Reading is perhaps the most vital skill which all youth must possess. And yet the vast majority of the young men I have mentored do not read. Some, very few at that, become avid readers later in life once the school of hard knocks has dealt them some serious lessons. But could this be the great deterrent to those hard knocks?
We will never know. In most cases, they have had no example of the benefits of reading or of books in their lives. Most of the homes I have ventured into are devoid of books. Children that read are usually the offspring of parents who value reading. It will difficult to be a student of life without an interest in reading.
When given the choice between hiring someone who is “smart” and someone with good work ethic, the latter wins every time. There is no sin in being smart or trying to be smarter, but the point is that very few people who are “smart” have poor work ethic. Most of the smart people I have met in my life are people who work hard.
Even in the classroom, I have found the same result. The majority of the teens I have known over the years, the ones who are “smart,” work very hard to earn the grades they receive. I have wondered this outloud for years, “funny how the harder a high school student works, the smarter he is.” Yes it is interesting, indeed.
There is no such thing as an expert on youth. Youth culture is dynamic and therefore shifts continuously. It is always troubling to meet someone who presents themselves as an expert in youth, or makes a claims to know everything there is to know about youth. I much prefer the person who is asking questions, absorbing feedback, reading and opining.
Youth culture continuously shifts, it changes, it is dynamic. The most popular art form with youth culture continues to be music, however reading has also gained great strength; just ask our friend Harry Potter. Rap music has also produced a new and unique brand of poetry and poems. All of this has happened within youth culture. The best we can hope to accomplish in terms of expertise is to be dedicated students of youth culture.
Mentoring at-risk youth requires much self-education. A good place to begin is to learn what the job is and isn’t. To start with, the mentor should never be primarily a tutor. To do so is a mistake. When a mentor approaches his job as a tutor it tells me he doesn’t understand his mentee or the job.
The first and foremost, the job of the mentor in this setting is to begin the task of learning the primary issues in the life of his mentee. This is a difficult job because most mentors arrive with good intentions, dramatic stories, and a mission to “help” their mentee change. Reality says listen twice as much as you speak and when you do speak ask questions 90% of the time.
Graduating from high school is important. However, learning to read, write and speak proper English is more important. Sometimes I have to say the obvious to highlight a deeper and darker problem that is in our midst. Not too long ago I read a report that stated that 25% of Army applicants are unable to pass the ASVAB and are therefore ineligible to enter the Army. They all have high school diplomas.
For years I have worked with at-risk youth, many of whom have struggled with reading, or writing or speaking proper English. Or all three. This is not good. Many of them also graduated high school. How you might ask? We always hear about that kd that slipped through the cracks. Is this really the case or is it that the standards are so low that this is the new norm?