Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Mine Field

         I wrote the following post a few months ago. I left it unpublished because I thought it was too angry….to cynical. I’m not an angry or cynical man. But sometimes you need to rant. Tomorrow I will be more caring and forgiving. Tomorrow I will seek to understand why people arrive at their own cruelty, and hopefully recognize that it is the product of their own, very real, pain. But today……..today I will rant.

The Mine Field
         It’s all mine fields. Every step I take as an educator is just another step towards KaBoom.  It’s because we demonize each other and are our humanity. We take every opportunity to beat each other down. When a teacher reveals that they don’t know everything, Kaboom. When teachers don’t have expedient solutions to a bullying crisis, KaBoom. When a teacher turns out to be a human being, KABOOM! Maybe you think I’m being too cynical?
         If so, let’s do an experiment. Imagine you are a parent of a second grader. Your angel comes home and says, “Mr. Smith said the word shit today!”. Do you-
A). Write an Op-Ed piece in the N.Y. Times denouncing the educational system.
B). Start a petition going in order to get Mr. Smith fired.
C). Call the principal right away demanding that your angel be removed from Mr. Smith’s class and threaten to sue the school if the demands are not met.
D). Ask your child for more information, in order to place the event in context.

         Let’s be honest here, if you live in the privileged suburbs surrounding Boston you know that “D” is a rare event. That response is relegated to those who spend their lives in the company of children and who know intimately how quickly those innocent little people can manufacture an “oh shit” moment. You might find out that in the case of our unfortunate Mr. Smith, little Joey turned around really quickly after doing his job as the pencil sharpening monitor for the day and accidentally embedded some graphite into Mr. Smith’s posterior. Luckily for Mr. Smith, he had his back to Joey. This was because he was comforting Lucy, who had accidentally ruined her best friends dress by projectile vomiting the mystery meat served in the cafeteria earlier that day. At least Mr. Smith was prepared for this. You see the kids had been dropping like flies all week and Mr. Smith was a veteran teacher. He has a stash of emergency clothes and disinfectant wipes (that he purchased with his own meager salary, because the school system won’t pay for such things). Still, Mr. Smith might not have uttered the offensive syllable had not the chain reaction of illness begun. One sick child and an inadvertent impaling really isn’t enough to rattle a seasoned teacher. But…. three simultaneous evacuations of the digestive system just as the alarm for a fire drill sounds. Well, that might produce a slip of the tongue.
         Thank god for the ever vigilant helicopter mom who, upon hearing her child utter the very same syllable she learned from Mr. Smith (yeah, right!! Dad is a Red Sox fan!!!), the stay at home Mom with a full time nanny had the presence of mind to inquire a little bit more about the events and felt pangs of sympathy for the dedicated educator. Not a chance.
         Forgive me, but I’ve come to my cynicism honestly. It is so rare that I see folks function with compassion and empathy. We are so reactionary, so quick to blame and demonize. The act of refraining from a judgment or asking a follow up question is intrinsically compassionate. What really gets to me is that inevitably it is the most privileged among us who are so devoid of empathy and compassion?
          It seems that the most virulent attacks come from those parents who feel overwhelmed by a play date involving more than two children. These very same parents feel free to criticize a teacher who regularly handles 24 children with confidence. Likewise, administrators whom have never taught in a subject area feel free to criticize a lesson plan informed by nothing more that a loose understanding of the content.
         It all adds up to one big mine field, just waiting for us educators to be slight less than perfect. Then ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,you guessed it, KABOOM