Actor and aspiring singer Jaden Smith's condemnation of school via Twitter may sound like typical teen angst, but as a celebrity role model for youth his rant may have unwittingly perpetuated a poverty cycle which is often fueled by poor educational choices.
The widely influential Jaden, age 15, son to Will and Jada, brother to Willow, boyfriend to Kylie Jenner, and friend of Justin Bieber took to Twitter Sept. 12 to tell followers that schools serve the sole purpose of “brainwashing the youth.”
Reading the stories about Jaden’s rant popping up all over the Internet my heart sank, because for the past six years I have worked hard as a volunteer helping kids who hate school and feel disenfranchised by the system to re-connect with education via mentoring and chess. While I have never communicated directly with any of the Smiths, the Will and Jada Smith Foundation paid for the plane ticket that brought teen role model Pobo Efekoro of the film Brooklyn Castle here to Norfolk, Va. to empower kids to stay in school.
The most popular chess board we have in our program has a photo of the Smith family screen printed on it, and the kids race each other to get to play on it. The youngest and most easily influenced kids don’t recognize Will or Jada in the photo so much as Jaden, the heartthrob and mecca of cool.
Even the littlest ones in our program, as young as five, know who Jaden is and say, “That’s how I’m gonna be, like him.”
Everything Jaden wears, the music he plays, and especially what he says via social media is instantly trending with the kids at the Lamberts Point Community Center here in Norfolk.
In August, Norfolk announced that 31 out of 45 of our public schools failed to meet the Standards of Learning tests and will not be fully accredited as a result. The state is poised to take over those schools.
It sent a bad message to kids at the start of the school year that schools aren’t any good.
Now, comes the Jaden Smith Tweetpocalypse with the power to undo years of progress in the course of seven consecutive Tweets.
1. "People Use To Ask Me What Do You Wanna Be When You Get Older And I Would Say What A Stupid Question The Real Question Is What Am I Right Now”
2. “All the rules in the world were made by someone no smarter than you so make your own.”
3. "School Is The Tool To Brainwash The Youth”
4. “Education Is Rebellion.”
5. “If Newborn Babies Could Speak They Would Be The Most Intelligent Beings On Planet Earth."
6. “If Everybody In The World Dropped Out Of School We Would Have A Much More Intelligent Society.”
7. “Everybody Get Off Your Phones And Go Do What You Actually Wanna Do."
Jaden and other young influencers need the reality check that while they have the luxury of being rebellious, kids like Ka’ Lil, a six-year-old member of my chess group, don't have parents who, like the Smiths, can give them a golden parachute to carry them to safety should they decide to forego school.
Two years ago Ka’Lil’s sister Jada, (now 10) was bitten in the face by a pitbull shortly after attending her school’s honor roll ceremony. She walked to chess with her face bandaged because I had promised kids a free chess set if they made honor roll and she was going to collect that cool moment no matter what. She came because I promised her that school and all it can give her is cool.
If kids like Jada jump off the honor roll, nobody will be there to catch them but minimum wage and manual labor jobs instead of careers.