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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When One of "Those Kids" Goes Back to Jail

Another one of my kids got arrested today. Outgoing, pretty and with a golden smile, she looks like an all-star, but she's one of Those Kids who's have some difficulty with the basics of school: she can't seem to stop talking. Now she's back in jail and that's not going to help her be a better student.

There's a poem, one of those sappy teacher-poems that gets sent around by and for teachers every once in a while, that I think about when things like this happen. It's called "I'm The One," and it's by somebody named Cody Moree. I don't know who Cody is, but I appreciate his poem because it is one of the only ones out there that is bent on reminding us that Those Kids, the knuckleheads in our classrooms, are the ones that need us the most.

And many of my students now are living examples of what happens when Those Kids don't get what they need.

For most of Those Kids, school isn't about learning, or the future, it's about the people and right now. It's about their friends, sure, but it's also about the teachers and the janitors and the security guards and the principal.

Unlike elsewhere in Those Kid's lives, school is one place where the adults have rules (For all the teachers being total scumbags in the news these days, we need to remember that the overwhelming majority of people who work in education are good souls who are trying to make lives better) and kids can trust that, for the most part, the adults will follow them.

For many of Those Kids, these safe adults are their lifeline.

Those Kids come to school looking for teachers and other adults who understand why they are the way they are and who are willing and able to work with them, without judgement and without exasperation, as they learn how to do the things that come easily to other kids. The need to learn how to be a student in class. How to choose against their own impulses.

How not to give up on themselves.

But there aren't all that many teachers who have the time and inclination, or the freedom to do these things.

A couple of years ago, I left my job as a traditional classroom teacher in order to work with Those Kids full time.

I have the time, the freedom, and the inclination.

But I work with older kids and by the time they come to me those kids are no longer kids. More than I can count have already had their first tastes of how the rest of the world deals with somebody who can't sit down, shut up and behave.

About a third of my students are on parole for offenses that range from vandalism and possession to prostitution, weapons violations and robbery. Each one of them was popped for doing something that they should never have done Each one of them is now a criminal. Each one of them is now in the system. Each one of them started out like the kid in "I'm the One." "Those kids" are the cargo on the school to prison pipeline.

Like I said, the Sheriff's department took one of my students today. Right out of class. Everybody got really quiet and looked away. Nobody thinks it's cool. It's not exciting to them. To them, it's simply inevitable.

I've asked many of them why the do things that they know are criminal. The answers have all been variations on a theme:

"Why Not? They're gonna bust me for things whether I've done them or not. It don't matter what I do or don't do, so sometimes I do it.

While in some cases this is simply an excuse and in others it's simply a lie, what lies beneath it are truths:

A system that tells kids to be individuals, but rewards conformity.

A pervasive sense of powerlessness that comes from a lifetime of unexpectedly finding one's self on the wrong side of somebody's rules.

The ubiquitous sense of injustice that comes from seeing rules being applied unevenly and not in your favor.

And an ever-present sense that, really, I Don't Matter.

And when these are truths, even simply truths of perception, Those Kids begin to feel:

"Why Not? They're gonna bust me for things whether I've done them or not. It don't matter what I do or don't do, so sometimes I do it.

And so it begins.

It starts with trips to the office, but if there's not the right teacher involved, it seems to end too often in handcuffs.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you exist. Truly inspired to continue my education from being one of "those kids" to being there for another.