They've been learning about the Frontier Era of Texas in his 7th grade Social Studies class. This involves the Native Americans after the Civil War and the clashing of cultures between them and white settlers moving west. The tribes were forced from their land and onto reservations. The extra credit project, one the teacher does every year, is called the "Satanta Challenge". Named after the Kiowa Chief Satanta (read more about him here), it's an exercise in empathy. The students are to give up their way of life, just as Native Americans had to during this time period. For one week, the students are to go without "electronics for social value". No radio, TV, iPod, video games, computer, or cell phone. Right. More impressed now?
Coach really didn't have any delusions about who might participate - but he hoped every student would try it for just one day. If they chose to take on the week, they were to keep a daily diary explaining what they did and how it influenced them, with parents signing off on the journal.
So our red-head (with quite a bit of Creek Indian blood in him, by the way) took on the challenge. For the whole week. Little by little, this amazing boy emerged.
The first day, he actually came home from school, got a snack and sat down in front of the TV out of habit. A few minutes in to watching, someone on the screen said the word "challenge". He snapped to and remembered he wasn't supposed to be watching. And - get this - he turned it off immediately and walked away. He went out to the back yard and started working on his garden that we'd begun the previous weekend. It consisted of some containers, half full of dirt, that he'd moved from the neighbor's yard. He shoveled more dirt and transported it to the containers with the wheel barrow. He planted a tomato plant, some peas and a few herbs. Then he read his library book on the front porch swing. The second day, he did some more gardening - this time consulting with the neighbor about okra, spinach, carrots and glorious cilantro. I took him out to dinner for Pho (his favorite - the dish of Vietnam) and he made a point to sit with his back facing the flat screen TVs mounted on the wall broadcasting "American Idol".
As the week unfolded, he finished reading several books and knitted a whole bunch. Yes, a 13-year-old boy who knits. A skill learned from his uncle, he has taught his younger brothers as well. They have a little business going - called "WearWOOF" and they sell colorful, knitted dog collars to a local dog boutique in historic downtown, The Canine Cookie Company.
But more than the gardening and reading and knitting was the talking and interacting. The neighbor made a point to tell me how much she enjoyed the talks she was having with her new gardening buddy. Because he couldn't take a picture of his garden (that would be social electronic use), he drew one in his daily diary to be turned in.
I was not bound by the same restrictions, so here are the pictures I took of his garden.
He had a big time with his grandparents over the weekend - getting more gardening tips from Nana, enjoying some pie at a restaurant while he showed them the downtown - all things he probably wouldn't have done had he been glued to his xBox.The owner of the dog boutique stopped Hawkins as he walked on the street with his Nana to tell her that her grandson was a mature and responsible young man.
Every time I turned around, there was Hawkins - talking to me. When Husband left for his boat trip, I was bombarded with even more conversation, now that one of his willing listeners was gone. I had no idea the boy could talk so much. He spent the night at a neighbor's house and they jumped on the trampoline most of the time, intentionally avoiding the video games. He practiced his clarinet on the porch, serenading neighbors - willing or not. Because he couldn't play the video game "Little Big Planet", he designed contraptions for the game with pencil and paper and was happy to explain the schematics in detail to anyone. In detail. To anyone.
It was a delightful week, really. The tension that typically pervades the house because of arguments over the xBox was gone. There were no fights over whose turn it was at the computer, no cell phone going off. His daily spoken word count must have gone up 300%. He was calmer. More helpful. More interested in people.
So I was a bit nervous for the challenge to come to an end yesterday. I anticipated coming home and finding him drooling, mouth agape, in front of the TV or Wii or xBox with his eyes glazed over, barely responsive. But he was tending his garden. I asked him how many students had completed the challenge and turned in their daily diary in school that day. "Just me," he reported. "I was the only one in my class."
I could delve into the deeper implications of this challenge - what are we, as parents, allowing our children to be exposed to every day? How overstimulated are they on a daily basis? What will the world be when we are all plugged in all the time and no longer reach out to one another to communicate in person? What will be lost? I could make myself sick with worry.
But I have nothing to worry about, really, This teenager of ours is a good egg.