These English teachers are in trouble. Photo via Kenner Police Department
Persuading teenagers to read for pleasure can be a real struggle. Books are admittedly less viscerally exciting than movies or television or sexting, and they require way more effort. In the age of immediacy, the temptation to look away from the page and check Snapchat is nearly insurmountable. The ability to sit and read a book is almost like a muscle: Use it or it will atrophy. That's why it's important to get teens into reading while they're young.
Part of the problem is clearly the subject matter of the tomes we foist upon teens. Reading lists in high school are typically made of pretty antiquated stuff, both out of deference to the hoary old canon and to a fear of offending parents. The result is that without an exceptional teacher, teens can get the idea that Shakespeare is a guy who uses old-fashioned words to tell stories that rely on way too many coincidences and Huck Finn is just a kid's book that's casually racist. Contemporary fiction is usually presented in the form of parent-approved young adult novels like Twilight or Hunger Games. Rarely do kids get the idea that literature can be rebellious or matter to their own lives.
What's needed, then, is a massive revamping of high school reading lists. The curriculum should be shaped by the kind of books that a cool older sibling might be into. Exposed at an early enough age, mainstream teenagers could totally get into authors like Teju Cole, Joan Didion, Raymond Carver, or Zadie Smith. We try to impart to kids that books are important when we should try to show them that books are fun. As long as there's enough sex and drugs to hold their interest, America's teens could go from being functional illiterates to pretentious quasi-intellectuals who quote Bret Easton Ellis and Hunter S. Thompson at every chance they get. (Hey, it's a start, and hopefully that's a phase they'll grow out of.)
Without a new reading list, English teachers should be encouraged to engage as much as possible with their students and relate to them—of course, they should stop way, way, short of having sex with the children placed in their charge.
But that's exactly what Shelley Dufresne, 32, and Rachel Respess, 24, two instructors at Destrehan High School, did with a 16-year-old boy in Destrehan, Louisiana. The teachers were arrested after having videotaped threesomes. Predictably, the tabloid media has picked up on this fracas with glee. (The student, incidentally, says the sex was consensual and apparently bragged about it to classmates. To complicate matters, the boy was just days away from the age of consent at the time of the incident.)
Because the teachers are women and the student is a boy, the story has ignited calls of reverse sexism in the internet's creepiest recesses. As one Reddit commenter put it, "i can't imagine the fury we'd here if it was male teachers, and the police chief called it 'poor judgment.' the feminists would be having a field day." Which, while poorly worded, is sort of a valid point—commenters saying things like "Best.Teachers.Ever" are treating this too lightly. Then again, the women are being charged with a felony, so it's not like this isn't being taken seriously.
Bottom line: Teachers should never, ever have sex with their students. It's actually not that hard to avoid!
Here’s the rest of this week in teens:
Teenagers are getting hurt playing football. Photo via Flickr user larrysphatpage
–Team sports have traditionally been seen as a good way to make friends, build camaraderie, and learn discipline, but it really is starting to feel like high school football needs to get toned down a bit. People can argue about the ethics of being an NFL fan all they want, but at least professional football is made up of adults who (in an ideal world, anyway) weighed out the long-term risk of head injuries against the short-term benefits of being rich and famous. As minors, high school students can't be responsible for making those life-altering choices, but they still face the same dangers. This past week alone, three students were killed playing America's favorite sport, most recently a Long Island student who died after colliding with a player from the other team. "It was a big hit," his coach told Newsday.
–One writer who's great for teens is Gabriel García Márquez. In his seminal novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, the character Rebeca famously has a compulsion to eat dirt and paint, sometimes to the point of vomiting. As a former paper eater (I didn't really swallow that much), I think I understand chewing on things as a nervous habit. Still, I can't help being totally grossed out by this photo of a nearly nine-pound hairball removed from the stomach of a girl in Kyrgyzstan. "Her stomach was so badly swollen from hair and bits of wool from the carpet that it literally just oozed out as soon as the wall of the stomach was cut,” the hospital’s senior professor of surgery said. Without the operation, according to doctors, the girl would have died.
–One of the unfortunate aspects of the internet is that teenage missteps are now saved forever for anyone to find, usually in the form of Facebook photos or Tumblr entries. (Seriously: The next time you meet an intimidatingly cool person, spend ten minutes googling them, and you'll almost definitely feel better about yourself.) For most people, this is never going to be a big issue, because no one cares about them enough to dig up their past. For teenage celebrities, though, it's going to be rough. Heir to the Fresh Prince throne Jaden Smith has spent the last year or so tweeting profoundly adolescent things like:
"It's Your Birthday" Mateo Said. I Didn't Respond. "Are You Not Excited To Be 15" He Asked. Reading My Book I Uttered "I Turned 15 Long Ago"
— Jaden Smith (@officialjaden) July 9, 2013
This week he out-teened himself. First, he offered up his best tweet yet:
"Hey Are You Jaden Can I Have A Picture With You" No Cause I'm Super Sad But We Can Sit And Talk.
— Jaden Smith (@officialjaden) September 29, 2014
Then he released his new song, "Blue Ocean." Taking its cue from Drake's "Marvin's Room," Paris Hilton's "Drunk Text," and a million Odd Future demo tapes, the song tells the story of his relationship with a girl he met at Coachella. She has a coke dealer and a boyfriend in a Misfits shirt, but that can't stop her and Jaden from connecting. There's some awkward rhyming, talk about magnets, sirens, and lots of people yelling "Jaden!" in the background, but words can't do it justice. Just listen.
–Does the man make the name, or does the name make the man? While it might seem ridiculous to suggest that our first names shape who we become, the fact is a 13-year-old named Blade just impaled himself while riding on the back of a four-wheeler. The accident happened at Ohio Mudfest, and Blade, not realizing that the injury was serious, pulled the stick out of his own stomach. He was then taken to a hospital, where doctors were forced to "remove and reconstruct more than six inches of his bowels, colon, and intestines." According to his mom, "He has to learn how to basically swallow all over again, and he's going to have to go on a special diet. They said that would probably be a lifelong thing." There's just no way that this would ever happen to a kid named Eugene—at the very worst, he'd move to Oregon.
Follow Hanson O'Haver on Twitter.