Erikson conveys the significance of identity in a way that has stuck with me for years: "in the social jungle of human existence there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity" (20). Of course - how can we be alive without being someone...but what happens when our students don't know who that someone is? What happens when they don't have a person to guide them or to help them put the pieces together?
The first time I read this text, I was immediately reminded of a childhood favorite, The Lion King, when Simba struggles to understand himself and his place in the world. Most importantly, he struggles to understand how his past and his father are a part of who he has become. Rafiki serves as a powerful mentor throughout the film, never giving Simba the "answers" that he is looking for, but pointing him in the right direction of where he might find them. Erik son argues that "identities are only formed after the threat of role confusion is addressed, after an identity crisis is resolved" (24). . . . Marcia argues that there are identity statuses, which one can loop through again and again, which supports Ayers's notion that we are always under construction, "always in the process of becoming" (39). Simba, in this scene, is guided by his past in order to determine what his present self should be. His father argues that he has "forgotten who [he is]," but I'd like to argue that he never really knew who he wanted to be. He hasn't figured it out quite yet, but he is on the path of discovering it through the experiences offered to him. Our students are currently struggling with who they are - as students in each of their classes, as parts of their families, as friends to their classmates, as people in the world - and sometimes it is difficult to explain that they don't have to know it all right now.
Perhaps that is our role as teachers, then, to serve the purpose that Rafiki does - to "resist the urge to answer outright and instead open space for them to begin to answer those questions for themselves" (34)? How do we ensure that this space is in our classrooms and in the conversations we have every day? Like Brittany mentioned last week, as ELA teachers, it is easy to include writing and story-telling into our curriculum that address a multitude of identity topics. It isn't easy, however, to get students to open up about their past, their fears, and their struggles - even if that is what they will learn from, how they will become more "themselves" every single day.
I think one of the things that I want to start incorporating into my classroom (which I should do but don't) is writing and sharing with my students. I remember being an adolescent in middle and high school thinking my teachers had it all together, and that they knew everything and that life must be so wonderful as an adult to have everything finally figured out. Little did I know that I would be sitting here a decade later, with some of the same questions swirling around in my mind: who am I, really? I wonder if I would have had these misconceptions had my teachers shared the fact that they were co-constructing their identities as we were co-constructing ours.
"Adolescents will go where the opportunity to create exists, where they can risk novel ways of experiencing and presenting themselves" (53). The only way they will know that this opportunity exists is if we offer it to them. We must guide them to the place where they can look inside themselves and consider the different worlds that are colliding within - and then be there for them to help them make meaning from their experience.