Clear Eyes, Full Hearts

ALL THE 14-YEAR-OLD BOYS kill their grandmothers.

I stole the line— “It was the day my grandmother exploded”—from Iain Banks’ novel The Crow Road.

I write it on the whiteboard on the first day of school, and ask my ninth graders to compose a short story starting with that prompt. The girls go for metaphor—their Nanas and Mee-Maws explode in frustration or laughter.

The boys go literal and explode their grandmothers into bone-chunks and guts. Usually I laugh. Not this year. I’m pregnant with a baby boy, and I’d prefer he never explode anything, especially the women who love him.

During the five years I’ve taught this lesson, meant to celebrate the punch of a great opening line, the Tsarnaev brothers blew up the Boston Marathon finish line, George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, Adam Lanza devastated Newtown, Conn., by firing bullets into each of 20 small children and six adults, and Elliot Rodger carried out a misogyny-fueled killing spree in Isla Vista, Calif. I live in Texas, where gun-lovers and worried moms persist in a steady standoff about open carry laws.

My students remain unaffected by these horrors—they’re privileged children at a college prep school, the boys more concerned with GPAs and J.J. Watt’s football stats than the way some males—especially white males—in our country use violence or sullen indifference to respond to their perceived disenfranchisement. They idolize Walter White and George R.R. Martin; most identify as Christians but cannot tell me who Job is or recite the beatitudes.

I worry about my unborn son. How do I raise a good white male? I ask all the good men I know, and they give me the same answer: “He’ll need a mentor.”

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