Friday, May 12, 2006


Why Are Shackles Inhuman?

I'm an old "fuddy-duddy". In my time on this spinning rock the definition of shackles has changed many times in my cerebral dictionary. I read The Diary of Anne Frank and understood the shackles that are imposed mentally and physically, many times by others. Then I see some of my students out in the "hood" and I grasp the concept of environmental shackles. On a daily basis in the classroom I'm slapped across the academic face by the shackles created from missing parents, single-parent "families", and just plain uncaring "parents".

Of the multitude of governmental shackles thrust upon citizens No Child Left Behind has tightened itself around the academic wrist of some students that need reality. Not the "reality" of the SAT score, the "insistent reality" that every student should attend college, and surely not the "reality" that if you score a certain number on a standardized test then your life will be set firmly in success.

What about the young mind that can take a lawn mower engine apart inside their head and even put it together again, or the hands that can transform a stack of lumber into a dining table, and the young souls that small children relate to in the realm of child care? It is so easy to expound on the lack of teaching knowledge and virtues when students don't pass into a standardized life, such as the students that have no family support, the ones that exercise their math skills counting the days until their eighteenth birthday and can quit, or the ones that find a "reality" in the quick buck mentality of the streets, and the ones that receive their esteem from developing a "street cred". A student that shoots a store clerk twice just to have others look at him with "respect".

Many teachers find themselves in the quicksand position of teaching to the test, especially in the core classes. Mostly, what is missed is that life after high school is the test. There was a time when public schools were more then a babysitting service. They were the focal point of the community. The pride of the richest, poorest, and all falling between these two. Now these institutions have morphed into government schools. Controlled by the State Department of Education. A government agency that has never educated a student and never will, but exercises a strangle hold on local school boards through the disbursement of federal money. It is not so much that school systems need federal money as they want federal money.

Technology is the current emphasis and watch word. The more computers and related hardware that can be crowded into a classroom then more education that must be taking place. The real technology of the classroom is the cell-phone, text messages, and iPods. Of course, the one thing that just about guarantees placing a teacher in a dangerous, confrontational position is demanding that a student give up their cell-phone if caught having it out during class or outside of class. This teacher is also expected to disregard another teacher just outside the school building using their cell-phone while trying to reason with an angry student being told they can't have their cell phone back.

"Hey, I'm Thomas, but my boys call me Street."
This new student had transferred in today from another county system that suggested with his difficulties there with academics and the court system he would do much better transferring. His family, an older sister, took the hint and moved out of the jurisdiction of that court system.
"Have a seat. Do you have your class schedule yet?"
"I lost it man."
"You lost it between the guidance office and here?" A distance of about 246 feet.
"Guess so."
"Well, I'll get you another one."
"Don't matter, I'll just lose it too."
I looked at this student. He dressed like most of the others. Sagging pants, oversized t-shirt with a cryptic advertising message that only a street kid cared to understand, a shiny "grill" covering his upper teeth, and a large chain around his neck with a fake medallion hood ornament from a Mercedes attached. The more he tried to dress to be different and cool, the more he looked and acted like the other students.
"Where do you live," I asked?
"You know, over in the 'hood."
"What grade you in Thomas?"
"Don't matter. They call me Street."
"I don't use nick names in this class."
"I don't give a damn about this class or this school. I'll be eighteen in two months and I'll be gone."
"What are you going to do when you're out of school?"
"What I always do. I make money. I don't need no loser job like yours."
"I see. Then you have a plan."
"What I always do, dude."
"Do you want to get another copy of your schedule?"
"No, dude. I'm tired. I been up all night. I need to rest." With those enlightening words he pulled the hood on his Jordan jacket over his head and fell asleep. The other students in the class looked at me with the same expressions on their faces that was now being hidden by Street's hood.

This kid has embraced the shackles of his life. No Child Left Behind, more technology, teaching to the test, and government school plans mean nothing to him. He has a plan, an agenda for life and knows he is not going to be left behind by the street. At least for a short period of time.