed that they would quit school and spend lots of time with friends. However, the
majority also said that they would not tell friends or boyfriends/ girlfriends about this predicament for fear of becoming a “charity case”.
The first answers ranged from “robbing a bank” to “stealing a Ferrari” to “seeking revenge on everyone who has done me wrong” and “eating human flesh”. (I swear I did not make that up!) As reality set in, and the deviant behavior impulses simmered down, they started realizing that they didn't want to waste time in jail or hating or hurting other people. Answers mellowed to things like “taking lots of mushrooms or other hallucinogenic drugs”, “road tripping with buddies”, “changing everything about myself…how I dress, how I act” and “reaching out to people I wouldn't normally talk to”.
As the discussions wound down, different ideas started popping up. One student mentioned that his goal is to be remembered…to make a mark. Several others said they would love to volunteer with homeless or sick kids. Eventually, almost everyone agreed that quitting school would also mean losing important social networks. Toward the end, answers
started getting more thoughtful and profound. Only then, after more than an hour of reflection and discussion, did students really contemplate and convey what's REALLY important to them.
As students left the room, I got several short summaries of what they concluded life is really about…spending time with family (which had previously not come up once), praying/finding religion, touching the lives of others, doing random good deeds.
Ahh…I feel much better now. My Ferrari's safe. My flesh is safe.
All is right with the youth of today!