Elemental questions

Look at these questions (I’ve deleted names in case people don’t want to be associated with my blog but you know who you are…. the comments come from a listserv for fl teachers)……….

> Don’t we have enough reason for them come to the class on time? Aren’t we convincing enough for them to come to the school. Why do we need reward?
> Is the system that they don’t like? What makes them to be late. Do we have some gaps in the system?
> Aren’t they in love with the school? If they are not , why?
> What make them reluctant to come to the school or be late? Are we trying hard to be cute as a school or the system?
> Why don’t we detail the reasons instead of saying tardy is tardy?
> Why they are late? What is the background of being late?
> I have more questions as soon as I get the answers for those…..

The above questions came in response to the following post…………….

> so let me understand, we’re REWARDING them for coming to class on time?

Which in turn came in response to a post by the first author:
> Creating a machine out of a student is a difficult procedure. We almost forget that they are little human beings. They are late for the class because their parents are running late.
> Why don’t we create a system to grade their parents? Grade is a grade whether they are machine of human being… Interestingly very young ones.
> If the system becomes more machinery, tardiness will increase.>>>>

The question asker raises essential, fundamental questions. Her wording, betraying a foreign background, protrudes the elemental humanity of our students. Who are they? Why are they here? What supports their presence? What is the teacher’s role in that, the school’s role?
Note the response OMG we’re rewarding them for being on time…. as if no books, no studies have ever been written of the differing ways of handling time. It isn’t just cultural, it is also based on class. The OMG poster assumes that everyone shares his values, so when he is late, he is being so deliberately in definance of expectations. He assumes that is true of his students.

The question asker, OTOH, assumes our students start out first as human beings, in all our variety. She wants answers to those elemental questions she asks. But those answers may be dangerous. They may force teachers to seriously ask themselves what they are doing that would cause anyone to want to be in their presence. Teachers speak in a religious context of being in service to others yet scorn the idea of service to youngsters.

Remember the student rebellion at California universities in 1963, before the Viet Nam War grew into a strangling octopus and before the draft? What did students rebel against? Against being groomed as cogs in the corporate machines. Two years ago most Americans would scoff at such “hippie” notions; after all, what could be better than working for Lehman Bro., Bro? But now? Maybe not so good, esp if you lost your job or home as a result of the big money boys playing fast and loose with your mortgage and your bank and your very home, your job…….. oh, and your health insurance.

So to me, it’s simple. To dismiss Tara’s questions as not quite appropriate for our times b/c “we all know” how important it is to be on time is to miss her point: important to who(m)? And what does being on time accomplish? Oh, the student might miss something important? What? The teacher is so on a roll that he cannot talk with the tardy student to let him know what is going on? The tardy student missed something and that something is so crucial he MUST “make it up”? Really?

From what I see, we play some silly games, as in, “I’ll pretend to teach if you pretend to learn.” The student quickly realizes that he is valued for being on time, turning in all assigned work, and cramming for tests. The teacher realized a long time ago that he was valued for his ability to design tough tests and get grades in on time.

Under that kind of pressure, year after year, teachers find little ways, like water curling and furling, roiling and boiling, finding its own way, to indulge their pleasures. They may be sports or academic success or intellectual endeavor or artistic talent…. whatever they are, some students profit from it, getting the extra attention, the quick, almost conspiratorial smile, the pat on the back. We do find ways, not of rewarding but of consolidating with students. Bonding, a word that has lost its meaning in all our contemporary irony, makes us human, not rewards.

Some students find bonding in school, others don’t. I think that’s what the question asker is getting at. Khorosho sdelanno.

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