I recently had an incredible experience on — of all places — the set of a reality show. An adaptation of Jamie Oliver’s U.K. series, Sundance Channel’s Dream School takes 15 at risk high school students and provides them with a 30-day educational and inspirational journey with the goal of getting them on track to graduate… But before I go into all of that, I need to get a few things off of my chest.
Why are people so cruel? In a world full of self-appointed and uncertified judges who wildly swing gavels while pointing their proverbial fingers at anyone that doesn’t fit in, sentencing them to humiliation and ridicule regardless of the fact that their only crime is that of individuality… Is it really so surprising that so many people in this world want to drop out, fade away or blow it all up in a fireball of vengeful hatred?
Granted, I may be spouting off a bit dramatically, but this is a topic I’m passionate about, especially when I open up the New York Times to find that Miley Cyrus’ twerking is the lead headline, playing second fiddle to the suspected gassing of the Syrian people by their own government.
Our priorities are out of whack, and I can’t be the only one upset about it. We’re just a bunch of Grand Theft assholes married to bickering Housewives obsessed with our precious little Honey Boo Boos. I say, enough is enough, like Paddy Chayefsky’s reporter in Network that snaps on air and calls for us all to scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Network is fiction, though maybe with more ideas like Dream School it doesn’t have to be.
I’m not a college graduate, although I did make it through high school thanks to several incredible teachers who inspired me. Even though I don’t have any teaching credentials, I was tapped to be the homeroom teacher at Dream School, and I jumped at the opportunity (thank goodness there were also several qualified teachers on set to provide these children with the proper structure they needed to learn). I was able to provide them with a person who had been in their shoes, a person that spoke their language, a person that cared about their future.
Most of the kids at Dream School had been bullied, gotten in fights or had personal circumstances that got in the way of their education — circumstances that were beyond their control — circumstances that I had experienced myself, growing up at times with an empty refrigerator, and I could see myself in them. Dream School gave these kids a safe place where they could finally breathe. A haven where they could be treated like people and not just problems — problems of, let’s face it, a fucked up society that we’re all accountable for creating.
The concept of Dream School is to give these kids an educational experience that would blow their minds, and with 50 Cent laying down the rules, Suze Orman teaching finance, Dr. Mae Jemison giving a science lesson, Oliver Stone teaching history, Jesse Jackson teaching debate, Swizz Beatz taking them into the studio to record a song, and Cliff Dorfman helping them to learn storytelling, I think it was a mission accomplished.
Who doesn’t want to fit in? Who doesn’t want their life to be special? Shouldn’t education be fun and exciting? This was what Dream School provided. I learned something too, that there is hope, there are kind people in the world, and that reality television doesn’t just have to be Snooki getting punched. Now it’s up to the public to see if there is room for a nice kid in the television playground or if it will just get beat down like so many kids in school yards across the country.
I for one have made the choice that Gandhi posed to us so many years ago — to be the change I wish to see in the world. In the process of implementing that change, I shut down my narcissistic platform of social media because I couldn’t take any more media bullying about myself. I stopped picking up magazines. I stopped listening to the ever-growing drone of haters that may possibly be watching me, by way of an actual drone, and every day I desperately attempt to not care what they say about me, just like our poor children in school.
I’m trying to play something called The Kindness Game… The rules are relatively simple: no violence, treat everyone as an equal, try your best not to hurt another person, be kind, respectful, help those in need, laugh at life as much as possible, treat those around you with love, and if you are extremely rich, don’t wait until you’re on your death bed to be charitable; do it now, and watch it grow.
For me, the object of this game — and I refer to it as a game because in essence it is one — an intricate one — is to turn hate into love (which is just love turned upside down) and to make the most beautiful and the darkest moments matter… Because they do… And so do you… Ok, now I’m going to get real…
This isn’t my world; it’s yours. This isn’t your world; it’s mine. This isn’t our world; it’s our children’s. It is my hope that the good in all of us unites and starts calling the shots instead of reading about them.
I’ll leave you with this… Why not gather the most philanthropic, smartest and boldest minds to do what our forefathers did with the Declaration of Independence and write a Declaration of the World? A promise that doesn’t just merely state that we’re all created equal but demands that we’re all treated as such. That might be a world where a place like Dream School isn’t just a dream…
Dream School, premieres Monday, October 7th at 10 p.m. ET/PT