From the Mouths of Bright Young Minds

Kids say the darnedest things. From the mouths of the babes.

This week I bear witness to them. Twice.

A private school in Jakarta invited me to share basic knowledge of media and my experiences as a columnist to their fifth-graders. Sharing is always interesting, and the teacher gave me pointers, yet as I am yet to be blessed with children I admittedly was a bit lost upon preparing my presentation– to what depth should I speak, what level of vocabulary I should employ. Beyond my scant memory of my 5th grader self and the popular TV show Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? I had no idea what fifth graders would be like.

Generally throughout the session, I was pleasantly surprised. The fifth-graders showed a good level of media awareness and a healthy appetite for writing and reading. They asked good questions and needed only little encouragement to speak their minds. They enthusiastically pored over newspapers, magazines and tabloids, including The Jakarta Post’s own short-lived tabloid for youngsters Youthspeak, that I brought along.

However, as I drove home that afternoon, a tinge of sadness set in. So realistic some of the questions were that I was taken aback fifth-graders would be aware of certain situations already. When I talked about hoaxes, a girl asked why people would create hoaxes in the first place and if there were any real punishments for anyone doing so. When I mentioned media getting revenue from advertisements and subscriptions, a boy asked if it meant someone could be paid (read: make a living) from writing hoaxes for media which would welcome such writing. When I elaborated the differences between news and column, a girl asked if running a column meant I got to be rude to anyone I disagreed with. I answered truthfully– acknowledging the existence of bad people profiting from other people being misled, underlining the necessity of decorum even when writing a scathing argument– but it’s sad that today’s 10-year-olds had to be in the position to pose such questions. I thought the world would’ve waited for a while before making them aware of these grim facts.

The next day, still reeling from the realization, I spent the morning glued to the televised town hall meeting between survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the latest site of mass shooting in the US, and a handful of lawmakers. 17 people, mostly students, were killed on Valentine’s Day, a day that ironically was supposed to be about love for most coming-of-age teenagers. The tension was high as bereaved parents barely contained their grief and shocked teachers objected to President Trump’s bizarre idea of arming teachers in schools, but the powerful moments came from the students themselves.

Having survived the ordeal only to learn of their friends’ deaths, the students put aside their raw emotions enough to put together the most pointed questions and remarks. A teen boy asked not to be patronized because he knew the feeling of being trapped for hours waiting for his death and texting his mother goodbye. A teen girl asked a lawmaker if their blood weren’t worth the lawmaker’s blood money. Another teen girl asked the audience to be silent for she needed to listen to the NRA spokeswoman’s full answer in order to compose her rebuttal, which she later did. Another boy who’d just turned eighteen wondered why even after all that happened he could walk to a store and buy automatic weapons. The best question came from a young man who asked Senator Rubio point blank if he’d stop receiving campaign donations from NRA, a question which Rubio unsuccessfully deflected as the student kept drilling him with tenacity rarely shown anymore by White House press corps.

These are teenagers, whose worries were supposed to be passing classes, entering a college, and having a prom date. They weren’t supposed to worry about dying from assault rifles, or whether their political representative took blood money. Indeed the millions of twentysomethings marching across the US did end Vietnam War, but these students are younger and the US is not at civil war. Or is it? Is it a civil war now between the majority of Americans who want tougher background check for weapon purchase and the lawmakers who heed their contributors more than their constituents?

What a sad world we’re giving our future generation these days. We the adults seem to be clueless in best utilizing and managing the technology advancements we’ve achieved. We don’t appear to know how to balance freedom, of information or self-protection, and the necessary wisdom. We look like we enjoy arguments for the sake of arguing instead of problem solving. The mix of innocence and comprehension shown by Jakartan fifth-graders and American high-schoolers this week is both commendable and depressing, for it comes from the decreasing level of safety the world can offer them these days. I now understand how some of these kids may grow up to be disillusioned and fixated on trivial things they feel more rewarding, like fame, just as I wrote here last month.

The bright young minds have spoken. Now, when can the adults get their act together?

As published: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2018/02/24/urban-chat-from-mouths-bright-young-minds.html

 

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