by Frannie M.

As a new teacher, I often find it too easy to mentally take credit for some of the amazing things my students do each day. And as often as I am frustrated by typical teenage (read: lazy and/or volatile) behavior, I am finding that I have more hope now for the future of America than I did as a starry-eyed grad student, prancing into my first student-teaching position. This generation of kids, Generation Z according to Wikipedia, sees the world differently from any other. I am only 3 years older than what is considered Generation Z; I am only 4 years older than my oldest student. Still, I envy both the realistic picture they get of the world, having missed, at least not been aware of, the most optimistic years of our nation’s economy, and the way they manage to maintain that youthful, possibility-laden way of looking at the world, despite the substantial hardships their families have experienced. As absurd as it may sound, the advantages of the next generation became crystal clear to me as I spent a week teaching a group of 23 students to knit and crochet.

I teach in a somewhat unique setting – a small Expeditionary Learning school in a large high school complex in Brooklyn. The population has an almost 100% rate of poverty. Our school tries very hard to make sure that students see the true value and real-world applications of the skills we attempt to foster. One of the most exciting aspects of our school is our two “Intensive” weeks, one in each semester. Two weeks ago I co-taught an intensive class on “Knit and Crochet for Change.” Ha ha! I thought to myself, I can craft all week in the name of education! Students selected which intensives they wanted to take the week before they began. These kids spent a week sitting together and creating with their hands and yarn, hooks and needles in the name of scarves for charity. Their focus and determination were enviable, impressive, and telling.

On the first day, we set the kids up with either knitting needles or crochet hooks and taught them the basics. Their eagerness to get started surprised me. Why, I asked myself, don’t they feel the same urgency when writing analytical paragraphs? They reminded me of eager baby birds, waiting in the nest for a regurgitated worm, chirping their hearts out. An hour late, a football player walked into the room and we could hear him being teased by a girl outside. 15 minutes later he had knitting down and cranked out row after row. Every time he made a mistake he would slouch up to my desk, look at me with eyes that reminded me that this big tough dude was still just a kid trying to make something pretty, and ask me what he had done wrong. We had three boys in our group, two of which were extremely determined and braved the jabs of their classmates to learn a skill for which they had genuine interest.

The thing that gets me really teary-eyed when I think about my students is how much they want to always share joy with others. Once their scarves were finished, many of them started making headbands for their teachers, bracelets for their friends, and barely anything for themselves. We ended up with close to 20 scarves for donation to the homeless, a few still unfinished, and a ton of very colorful knitwear appearing all over the school. The football player took his needles home and is currently slaving over a scarf for his girlfriend. There are onesies being made for babies, and an accidental apron (that started as a scarf).

The very idea that within one week I saw so many students push their own boundaries, break gender norms, and exhibit enormous generosity is amazing; the fact that they showed this while learning a skill that I feared no students would sign up to learn astounds me. I sometimes wonder how people my age, or my parents’ age, would have taken an opportunity or challenge like this one. Who, in Congress, would sign up to learn to knit, much less give away everything they made? Why aren’t football players knitting scarves for their girlfriends? Why do I have to go back to grammar when all I want to do is knit with kids and watch them change the world?

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