Good Kids: How to See Rebellion as a Good Thing with DeRay Mckesson 

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Good Kids transcript — How to See Rebellion as a Good Thing with DeRay Mckesson 


[00:51] Hey, this is DeRay, and you are listening to Good Kids: How Not to Raise an A-hole.


[00:59] I’ve thought a lot about this. You know, as a teacher, we always push on this idea that there are good kids or bad kids. We would say that there are kids who make different choices. But when I was thinking about like what my advice would be, it was hard, because I was like, what can I say that would actually be like meaningful. I rested on two things. One of things that I intimately understood as a teacher was this idea that young people do need boundaries. And I think that so many people get around kids, or become parents, or aunts and uncles, and they want to be there for him. They like want to be the cool uncle, the cool dad, the cool mom. And they just like could lose all sense of what boundaries are for. 


[01:36] And boundaries actually help young people think about how to make decisions and how to flex their own power in ways that make sense. As a teacher, one of the things that I did was I let my students choose their seat every day. Like there were no — there was no seating chart, no seating assignments. Also, my students who choose when to go to the bathroom, or when to leave the classroom, whatever they want it. And there were a lot of people who came to my classroom who were, like, what are you doing? And this is so — wow, this is ridiculous. This doesn’t make sense. And it seemed to be antithetical to my idea of like boundaries being important. But I realized early was that like part of my work, in addition to being a math teacher, was like to help them understand what power looks like. And one of the beliefs, and one of the sort of boundaries was just like, I actually believe that you can manage your body in a way that makes sense. You don’t have complete control because I’m still a teacher, and if you do something out of control, I have to send you to the principal’s office so there’ll be some consequence. But it was about setting a set of rules and setting a space that allowed them to make a different set of decisions. 


[02:31] So by the end of the year, they got it. They like understood who they could sit next to and couldn’t say next to on their own. They understood the best time to go to the bathroom and not go to the bathroom. But it was by setting and creating the conditions for them to flex those muscles that actually allow them to do it. If I just said you can only go to the bathroom the first five minutes or the last five minutes, you know, I have to go to the bathroom in the middle class. It wasn’t like my fault that was true. And it wasn’t their fault either. 


[3:00] Also, sometimes we could set up rules where, like, kids just want to rebel and like we know they’re gonna rebel. Like, the rebellion is actually part of the growth. But the rebellion is often people pushing to figure out like what boundaries make sense and don’t think sense, which doesn’t mean they don’t need boundaries. It means that we need to be flexible and they need to make sense. So be mindful about the boundaries. Young people need them and helps them understand the context within which to make decisions.


[03:21] When I taught sixth grade, what was really cool is that one of the reminders was that sort of rebellion and pushing back doesn’t always have to be grand. Like sometimes people rebel in really small ways that actually shape and reshape the way we think about a lot of things. And I taught all sixth grade math and then I taught seventh-to-eleventh-grade algebra to my students, and it was really cool because they knew the math really well. And I’ll never forget this one day, we were factoring polynomials and it was complicated, and you had to go slow, probably slower than normal. And I’ll never forget, my students were struggling, but we had like 60, 90 minute classes. So it was like, you had time to struggle. It wasn’t like the bell was ringing. You had to turn the paper in. And there was a student who needed help. And I went over to help her. And this other student intervened really quickly. And he was like, ‘she don’t need you to tell her the answer.’ And I was like, I wasn’t gonna tell her the answer. But he was looking at me like — it was just a reminder that, like, sometimes we swoop in too easily, too early, and like, people actually know — they can work their way through it. So he goes over and sits next to her, and he’s just talking to her without me helping, without giving her the answer. And it was so beautiful to watch him just support her. Because it was just like this reminder that, like, kids have the gifts, they have the skills, they are paying attention. And sometimes we need to be reminded to like let people work through some of the pain so they can get the breakthrough. And I’ll never forget them. [04:48][87.7]


[06:31] I worry that enough people don’t have proximity to imagination and wonder that one of the things that was important to me as a kid was to be around people who lived in a world that was bigger than mine. And one of the things that I think the Internet has done for kids now is like help them exist in a world that’s bigger than theirs. So when I think about like how to raise good kids, it’s like — to continue to help them see that the world is actually a really big place. When I grew up in Baltimore, it was small. Like I only knew that two colleges existed in the world. In middle school, I don’t think I’d ever traveled really outside of the East Coast quarter, for sure, had definitely not traveled to the West Coast or out of the country. Hadn’t met any people who really lived in those places. Yeah, I just didn’t — my world was small. I had a TV in my room and on that TV every night we would watch Married with Children, which is a show that no kids should watch, I’m sure. I’ve seen countless episodes of that show. And yeah, the world was just really small. 


[07:25] And I think about today that we have an opportunity to just make the world really big for kids, especially kids in marginalized communities and from disadvantaged communities. Like when I used to run an after-school program, we took kids on field trips. And it was the first time they’d ever been to colleges, or the first time they’d ever been on a sleep-away. And it was like they just started to understand the world was really big, and they started to think about the idea of travel as normal. They started to think about the idea that their bodies could be in these different places. That they could be around people to ask these different types of questions. That they could see these types of machines, and play with them, and make mistakes and all those things like — that that was actually normal. And I think about as a kid, so many of the mistakes that I made, it felt like they were life or death. It was like, if I screw this up, I would never be able to do it again. Or if I didn’t ace this test, or if I didn’t get this grade, or if I didn’t — everything fell so terminal. And I think one of the things that allows us to be our best is to know that mistakes are part of the learning process. That part of practice means that you will make mistakes. And that the best conditions look like is a little bit of practice, a little bit of feedback actually allows us to grow. 


[08:36] The teacher that changed my life in high school Miss Rubel, she was a yearbook teacher. What she did there was so exceptional, was that she really just let us like play, you know. She was like, you decide what the layouts look like. You decide what stories we tell. And like, she created conditions that sort of frame the choices. She would definitely push when we were off. But we had so much license to really like dream up things. And I remember some of the stories we ran, and some of the people we put in yearbooks, had never been in yearbooks before. Those sort of things. And she just let us do it. And I remember being in high school being like, wow, I never — nobody had ever trusted me like this with something that wasn’t like just my, like, paper or work. And it was her trust that really fueled me to be able to make decisions for so much of my life. So, yeah, 


[09:23] I’m DeRay and you’ve been listening to Good Kids. You can follow me @DeRay on Twitter. D-E-R-A-Y. And you can find me every week on my own podcast, Pod Save the People with DeRay. 


[09:35] Good Kids is produced and edited by Samantha Gattsek. Our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs. Our music is by Dan Milad. Ad sales and distribution is by Westwood One. You can find more about us at, or on all the social platforms @LemonadaMedia. If you like what you heard, share the gospel with everyone you know, and rate and review us on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever else you listen to podcasts. 

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