Because it's COOL!
I started my day yesterday with an in depth conversation with a nine year old about a "grill". When I say "grill", I don't mean a Hotpoint or a Charbroil that are used to make delicious flame broiled steaks and Bar-B-Q chicken on Independence Day. I'm talking about THIS shit:
I overheard one of my boys (we'll call him Tre) proudly saying to another student, "My mom said I can get a grill if I get good grades. Paul Wall says you can get one for $50!" Normally I don't get involved in my students' personal conversations with each other, BUT I had to make an exception with this one. See, about three months ago I happened to flip to MTV and saw this new video with Nelly, Big Gipp from Good.i.e. Mob and some White dude, all with a bunch of bling coming from the MOUTH all places. Then my ears convened with my eyes and I started hearing, "Let me see ya grill...ya wanna see my WHAT?" Catchy I must admit, but then it occured to me this WHOLE song was written about somebody's shiny ass diamond and metal capped teeth. I never thought a video could make me want to throw up last night's Chinese food, but being a musician who LOVES good song writing, I take stuff like this personally.
Now to the present. When I heard Tre say something about a "grill", my brain function screeched to a halt and I just HAD to get into it. See, Tre is one of my brightest students who loves learning and I felt like I had to set him straight on a few things. Our conversation went something like this:Mr. R- Tre, why would want something like that in your mouth?
Tre-Because it's COOL.
Mr. R-Cool? What makes it cool?
Tre- I don't know (with a shrug and a smile), it looks cool.
Mr R.- What else could you do that's cool?
Tre- I could get good grades, be polite to people, and stay in school.
Mr. R- Very true. Well let me ask you this, could you go to a job interview with that stuff in your mouth?
Tre- No, but I could just take it out for work and put it back in on the weekends! (DAMN, he almost got me with that one- these kids can reason with the best of em I swear!)
Mr. R- That's true, but what else could you spend that money on?
Tre- Well, I could save it for a car or a house one day. (Yes!!!! at least he's thinking about assets)
Mr. R- Good, you could spend it on stuff you need. Now let me let you in on a little secret. In all these videos you see, do you really think that these guys own all this gold, nice cars, and big houses?
Tre- Well, yeah!
Mr. R- NOPE!!! They rent all that stuff because they want to attract you in to make you watch the videos.
Tre- What do you mean they don't own it?
Mr. R-Most of them don't own that stuff you see, the gold chains, the cars none of it. They rent it from somebody else just for the video and take it back when they're done. They know that you'll want to see all that shiny stuff and the women shakin their booties on tv. (That got the other kids in my class giggling!) Some of them even live in neighborhoods just like yours! (and that finally sunk in with him....)
Tre-Ohhhhhh, so you're saying I should spend the money on something better and more worthwhile?
Mr. R- Exactly. I just want you to understand that your brains are what will take you somewhere, not a shiny mouth. Think about it....
After exhausting myself, I thought, "What the hell is wrong with these PARENTS! Why would she even think about getting some damn caps on his teeth?" But it soon hit me, it's not him, or his mama for that matter, it's their environment. The environment that values THINGS more than THOUGHT and one that cannot easily separate fantasy from reality. The environment I purposefully work in HOPING to make a difference and mold young thought patterns towards a more positive directive. The same environment our parents and grandparents fought HARD to shield us away from, and were only able to do it because they could afford to. It's easy to say that this value system is worthless if you forget that most of us have humble beginnings and could have just as easily trapped in this horrific cycle of economic stagnation. Sure Tre wanted his "grill" because it looks cool- nothing more, nothing less. What I fear is that he and his peers won't understand in the long run how important it will be to look beyond their neighborhoods (and televisions) and see that "cool" isn't what people see in them (or their mouths), but what they see in themselves.