A high school student participates in theater and volleyball. During the same week, she has both dress rehearsals and three performances of the theater production and two volleyball games. Something has to give.
The student approaches the theater director and asks permission to miss a rehearsal in favor of the volleyball game.
“Absolutely not. The production needs you. You’ve had the production schedule for eight weeks. You must be at all of the rehearsals or your theater grade will be docked an entire letter.”
Discouraged, the student approaches her volleyball coach. May she, she asks, miss one of the week’s two games in favor of the theater production?
“What? Of course not. You’re a starter and a leader on this team. You’ve known our schedule since the start of the season, and you know the rule: miss a practice and you’re benched for a week. Miss a game and it’s two weeks. The choice is yours.”
The volleyball coach and the theater teacher never speak to each other about the student.
Our high school youth group has been talking about pressure: peer pressure, academic pressure, social pressure. High school students today are under an immense load of pressure, and I’ve noticed that this pressure is placed upon them by adults who are themselves feeling the heat of high expectations.
The teachers need to produce students who test and perform at a high level to meet rising standards of standardized test scores and artistic achievement, and coaches need to produce winning teams that play at a high level to justify their positions or get promoted to better ones.
Where, in this ecosystem, are the adults who relate to these teenagers as something other than as lines on a resume? Where are the adults who care about these students as people, who’s livelyhood doesn’t depend on the students’ performance?
Am I, a pastor to these youth, making objects of them in much the same way? Does my sense of success as a minister depend upon their attendance at youth programs? When they blow off youth group because they have six hours of homework, does my annoyance evidence traces of the same fear-based use of them for my own professional security?
How much of the landscape of youth performance and achievement, including at church, dehumanizes young people for the sake of adults’ survival?