I wanted to share a few memories from when I was 10 years old, a 5th grader. In no particular order, here are some thoughts that jump to mind…
Playing the most epic game of hide-and-seek around the house and yard shortly after the school year started.
Watching a classmate get spanked in front of class by his mom who worked at the school.
Eating ice cream with way too much cholesterol and thinking I was going to have a heart attack and die.
Being asked by my classmates why I never did my homework.
Sitting in front of the teacher on a stool as she warned me that I would be held back if I didn’t start doing the homework, as other teachers in the past warned, to no effect.
Speaking to my absentee father for the first time in years and asking why he never helped me financially.
Watching my mom cry when we got the news that I’d have to repeat 5th grade.
Well, that took a dark turn, didn’t it? Okay, let’s try that one again. 5th grade, Take 2. And… action!
Dreading the start of the school year with the infamous former US Marine as my teacher.
Learning that this teacher was every bit as fierce as his reputation suggests.
Being asked by this teacher why I never did my homework.
Meeting new friends that I would treasure.
Trudging past a lunchroom full of my jeering former classmates upon arrival to school, daily.
Taking the daily punishments the teacher doled out for not doing my homework, refusing to let him break me.
Reading Bible comics and passing them out to my classmates and school bus driver.
Hiding from my mom the fact that my nice shoes were wearing out because I was standing at my desk all day as punishment.
Writing 50, 100, 250, and 500 definitions as mounting punishment for not doing the homework, which eventually took the place of doing the homework, which led to more definitions being assigned.
Hiding all the bad news from my mom as much as possible to avoid stressing her out.
Passing the grade by doing the bare minimum, just to show the teacher he didn’t win.
What do you think? Not much better, huh? Maybe funnier, but not necessarily better. It’s not like my future looked oh so bright that second time through 5th grade, right? What was there to learn from these experiences? More than you’d imagine.
Perhaps the reason these memories stick with me after all these years is because I distinctly remember being able to demonstrate agency. Agency is the idea that you are in control of your life, or better put, your decisions.
My defiance of my teacher, who ostensibly wanted the best for me by using negative reinforcement, wasn’t about rebellion for its own sake. I was always a well-behaved child. Rather than being a hotheaded rebel, I was passively noncompliant. Thinking back, I realize it was about proving a point:
"Maybe your punishments break the wills of other students, so you think it’s the right way forward, but I will never be tamed by your whip."
I stood at my desk all day every day until the end of the school year, knowing my problems would be solved if I just did my homework consistently, but refused out of principle.
That was also the year my grandmother’s Christian influence started to sink in as I began developing a genuine interest in God. The Bible comics she got me set a foundation for me to understand God and not long after, I showed my first signs of being an evangelist. I’d share the comics with people of other faiths and developed an understanding of how God thinks and feels.
Fast-forward to my junior year in college. That summer I worked as a counselor at a Christian camp, and excelled at it. Why? Because I knew kids knew things. They’ve experienced trauma just as I did. They could grasp deep concepts just as I did. But they also liked having fun, just as I did. By taking the kids seriously, I was able to engage them with the Gospel and make it make sense to them—all while having fun throughout the week.
That’s part of my ethos with AddisonBooks. Actually, let me spell it out:
GOD CREATED THE CONCEPT OF FUN! I don’t understand why people picture God and think “boring old man with immense power that’ll zap you if you make him mad.” That’s Zeus, not Jehovah. God made the concept of fun. And joy. And intrigue. And captivation. He made both visible and invisible things (Colossian 1:16).
God empowers His people to create, just as He created. If we’re made in the image of God, that means more than just looking like Him. It means being like Him, too. We are most like God when we’re creating, and as such, we can turn to Him for creative ideas that are fun enough to capture the attention of young people as they’re reading. It’s my prayer that God expands our imaginations both of what we can do and what we can ask for His help on.
Take kids seriously. Bring them into the fold. Jesus deliberately told His disciples that the Kingdom of God belongs to the children (Luke 18:15-17). So in serving the children, it’s my goal to first tell them a good story they can relate to, and let God’s wisdom flow through its pages. I’ve never had to force a message to come through; it just does. So we use God’s wisdom for dealing with issues like bullying, moving, making friends, falling in love, grieving loss, reaching out for help, etc. God has something to say to our kids about the troubles they deal with, and it’s not dated information.
Jamaal Fridge is the author of The Life and Times of Theodore Addison book series. As an evangelist, he looks for ways to engage people with the Gospel, and uses books as one outlet. You can learn about him and other contributors to this work at this link.