Vera, Vera, my little gawky bird. Six-year-old Vera, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), knew how to play the power game. She entered and said the Pledge in a monotone, (I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. One nation under God - explained your God or no God- 'Americanish'. Our little community was explained over time.) checked her 'To Do' list with a disgruntled, "I don't do subtraction." She pretended to enjoy the computer, sat quietly appearing not wanting to be seen, worked until asked to change to a subject of her choice, but controlled the environment.
It was time to have her interact with another person. Harold was my chosen 'victim':) He was excited about reading "The Little Red Hen". Vera did not want to read, let alone with a boy, so I sat between them as Harold's page-turner. "Vera," I directed, "We will make your first oral reading easy. Your job will be to read 'the' as silly as you want every time Harold points to it." He cheerfully read. I praised his word sounding-out skills. About the third page, Vera whispered in my ear, "If you make me read one more 'the', I will stick my tongue so far down your throat that it will hurt." (Remember, she is only six years old.)
I spoke not a word, calmly helped her off her chair, nodded toward the door while making eye contact with my assistant who escorted Vera out the door. Perplexed by my silence, Vera walked out, sat on the chair and watched me through the window as I mutely went back to turning pages for Harold. At the end of the story, I walked to the door to talk with Vera and her nurse. Vera had realized she had forfeited the game of school with inappropriate language. If she could resolve to play the "game of school life" she would be allowed to re-enter; otherwise she would stay outside the door. She was given a laminated pictorial paper for problem solving. I explained that in Dr.K's classroom we practiced school manners and learned new skills through cooperation and sharing. This teacher likes to teach.
Vera was welcome anytime to learn her academic subjects with minimal interaction with other students, but that no interaction was unacceptable. In a half-hour she decided she would whisper new (acceptable) words when working and talking with other students, and tell me when she was tired of reading. (Paul Galdone's "The Little Red Hen" , also, showed what happens to 'lazy' little girls and boys with the "Not I' said the cat, "Not I" said the dog, and "Not I" said the mouse. "He that does not work, neither shall he eat" is hard to swallow.)
Silent discourse with respect was silently felt by Vera. (Minnesota Civility Project, Civil
Discourse) supported me all these years. Change had begun.
Freedom, Independence, and Responsibility: my mantra for the Fourth of July with emphasis on responsibility for the citizens of the United States of America. The World Cup Uruguayan coach, Oscar Tabarez, this week's quote concerning character taught to his young citizens and winning team, "A young talent should train and prepare for life's challenges, character, and win the World Cup. Behavior; no fouls, no bad conduct, and whatever happens, no back talk to referees."(Wall Street Journal, July, 2018). Yeah, to another teacher and coach like me.
Clyde, Clyde, Clyde you missed on all three counts. The young 12 year old student with the insincere, morally meaningless apologies such as, "Oh, I'm sorry." (NOT, said I to myself) Clyde had entered our psyche unit because he had attacked a boy in the final round of a history competition. Apparently, the other boy had laughed at Clyde when he placed second. Clyde had run up the aisle and assaulted the boy. His father had had difficulty pulling him off the other boy. The final insult to Clyde; his best friend placed first, earning a position on the state team.
Clyde's psyche report, disjointed thinking impaired Clyde's seeing the 'big picture' as shown on his psychiatric evaluations. I lamented over visualizing his early childhood. He showed mixed-hand dominance and significantly impaired fine motor speed coordination for both right and left. (I am guessing, coloring, cutting, and pasting were too childish for him. There are few substitutes for teaching fine motor skills in the classroom). Clyde had been 'over-adultized'. He even insisted on reading Time magazine, although Kid's Time was available.
Clyde's parents had instructed him in a 'modernized Puritanical fashion'. He habitually walked with his neck angled at 45 degrees or more. They rigidly insisted that he look them in the eye when he was being spoken to; therefore, the inclination of his head to avert a lecture. Only , in our classroom did he relax his neck. By the second day the angle of his head improved measurably. He used me as a 'sounding board' ti bring up topics for discussion his situation without naming names. He gave his opinion concerning parents that act "too good". He said, "They made then go to church, made them join, and participate in church functions, even as an accolade". (Note the confusion with pronouns and acolytes.) His parents impressed on him that "getting good grades, getting ahead and getting into the best schools". Goodness, the "getting" for whom?
Since Clyde and Mark's, another student, viewpoints of society and parental control differed entirely, I began their social study's reading: America Will BE (1994) Chapter 8 "Life in New England." They were to debate issues concerning children's strict discipline. They both used decisive arguments for and against:
Puritan children were being treated like miniature adults,
Not healthy to work so hard at age six
Children wonder about things so they need to explore
They are not 'full of sin, as full as a toad in of poison'
Spanking might stop laziness but would increase disrespect, (the word respect was prominently in my classroom)
It is hard to love or honor adults who believe that
'Better whipped than damned by the devil' - who is the devil anyway?
Clyde took the Puritan view in the debate since his favorite book was the New Testament. You should have seen the utterly incredulous looks when I asked them to change sides in the debate. A row almost ensued, but computer time was used as an intervention. Threats and name-calling were disallowed. This was not about right or wrong, but strong defense of points of view. A minuscule beginning had begun for Clyde.
For the next day's assignment they would discuss, 'Two Views of Nature' as a Puritan and an Algonquin over putting up fences. Puritan's (immigrants) fenced in their crops and allowed their pigs and cows to roam freely. Native Americans fenced in their animals but not their crops. The Puritans' animals were eating the natives crops.
Educating them was my best defense against losing freedom of expression. Passion without punching. Maintaining civil discourse, incivility especially invective to deliberately provoke not allowed. (trolling- Googles word).
Independent thinking with responsible behaviors.
Two Perspectives, two Perceptions. Hmmm Immigrants?
Happy Fourth of July US of A!
Kaye is a teacher and author of multiple works including Valerie Valentine Visits Vincent Vampire