Thursday, January 28, 2010

IALAC Buttons and Vanilla Ice

I have three academic memories from life at Mahopac Middle School. One is the song that Mr. Petrone would sing before every life science test we took. I am constantly tempted to sing it to Reed when he has his take-home exams; "Oooooh, every other seat, put your books on the floor, I got a little test that you'll adore...." The second and third memory come from the same class: "Guidance." Yes, this was an actual class for 6th graders in the early 90's in my cutting-edge hometown of Mahopac, NY.

Apparently the administrators of our school were concerned that 6th graders were not entering middle school with enough self-confidence to withstand the harsh realities of cliques, parachute pants and the advent of gender drama. Their response to this was to create a class that would encourage us to stand strong in who we were and not give in to the peer pressure around us in the hope that we might make it through middle school relatively emotionally unscathed. In retrospect, I'm actually pretty sure that that's not possible.

My first memory from Guidance is of the IALAC button. I.A.L.A.C. For those not in the self-esteem movement know, it stands for "I Am Lovable and Capable." We were given a pep talk about self-esteem, which I don't actually remember, and then told to make buttons with this phrase on them. Then we were to wear said buttons proudly around school. I cannot actually think of a faster way to throw your self-esteem in the toilet than to wear a button that makes you a target of ridicule for all upperclassmen, and all humans for that matter, who might come across you. I don't actually remember if I wore it. Being the obedient little nerd that I was, I most likely did and have blocked out the horrifying repurcussions.

The second memory is of Vanilla Ice. Yes, he was the musician of choice my inaugural year of middle school, along with MC Hammer. Apparently, the curriculum for Guidance did not just involve humiliating us as individuals but encouraged us to also explore corporate humiliation in the name of harmony. Weren't we less likely to harass each other if we had something in common? The way to harmony, we were told, was to pick a song as a class and memorize it, later on to be performed in some manner. My class, in a desperate move to NOT choose something like "We are the World"(which many of us had actually performed 6 years earlier in a kindergarten play), picked "Ice, Ice Baby". 20 years later I remember every word. I daresay some of my classmates also covertly sing all the words to this song in the privacy of their cars.

The sad thing about these two memories is that I do not remember either one actually impacting how any of us felt about ourselves. America seems to be big about talking about self-esteem to its youth, but I wonder how much this movement is working? Can we really learn in a classroom to truly understand the beauty and worth of our created selves? Certainly, an IALAC button and "Ice, Ice Baby" are not going to overcome the million other messages we hear on a daily basis that cause us to settle for less than who we are created to be.

The truth is, I am not defined by a button, but by a savior who loves me desperately and a God who created me to reflect His perfect and beautiful image in all that I am. I can't understand that better by thinking about it or by analyzing whether I deserve that gift of life. It is only by getting to know that God better and better, in deeper and truer ways, that I can really learn to unashamedly be who I am. It's not about self-esteem or's about knowing without question who God is and, by extension, who He says I am and who I am continuing to become, that best version of my humanity.

I choose that best life over the deficiences of the self-esteem movement and its IALAC button that urges me to look vaguely within myself for my worth. Vanilla Ice had it right when he said that "anything less than the best is a felony."

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