Bad kids get all the attention.
When I was a teenager, I used to cringe at the evening news. Undoubtedly, there would be some report about a kid who snuck a knife into school or who beat up a cop or made an ass of himself drinking in public or, in one terrible example, a kid who killed a classmate.
Sadly, not much has changed.
I’ve spent two weeks trying to get press attention for my little writers, to no avail. I tried last summer, too. I have a room full of teenagers who, of their own accord, have decided to spend their hard-earned breaks dong something really cool, really positive, and really unusual. Call me crazy, but I think its newsworthy.
Unfortunately, the media doesn’t think it’s such a big deal. Why should we waste our time lavishing praise on kids who go above and beyond their summer reading lists to create their own novels when there are perfectly good stories of young people running amok?
I’ll tell you exactly why: fear sells.
America could be a place where the most industrious among us are showered with attention. Instead, it’s easier to scare the crap out of people in order to convince them to watch your tv show, buy your product, or like you. In fact, this blog will get more hits because of the negative title than it would have if I’d named it, “Why America Should Care About High-Achievers.”
And I don’t say this half-cocked from some anecdotal place of naivety. In a former life, I was a news producer at WKRN News 2 in Nashville. I spent my working hours reading the AP wire, listening to the police scanner, and deciding which news was worthy enough for broadcast. Every day, I overlooked interesting, motivational, and truly amazing stories in favor of one-alarm fires that were easily contained, nearly harmful assaults, and other non-news. I’m lucky to live in a relatively safe city, but safety doesn’t make for thrilling promotional bumps.
Based on the following promos, which newscast would you be more inclined to watch: “A man is rushed to the emergency room after a neighbor’s dog escapes, tonight at 10,” or, “Forty teenagers aren’t just reading books this summer, they’re writing them!”
You may be thinking, “Oh, man, I wonder if they’ll show pictures of a dog attack?” or you’re wondering if the escaped dog is a poodle or a Pitt-bull. Or if the two events – the emergency room visit and the missing mutt – are even related.
Or, if you’re like me, you may think, “who cares about someone’s minor injury? If it was major, they would have said “Dog kills local man, tonight after our latest irrelevant reality show.”
Tell me about these kids who live right here in my town and who are doing something to change the world. Give me something I can aspire to myself, teach me how to be a better version of myself, and give me a reason to keep on improving.
And don’t tell me inspiration doesn’t sell. Don’t we watch American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and Project Runway in record numbers?
If one of my students leapt out of her seat right now and threatened to stab me with her mechanical pencil, that would make the news for sure. Maybe the solution is staring me in the face. Perhaps I should unleash my students’ brilliantly creative minds on the problem and see what they propose!
And we wonder why kids feel ignored. At some point, our culture has to agree that there are better ways to get attention than being drunk and from New Jersey, or being rich, married, and staying home in Atlanta. We need to stop paying lip-service to education, and start paying attention to kids who are actually using their brains to some productive end.