Please visit
for new posts


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Superman or Clark Kent?

Most people have secret identities or should have them.  By secret identity I mean a part of ourselves that others don't readily see but lies within us.  This secret identity resides in our hopes and dreams; it is who we want to be at our best using all of our skills and abilities doing something great and worthwhile.  In the previous post I mentioned how in advertising sex and fear sells,  but if you also look closely at advertising,  appealing to people's secret identities-their view of themselves as great and empowered, also sells.  Think of the Audi ad about a teenager going to the prom alone who builds up enought courage to park in the principal's space and marches up to the prom queen and kisses her, is attacked by the queen's date but rides off in the Audi with a smile on his face even though he has a black eye. This ad is saying the underdog can be the topdog if only for a moment and Audi can give the underdog the courage to do daring things. 

This secret identity is an important part of growing up because hopes and dreams should be a big part of becoming an adult.   It is a little tricky for adolescents because they also have to confront the hopes and dreams placed upon them by others.  Sometimes the hopes and dreams of others don't match their own and they become torn between both sets of them.  Kids are also looking to adults to say go ahead and make your secret identity your real identity.  They are looking and hoping for adults to affirm that they can be great and do great things-make their dreams a reality.  Ideally adults will do that but also guide them in the practical reality of what they must do to make their dreams a reality. 

Identity is the central issue for most students. Eric Erickson said that the primary task of adolescence is figuring out who you are.  Many educators unfortunately forget about this or never know it.  Educators whether they know it or not are constantly sending messages to kids about who they are.  People in power or authority have a responsibility to be very conscious of how they use their power.  There is a great temptation to use power to get people to be the way that they want them to be, i.e. people who do what they are told.  This makes life for those in power a lot easier.  People in power can be leery of people's secret identity especially if that identity challenges their power and possibly lessens their control. 

Educators ideally shouldn't be primarily people who use power over others.  Educators should be people who help students figure out who they are.  They therefore need to be very careful and circumspect about what they say or do in order not to inadvertently stifle or repress students' hopes and dreams.  This is why when schools become too bureaucratic and focused on order and efficiency,  kids can get the wrong message about who they are supposed to be.  Since even the most repressive order cannot keep kids from addressing identity issues, kids will seek out this identity cut off from adult guidance and wisdom.  The secret identity stays secret because it is never nurtured or supported enough to become public, the real identity of the person. Kids need to feel powerful and in control of their own lives and they need to learn how to harness the power that they do have.  (This is why techno-panic is so potentially harmful because the internet has become a place where kids can "play" with their identities away from the direct control of adults.  If adults discredit this part of their life or fill it with fear, kids will just push the adult world even farther away.)

This is why it is so important to reframe bullying prevention for kids.  As long as bullying is just something that they shouldn't do or being a responsible bystander is just something adults tell them they should do, kids will push away from this message and from the adults who send it.  Kids resist being identified by a negative-being told what not to do and viewed as being a step away from doing it. In fact they resist being defined passively as merely as followers of someone else agenda.  They want to discover who they are by doing-doing something meaningful and purposeful-something great.  They truly want adults to treat them as Superman not Clark Kent.  They want adults to say to them, "We need you, we want you, you have something Iwe don't have, our world needs you to be a part of it- important part of it."  The irony of that is its truth.  Adults do need kids to be their better selves,  to be involved and part of the process of change. Adults and kids need to be co-creators, partners not merely in stopping a negative but partners in making the world a better place-a noble or heroic task.  If adults reject the notion that making the world a better place is too "idealistic" and replace it with a fear driven "realistic" one, they will truly be letting kids down.  The adult  world and student world can't be merged into one (there is a need to be separate) but they can  and should work together in mutual respect.  The two worlds naturally become merged as kids grow into adults-how much better will it be if they work with the adult world in the process of joining it.  Adutls need to nurture hope and vision not cynicism. 

No comments: