Jose VilsonEducation, Jose6 Comments

Dear disciplinarians and other enforcers within our school communities,

Please note: you’re trying to keep kids in school, not keep them out of it.

Let me first admit my own biases in this topic, of which I have a couple. As a teacher, I readily admit that I can reasonably reach 90% of my given class, given that my classes aren’t considered “magnet” or “gifted and talented” by most academic measures. I tend to get the classes people forget, the ones that have to fend for themselves in the swarm of adult confusion, the ones that no one human being can nurture at one time. The other 10% simply fall through the cracks for reasons I haven’t comprehended yet. I always blame myself, but it could be an issue between us.

There’s a difference between a child being my student and being someone’s child.

While it’s true that academically, I have to seek ways to motivate them (some I nudge harder than others), I don’t interact with students to embarrass them or show them I’m the top dog. That’s what scares me about some of the people I see and hear schooling our children. They think that just because they have a certain title or station in life that they can talk to kids a certain way.

Let me take this one step further: you’re not in the business of prepping kids for jail time. When you antagonize students just to get them out of the school and threatening to call police, you’re asking for them to self-identify as criminals. When you give a child a huge punishment for a minor offense, you’re telling them that schools and thus life can’t be fair. When you yell at a child in the middle of a test or quiz while disrupting everyone else from When you even give a look to a child for no real basis trying to initiate a reaction, you’re telling them that they have to be on the defensive at all times, even in a supposedly safe environment.

I won’t even get into the topic of metal detectors here, but looking at a child and instinctively pushing him towards jail does you no favors.

Instead, try pulling a student aside without the humiliation of everyone else knowing. Try getting to know the kids that do well, volunteer a lot, and try hard in their studies. Try working with adults in the building who do have a good relationship with the child and, wherever possible, emulate those behaviors. If the teacher constantly sends someone to you who you know can do better, see if the child needs help adjusting to that classroom or give the teacher some management tips for that child.

On my end, it’s great to have another adult who helps enforce things like uniform policy and excessively disruptive behavior, but I know I have to deal with the majority of it on my own. I also don’t think I need to send students out of the classroom when my primary purpose in the building is to ensure that my children learn. I couldn’t care less whether the student has on shorts and a durag or a three-piece suit, I will teach him or her.

Because as hard as I try to push my students, they understand I’m a teacher, not a prison guard. It’s also why I advocate for rehabilitation of prisoners, not severe punishment. Same with our kids.

Provoke change in the system.

Jose, who kept it way real …

Comments 6

  1. I worked for three years with Seymour Papert in creating an alternative multi-age, interdisciplinary, project-based alternative learning environment for severely at-risk kids in a deeply troubled prison for teens.

    We were not only willing to treat the kids like “someone’s child,” but also free to change everything in order to put their needs, passion, curiosity, talents and expertise ahead of some arbitrary curriculum. Not only did the kids continue to amaze us with their ingenuity, intellect and creativity, but in three years not a single child ever had to leave our classroom for discipline reasons – not once!

  2. Thanks for addressing this. I don’t think people understand how many opportunities – educational and otherwise – are lost once a person finds themselves caught up in the criminal justice system. The punitive philosophy of education and criminal justice needs to stop, allowing for a contextualized understanding of the issue. Until then, you’re right to point out that personal connections are what we need most.

    I recently did some research while tutoring in a GED/ABE class at a local jail. The teacher (not certified, but definitely a teacher nonetheless) is open-minded and a lover of Freire. She noted how frustrated she is that inmates are provided no choices/autonomy at the same time the jail is punishing them for not making good choices and are trying to “rehabilitate” them. This is why she lets them choose what they want to work on in class, let’s them get their own headphones for the computers, respects them. She demonstrates a level of trust that can be really important as student inmates gain agency of their learning and lives.

  3. Pingback: OTR Links 06/02/2012 | doug – off the record

  4. Post

    Everyone, thank you for your comments.

    Renee, that means a lot from you. Thank you.

    Gary, I’d love to hear more about that.

    Diana, rehabilitation is so understated when it comes to prison mentality. I try to use it whenever I talk about prisons, but now it seems we need to integrate it into school talk, too.

  5. I love what you said. I have taught in an urban school for five years, and wouldn’t teach anywhere else. There are so many teachers that treat the students harshly and are unjust.

    On another not, what are your thoughts on the term “at risk”? I personally detest that label. It’s just educational jargon for “We think these kids are going to fail. We don’t think these kids are worth it.” Like you, I’ve had the toughest classes, and have managed to have 90% of them find success. What if, as educators, we didn’t label kids and just gave each one what they need to be successful?

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