He spends a good bit of his day in a behavior classroom at school. He’s done well at times and had more classes out with the general student population only to screw up again and get pulled back into the behavior classroom. And the teachers who have worked with him have been really great. He’s gotten in fights. He’s stolen things from teachers, he’s told them to fuck off…it’s a long list…but they have continued to work with him and for that I’m grateful.
Yesterday he was in FCS class. Don’t ask me what FCS means. I’ve asked him several times and every time he’s told me I forget because the acronym is so bland an meaningless I slips out of my head like oil. For those of you from my generation, it’s basically Home Economics, as far as I can tell.
I guess they were somehow talking about foods yesterday and cereal in particular. Coleton pipes up with the humorous factoid that cereal was in part created as a larger anti-masturbation therapy by the Kellogg Brothers. I told him this. Now, he didn’t have all the facts at his fingertips and I’ll stipulate that he probably did it to get a giggle, but the result of his comments was a reprimand and being marked down on his behavior report for the day.
My problem is this: Coleton has behavior problems, yes. But he also has learning challenges, not least of which he’s behind most students in achievement and his test scores show it. He acts out and seeks attention because he’s uncomfortable and embarrassed. He’s older than everyone else in the 8th grade, but he’s below grade level in almost every subject.
His comment in class yesterday was an opportunity for his teachers. Instead if marking him down for behavior (or maybe in addition to) the teacher could have dug deeper into Coleton’s comment, found the kernel of truth in it and provided the whole class with a chance to learn some real history in context and turn the whole thing into a positive for all the students, but especially Coleton. He could really use a few moments where he can feel like he adds to the conversation.
The behavior kids have a very specific day-to-day. Kids walk around all day getting checks on point sheets to prove they didn’t act out in each class. At the end of the day, they fill out a DCS Report (again, I have no clue what DCS stands for). The DCS details all the good and bad for the child that day. The parents sign the form and the whole process repeats. I’ve often thought that “DCS Report” was way too close to the “TPS Report” from the film Office Space. They overall utility seems about the same. I understand the purpose of the system. It helps kids like Coleton learn to be accountable for their behaviors. But used without interrogation or awareness, they’re just another tool the schools are using to beat kids into submission.
Was it OK for Coleton to mention masturbation in class? I say yes. Should he have done so in a mature way? Again, yes. Did he do that? Probably not. But here’s the thing: the likelihood of Coleton making it through high school successfully at this point seem very slim. That he shared any information above and beyond the stultifying curriculum should have garnered two responses. One, if he shared it to get attention, he should have been redirected. But two, he should have also been encouraged for participating and the information should have been interrogated and explored. That’s how students learn. That’s how teachers teach.
I have nothing but respect for teachers, especially the ones who have to work with Coleton, but in this case he was the victim of a failure to educate. He had something to offer, no matter how misguided, and he got his hand slapped for it. It makes me wonder are we educating our kids to be compliant and to only offer the pre-ordained correct answers, or are we truly seeking to create inquisitive life-long learners? The job if the teacher is a hard one, but it also requires heightened vigilance. When teachers lose their curiosity and courage, students learn a lesson we don’t intend to teach.