Friday, March 25, 2011

 

The Girl Discovers Injustice

The Girl was terribly upset last night. I asked her why.

TG: The entire first grade had to miss recess!

DD: Why?

TG: Because some girls were forming clubs to keep other girls out.

DD: Did you?

TG: Daddy, no! That would be mean!

DD: That’s true.

TG: So how come I got punished, too? How come they punish the good kids too?

Honestly, I’ve wondered the same thing. Here’s how I answered it in the moment.

DD: Well, I think maybe they were hoping that the good kids would get mad at the bad kids, and that the bad kids would know it, and so the bad kids would stop because they didn’t want the good kids to get mad at them.

TG: But I’m mad at the teachers! They should just punish the bad kids, and let the rest of us have recess!

Exactly.

TG is a great kid, and she actually thinks of others. (“That would be mean!”) But it’s only starting to dawn on her that sometimes, adults have blind spots. Sometimes the teachers won’t bother to try to suss out who did what, and will resort instead to blunt, clumsy collective justice. When that happens, and you’re actually toeing the line, you can start to feel like there’s no point; if you’ll just get in trouble anyway, why make the extra effort to be good? It’s frustrating, but worse than that, it’s demoralizing.

This will happen again. One of the frustrations of growing up is realizing that the people you’ve trusted to fulfill certain roles are just people. Sometimes the bastards win and the noble lose. Sometimes you’re the only one who knows you were good.

I empathized with TG, but couldn’t do more than that. Being right-but-wronged is part of life.

As a parent, I’m torn. I’m glad that her world has led her to expect fairness as normal. And I remember that same frustration, and how discouraging it was. But at some level, I want her to keep expecting fairness, and to keep feeling that frustration, as hard as it is. That frustration leads to action, and to change. In a way, it’s a source of hope. As hard as it is to see her upset, I’d be more worried if she were just resigned.

The Girl has discovered injustice. Injustice doesn’t know what it’s in for.

Comments:
When that happens, and you’re actually toeing the line, you can start to feel like there’s no point; if you’ll just get in trouble anyway, why make the extra effort to be good? It’s frustrating, but worse than that, it’s demoralizing.

You've just described working as a teacher, mate. Working 60 hours a week doing your job, being called lazy by the politicians and the media, being blamed by parents for what another teacher did…
 
Yes, the punish the many for the deeds of the few approach sucks as a kid, especially when recess is in the balance. It sucks even more as an adult when your boss uses that approach to manage instead of working together for a compromise.

Good for TG on seeing the injustice and not forming groups. A credit to you and your wife.
 
Maybe the teacher was trying to figure out who was causing the problem? I only wish when I was in a public school classroom that I always knew who instigated problems. Sometimes it takes longer than you would like. It's also a way, as you told TG, to help support the good ones on putting pressure on the "bad" ones. Isn't that how larger society ends up working anyway?

Most importantly, kudos to your daughter for understanding that excluding others mostly hurts you.
 
I love TG. She rocks!
 
Not just injustice. TG is a bright kid, I wouldn't be surprised if she already knew about that. But this is *injustice masquerading as justice*... and that always stings.

I can still remember days of being kept in from recess because of something a few bad kids did. I remember how bloody personally I took all the angry yelling at the whole class of kids (even when I knew perfectly well I hadn't done anything, the fact that there was an angry adult yelling in my direction was enough to set me off). I was a hypersensitive kid, and maybe I was an exception. But given how strangely intensely the memories come back... it may be worthwhile to discuss with the teacher why they wanted to do what they did. I've never had to manage a class of kids, maybe they find this actually does work for something.

Still, I can't help feeling... You can't make kids be friendly to each other at recess.
But you can kill kids' trust in authority figures. After all, the girls that were being excluded from the clubs were also kept in from recess. And they are now known as the ones that 'told' and are thus (in kidlogic) 'responsible' for everyone having to stay in. TG may lay the blame where it belongs (with the teachers), but not all the kids will.
 
I’m glad that her world has led her to expect fairness as normal. And I remember that same frustration, and how discouraging it was. But at some level, I want her to keep expecting fairness, and to keep feeling that frustration, as hard as it is. That frustration leads to action, and to change.

It leads to action and change? Where? Hmm ... best if you guide her away from academia, I'd say.
 
Wow. How does fairness come into this at all? America has become individualistic to a fault. We are a collective society. Sometimes the actions of a few DO affect others. The "innocent" (for lack of a better word) have a responsibility to call out their peers for misbehavior that affects the group. And it's the teacher's and/or parent's role to instruct children on that point. We are all connected. We sink or swim together. Those who don't confront their peers (as you suspect the teacher hoped they would do) when they witness behavior that might affect others bear at least some of the responsibility for the consequences. You can choose to accept that responsibility or not. But if it's frustrating or demoralizing when you're being good, yet find yourself in trouble because of someone else's actions, you are still in that trouble because YOU failed to do the right thing. When you fail to do the right thing, frustration and demoralization are appropriate feelings to have.

It's almost kind of funny. The girls are being punished for forming groups to exclude others. DD thinks it would be mean to do that. Yet she's wishing she were excluded from that group now. I guess it isn't always so mean.
 
Have a look at this, and remind me again why we don't need tenure:

http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/24/open-records-attack-on-academic-freedom/
 
Wow.
 
This is elementary school "politics". The kids will think the teacher is "mean", but the next time they hear of an "exclusive" anything, they will "snitch" or tell the "exclusive" group to stop because they will recognize that the "exclusive" group will cause the teacher to be "mean" again.

This isn't something grownups need to be involved in at all except to listen to the venting - unless the teacher uses this technique weekly or monthly for classroom management.

What TG has seen is someone (teacher) using her positional power to condemn certain behavior and institute unfair sanctions/consequences for the behavior. Whether TG learns that idea from the situation depends on where she is in her social/moral development. Right now she may just think the teacher is "mean" and the "exclusive" group causes trouble. But I will emphasize again - it is part of growing up.

Her indignation is to be commended. So is your willingness to just listen to her vent. Kudos to you and TW for TG feeling comfortable with her parents to vent and negatively label a behavior which hurts others.
 
Speaking from experience as one of the 'good' kids, if I would have tried to tell the 'bad' kids what to do, I probably would have gotten my lights punched out.

Just sayin'.

If there's never a reward for good behavior, only blanket punishment for bad behavior, the incentive to be good kind of goes away . . .
 
Am surprised no-one has commented on the fact that recess is actually an important part of the kids day.

Brought to mind this excellent article by Jolisa Gracewood - comparing her Boston area school to what she grew up with in New Zealand.

http://publicaddress.net/busytown/testing-1-2-3
 
Over here in England the schools are just as bad. The "disruptive elements" get singled out and get rewarded for not being "bad" but if you good all the time no reward. So what are we teaching out children... Crime pays?
 
The correct answer to TG is that rules set by administrators with school-wide responsibilities like yours forbid unsupervised recess, and that there are very good reasons for this. When I was in first grade, the only time we could leave the classroom unsupervised was for lunch and at the end of the day.

The school might not have a spare teacher who could supervise the "bad" kids while the "good" ones had recess.
 
Anonymous@10:15AM -

Tenure won't protect you if you use State resources in violation of the law. The intimidation tactics of Fascists of any political persuasion are less important than the fact that the author of that article had always been careful to keep his work and private activities separate.

His only mistake was not putting "NSA bait" (key words like Communist or Republican that might be picked up by NSA filters or a records request) in the .signature file for EVERY e-mail he sends.
 
What a fantastic post. Thanks.
 
CCPhysicist missing forest for trees: I don't disagree with your particulars.

My point is that tenure is one of the few protections academics have against the witch-hunts that are becoming a permanent feature of our political landscape.

Mark my words: Before this over, Professor Cronon will need his union, his tenure, and all his high-profile academic friends to keep his job. Just to keep his job.

Tell me that's not fucked.
 
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