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An Impractical Joke

  • Posted on November 25, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Willy was in one of his classes. Maybe it started as soon as he got there. Maybe it took a little while for things to get going. All I know is what little Willy was able to tell me.

Willy’s teacher accused him of stealing a girl’s cell phone. He didn’t do it and he was very upset that anyone thought he had. He didn’t know what to do about it. He said he didn’t do it and he was telling the truth. But the teacher didn’t believe him. The teacher kept saying that Willy took the girl’s cell phone.

Then, the teacher told the class that, because Willy took the girl’s cell phone, the teacher was going to take Willy’s birthday. Willy will be turning 15 in a month and he couldn’t let that happen. He had to make the teacher stop saying these things. But he didn’t know what to do!

Maybe it’s because we’re reading about Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card, which is the story of how Ender and Bean faced extraordinary circumstances and survived, even though they’re kids who are pitted against teachers. Maybe it was something else. All I know is that Willy’s reaction was extreme and out of character.

Willy just wanted to make his teacher stop saying these hurtful, false things. So, in a fit of anger, he put his hands on the teacher’s neck and “strangled” him to make him stop.

I don’t know what happened next, exactly. I know that Willy stopped. I know that the teacher reassured him that it was just a practical joke and gave Willy a warning not to do that. I know that Willy apologized and that the teacher promised never to play a practical joke on Willy again.

Willy was so confused by what happened and so ashamed about what he did that, when he went to bed that night, he didn’t even want a hug. He knew that strangling was wrong and we certainly reinforced that lesson. But it was also important that shame wasn’t the only thing he took away from this experience.

I wanted to make sure that Willy made better choices, that he apologized for his behavior, and that he didn’t make the same choice at some point in the future. But it was equally important that he not feel ashamed.

Time was on our side, because the next day was an appointment with his counselor. We talked about what the teacher had done and what Willy had done and what Willy could have done instead. Willy felt better.

“Most kids,” she said, “would realize by the time that the teacher said he was going to take Willy’s birthday that it was a joke.” Willy understands that now. But he didn’t at the time. This wasn’t a metaphor he was prepared to interpret. This wasn’t anything he was prepared to interpret.

My question was, “How could I have prepared him for this? What can I do so he gets it?”

The counselor told us that there would be things in life that Willy didn’t get at the time. The key was to prepare him to handle those things, even when he doesn’t get them. So, we talked together about what he could have done. Then, the two of them talked about what Willy could do in the future.

Willy doesn’t need to get practical jokes while he’s in them. He just needs to know that he can walk away, even when it’s a teacher, and get help from someone else.

Wisconsin’s Teacher Protests: What the Protests are NOT About

  • Posted on February 26, 2011 at 3:07 AM

Earlier this week, I wrote about the protests in Wisconsin that hit the national news feeds so hard.  It was the kind of political post that I try to stay away from on this blog.  However, I felt it necessary to post about what the protest were about, before I posted about what the protests were NOT about.

In the United States, we spend more to educate consumers about what products to buy than we spend to educate our children.  This fact provides a disturbing illustration of US priorities when it comes to education.  We do not pay teachers enough to hire and retain the high quality teachers our children deserve.  We do not devote enough resources to providing our children with the high quality learning environments they deserve.  We do not devote enough resources to develop the best methodologies for teaching our children, nor do we train our teachers in the existing best practices as our children deserve.

Imagine if parents, teachers, school administrators, and community leaders protested our country low prioritization of education.  Imagine if it happened in just one state.  The way the protests in Madison have spread, we could raise awareness to new heights.  Instead, teachers protest over their union rights, their pay raises, and the amount they must contribute to their benefits packages.  If the protesters in Madison are to be believed, union rights are sacrosanct, but our children’s rights to a high quality education are not.  If teachers have to be let go, if classes have to be shut down, if services for students with disabilities need to be pared back or eliminated—well, that’s fine.  Just don’t touch their union rights. 

Our public schools are in trouble.  Unions do not help the situation.  It seems like nobody is really helping the situation.  Our priorities haven’t changed.  Our country still wants to provide students with an assembly-line style education for as little money as possible.  As much as special education rights represent a dramatic shift from that mentality, that shift has only gone so far.  Too many people argue that special education deprives “real” students of the resources they need.  Providing those “real” students with individualized education isn’t even on the negotiating table.

Why not?  Why aren’t our children our highest priority?  Why is it so easy for education budgets to be attacked?  Why do we, the voting public, tolerate the federal government’s inadequate support for federally mandated education, while our politicians vote for pork barrel spending to buy off their constituents?

I’m a fiscal conservative.  I believe the government should live within a balanced budget.  But I also believe that our spending priorities have to benefit the people—not just some special interest groups, but all the people—first and foremost.  Few things satisfy that priority like providing our children with a high quality education.  But that isn’t our priority because the voting public, the protesters, and the lobbyists do not make it a priority—so our elected politicians do not have to either.

There are a lot of things worthy of protest.  There are a lot of things that are worth my time and energy.  Protecting union rights are not.  Once upon a time, when workers were systematically abused by their employers and unions fought against those abuses, the unions were worth fighting for.  Now unions are a political force unto themselves, answerable first and foremost to themselves, and then to the workers they represent.  Like any other special interest group limiting information or disseminating misinformation is their stock and trade, a means of influencing their base, and they are good at it.

The irony is that if our present day workers—including the college-educated teachers who are currently teaching our kids—had a better education, then these tactics wouldn’t work nearly so well.  But, that’s not really ironic at all.  It’s the whole point.  Why would decision makers provide their constituents with a high quality education when doing so would require them to meet higher standards of political discourse and legislative action?  It’d be like shooting themselves in the foot.