Who’s The Savage?

Jose Vilson 12 Comments

Police LineThis kid in my school’s about 5’10, Black Latino, raspy voice, and a good 225-235 pounds easily. The first time I ever observed him, I knew he was public enemy #1 in school. Something about hanging out in front of the AP’s office tipped me off early. In my usual cavalier fashion, I nodded my head at him, and said, “Good morning, sir.” He replied with a “Good morning.” Everytime I see him in the hallway, I give him a salute, not knowing from whence he came, but I always knew where he was headed to. I’ve been told everything from “He’s a troublemaker” to “He’s the reason why the class didn’t come down quietly, and why we’ve been here 10-15 minutes past homeroom.”

Yet, something about keeping the pulse on the floor’s most vilified children lets me know how to approach them this year. These weren’t nasty kids like I’ve had before. The ones I’ve had before were often heartless and defiant. The kid I’m talking about wasn’t even given proper footing into the world. His mom’s in an unhealthy occupation, and his classmates found out about it before his teachers did. Naturally when his teachers found out, they laughed. He gets picked on for his height, his girth, his speech, and his home situation.

What’s a kid to do but rebel? He’s constantly calling attention to himself, singing some annoying rap song or making fart noises. He throws spit balls to others, and sometimes plays rough with the other boys in his class. So what do teachers do in response? They send him to the office, outsourcing their discipline to the APs, which works to his advantage because 1) he’s not in class with his peers, and 2) he’s getting special and individual attention, something he’s been grabbing for since he was labeled. Yet, it doesn’t work because I still pass by him in the hallway, hoping he’d just get a chance to get back into class.

It was to everyone’s shock and awe that he became part of my mandated after-school program. He apparently needed help with math, among other things. From the first day, I talked to him civilly, but I laid down the law. I didn’t treat him like an animal, and helped him clarify his own questions about the problems he was given during that time period. After one sample of what could be in store for him, he begged the AP to let him into my class.

I didn’t have a comment either way. I just know that the impression every teacher who’s had him was different from the respectful and courteous kid I got in my program, in the hallway, and in front of the office. Maybe it has a lot to do with some connection of being a young Black Latino male, but I know another teacher who’s had him that’s a young White woman, and she never had issues with them.

This comes with reading Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol and reading research that shows when you talk to mentally “disabled” children like normal people, after a couple of years, they become cured of those illnesses. Is it possible for us to label a kid just because they look like a certain type, or because they come from a rough background?

I understand that, dreadfully, not every child can be saved from the factors to contribute to their eventual product. But someone has to speak up about the continual cases of urban children treated with “ADD” and other sorts of environment-influenced illnesses. These are the children who school officials basically funnel into the prison industrial complex, who people don’t give much of an option to when it comes to jobs and schooling, who turn to more high-risk occupations in the face of rejection from a society that implicitly prompt these disasters to happen.

When I first heard of the child’s background, I didn’t laugh. I somberly nodded. It was the same scenes I’ve seen so frequently in my neighborhood, but now I have a chance to affect the situation a little …

jose, who found the image on post secrets, and is still utterly creeped out by it …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 12

  1. Dan Meyer

    “Outsourcing discipline” is a really great descriptor. Man do I wish someone would’ve defined successful discipline for me as “the kind that stays in the classroom” way back when.

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    Jose

    yeah, me too. i didn’t understand everything i was doing until i did some serious reflection about my own practices. now I don’t even want to see a kid leave my classroom for any disciplinary reason. that’s a death knell for real.

  3. Ms. Whatsit

    Teaching is so much more complex than it would seem on the surface. Sometimes a kid just needs a little (or a lot) of love, respect, and perspective outside of the home life in which they are trapped.

    Good luck with him.

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  5. LuzMaria

    Sending children to the dean’s office and the AP’s office often alleviates he burden of trying to figure out what some students might actually need. Having taught sixteen boys in a locker room in the back of the gym, I learned that it did not matter if I had thirty-two or ten kids in my classroom, shit always happens. There are times when kids have a bad day, but there is a problem when the same children have a bad day every single day. This is a red flag for a teacher. Do not ignore them but inquire as to how one can somehow reach out to these kids and treat them with respect and care. The young man you described in your post reminds me of the many kids whom have been labeled as “troubled,” “full of problems,” “will never change,” “piece of shit,” and “will become a statistic.” What is even more troublesome, is that these words were said by teachers/educators. We find that many of our children are given a label which scars them. As teachers/educators, we want respect; but let us not forget that respect is earned and it is a two-way street between our kids and ourselves.

    As always, great post Mr. V.

  6. pissedoffteacher

    I always treat my kids the way you treated this one. I pick up “strays” in the halls and the offices and I have had many successes. It is wonderful when parents stop by to say thanks and I have neve even had the kid in my class. It feels good to know you are making a difference. Keep up the good work. The kids need you.

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    Jose

    @ luz: that’s the issue with this child. it’s the same thing over and over, and it just makes me wonder who or what is the problem. when i figured out some of the factors, I knew what was up. teachers and educators sometimes need to remember that classroom management’s a 2-way street.

    @ POT: you’re a lady and a scholar, as a colleague of mine would say. I’m sure at your experience, you have enough of a reputation that you can do that. Well done.

  8. Margaret

    There are some kids that are so damaged that you can’t reach them, but MANY others just need positive attention and respect from a trusted adult. My issue with many people is that children learn how to treat others from us, so if we are impatient, disrespectful and uncaring, we are helping to make them into that kind of person. And that is truly sad.

  9. BK Teaching Fellow

    brother- you are speaking on a lot. i know that kid. the kid who has been jungleized and demonized, left for dead. i think your connection with him and your power to get through to him has everything to do with your willingness to destroy the US vs. THEM mentality by giving the young brother the same amount of respect that you expect from him. afterall, i think most of ‘teaching’ is about respect.. love is there too.. im reading a COLDDDDDDDD lisa delpit article entitled, “Lessons from Teachers” and she breaks down that whole concept.

    respect to you brother.

    peace..

  10. another teacher

    Oh, I am just heartsick that teachers would laugh at this child. That hurts. I’ve done the same as you for a number of students at my school who were quickly labelled as “bad news” and it does make a difference, though that is not to say that we don’t also sometimes butt heads or it keeps them from exhibiting “oppositional-defiant” behavior in my classes. But I’ve always felt that you have a much better chance at actually teaching kids if you treat them like they want to be there and they will do well than if you assume the opposite. I mean, if you are just going to write kids off immediately, then why even bother to come to work?

  11. Pingback: The Jose Vilson » A Synopsis of The Road Less Wanted

  12. Tracy Rosen

    Sounds like you may have been the first adult in this child’s life to greet him with respect.
    It is amazing the power we have with a simple greeting, acknowledging the other person is THERE.

    It opens doors unfathomable.
    tracy

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