Riding in the car with the family over the break, the song "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse came on. My kids are pretty inquisitive, so they began asking questions, such as "Why do you always change the station when that song comes on?"
We explained that the singer was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and when people tried to get her help- rehab- she refused. She wrote a song about it, "Rehab" where she demonstrated a refusal to get help. She won Grammys for it, including Best Song. She was celebrated for her "amazing talent" demonstrated in a song that's lyrics go like this:
They tried to make me go to rehab
I said, "no, no, no"
Yes, I been black
But when I come back, you'll know, know, know
I ain't got the time
And if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab
I won't go, go, go
Then she drank herself to death. Literally.
I explained to my daughters- a teenager and a pre-teen- that sometimes society looks the other way when someone is talented, when someone is good at something. They let behaviors slip because they believe in the potential of a person. But those behaviors, unchecked, will end whatever potential- and even life- they could have.
Growing up, I heard stories about great high school athletes that had scholarships and lost them to drugs and alcohol. My parents would drive the point home by pointing these people out in the small town in which we lived. These folks would be nursing a brown paper bag covered bottle in the middle of the day. These cautionary tales gave me the worldview that talent without integrity would only get you so far.
Now, I am a teacher. I see talented students every day. Athletes, artists, and academics. I believe in the potential of these students, and want to see them succeed greatly. Not just in high school, but in college and career. I believe in grace, and offering these students a healthy dose of that grace. But I wonder where it stops being grace, and become enabling bad behavior.
Is my aide and support to a talented student making bad decisions enabling them to continue making bad choices? And on the other side, am I offering the same grace to students who are not as talented? Or do I have a shorter temper with them because they don't sing or paint as well as the other kid?
If I have a different set of standards for those with talent, those who stand out as leaders, then I am conveying the message that some students are more important than others.
In 2008, Amy Winehouse took home a bunch of awards for refusing to go to rehab in verse. In 2011, her behavior which was celebrated in song killed her. Do we as a society condone or even celebrate bad behavior when we look the other way?
The NFL has a problem with athletes and abuse of their significant others. They have known about it, but not spoken against it. Finally, protests are forcing some small changes.
In 2017, a group of women spoke out about sexual abuse running rampant in Hollywood and beyond. Time magazine made them the person of the year. That is worth celebrating. But it seems that the abuse they were subjected to was a known activity for decades, and the abusers were continually celebrated. Because of their power and influence.
Numerous political figures were also taken down by the sexual abuse scandal, yet more accusations keep coming, and some continue to display the same behavior. And we continued to elect people with questionable actions.
These things are things that I have to talk about with students in Sociology, Debate, and Psychology. Impressionable students are seeing that power, talent, and success are bullet proofing against getting in trouble for poor behavior.
Does character still count?
I believe it does.
If the next superstar athlete, artist, or academic is my class, I believe I do them a disservice if I do not hold out high expectations in regard to character and integrity. If the next bus driver, custodian, store manager, teacher, or doctor is my class, I believe I do them a disservice if I do not hold out high expectations in regard to character and integrity. So that means I need to find that balance between grace and expectations in my interactions.
I leave you with these questions that I am asking myself in my search for instilling integrity:
-Do I offer grace equally to "superstars" and all other students?
-Does the grace I extend infringe on the rights of others? (Am I overlooking abuse, bullying, disruption or any behavior that negatively affects others?)
-Do my students feel that I am treating them equally, or do some get special treatment in their eyes? (Perception is reality, so I need to address that if I am perceived as doing this.)
-If a student has chosen to be a leader makes a mistake that is public, or does affect another person, how can make that a teachable moment for them and others that leads to growth for all?
-Am I displaying integrity by being honest and transparent with my students about my own mistakes and attempts to grow?
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.