I should probably stop reading blogs by well-meaning teachers because first they make me sad, and then they make me rant.
The question the author, Jill Guerra, purports to ask herself is a good one: “I concerned only with control in my own classroom and school, or do I want enduring transformation for our youth?
She recounts a situation where her student, Marc, “ignored my instructions, was extremely sassy with me, and practically challenged me to a fight. He was beyond disrespectful. He was suspended for two days and when he came back to class, he failed to apologize. I sent him to another teacher’s class to write an apology letter and to respond to my favorite essay prompt:“Why I Am Too Talented and Intelligent To Behave Inappropriately at School.””
In his response, Marc writes, “I should be in uniform and with a nice attitude and a smile on my face. I should not be acting out in class. I should listen to staff members’ directions. I should always be on my best behavior at all times no matter where we go. I should not talk back or be sassy with any adult in the school . . . I should always raise my hand . . . . I am too talented to be talking to my friends when it’s school time. I should save that for recess or after school. It is my responsibility to control my anger and to practice my anger and my attitude control. I need to manage my mouth. I should know when to talk, when to be quiet.”
John Taylor Gatto, in his Teacher of the Year acceptance speech, The Seven-Lesson School Teacher, writes, “Look again at the seven lessons of schoolteaching: confusion, class assignment, dulled responses, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, surveillance — all of these things are good training for permanent underclasses, people deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius.”
For as nice and loving and as “good” a teacher as Ms. Guerra (and others) see(s) herself as, she’s marching lock-step in a system that is training children to believe they should dress and act as she (and the other staff) direct. She’s training him to deny his feelings of boredom or anger, to slap on a fake smile and a fake attitude, and to accept as his boredom and anger as inevitable. Worse, still, to believe that his boredom and anger are of his own making, and not a reasonable reaction to his 12 year incarceration. Heartbreakingly, he’s also assigned to write a letter of apology.
Guerra is quick to point out that teachers should try to determine the nexus of the behavior, which naturally, she believes stems from the home: “Maybe he is misbehaving because of something going on at home*. Maybe he is struggling with the lesson being taught. Maybe he is imitating behavior modeled at home*.” What she won’t see (and can’t, or she’ll have to change lines of work) is that his behavior–his boredom and his anger with the lessons of dulled responses, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, surveillance is a natural one . . . that only good schooling (not education) can retrain him from experiencing.
She will be successful. She’s got five of the seven lessons down pat.
* Home as the problem. Tomorrow, I will write about how a fundamental premise of schooling is that all adults–including parents–are interchangeable . . . how the parent-child relationship isn’t special, but that parents are just another set of adults in the child’s life.