Saturday, February 03, 2007

Basketball, Learn If You Want, and Nicknames

I suspend the three best players on the basketball team for repeatedly missing practices and games (games! the actual games!), cutting school, copying homework, and acting like fools on the court. We get summarily creamed in the next four games and limp into the final game against a team we creamed back before the suspensions. The boys step up, play well, and we win. Warm fuzzies abound. Back at school E. comes storming into my classroom:

"How come you never play me?"
"Who wants to play the last three minutes?"
"Why'd I do all this if I wasn't going to play?"
"I shoulda done what those other guys did. I shoulda quit."

And then this kid, who has skipped four practices and moreover refused to go into the game as a defensive replacement in the 4th quarter while we're leading by six, this kid throws his uniform bag at my feet.

  

The former students return from the Monolithic High School (MHS), using their final exam free time to bring tension with their ambiguous motives, disappointment with their red and blue garb, disgust with their tales of nonchalant under-performance.

"Do kids ever come back saying their doing well?" asks a teacher from our Masters team. "All I hear is how they're failing p.e. with their little grins like it's cute."

I think of A. who's really doing it, and G., who's really not, and then decide that most kids reside somewhere in the middle of these extremes, but are still gravitating toward the underperforming side of the equation. I'm thinking it's because the educators at Monolithic High School so thoroughly embrace the ideology of the Learn If You Want To (LIYWT). I think they provide teenagers with a damaging amount of autonomy and responsibility, perhaps because they lack the capability, or at least the will, to do otherwise. I think they also understand which portion of their student community brings need and challenge (ours) and which portion of the student community upholds the API score (not-ours), and I think expectations are correspondingly low -- that kind of bigotry that is, contrary to famous utterances, nothing but hard and crushing.

  

There's this kid in my class who really needs a nickname. It's not that there's something wrong with his current name -- it doesn't sound like a bad sound your body makes, nor does it rhyme with an internal organ -- but it nevertheless cries out for nicknaming. Because I am a solver of problems big and small, I stepped up and developed three nicknames for this young man, all based on the phonetics of his original and current name, all increasing tremendous. Because I am magnanimous, I allowed him to choose his favorite. Because he is an ingrate and lacking in sound judgment, the kid rejected every single one. Soundly rejected, I should add, in such a way that I am stopped from going forward and just installing the nickname of my choice, as I have in the past.

Everytime I call on him I want to use one of the nicknames I created, especially the last one, which simply lops off the first syllable in his last name -- a truly elegant stroke -- but it's clear he doesn't like any of this. I wish I had a BTSA advisor to help me because I really don't know what to do.

More 2.15.07
A new student arrived today, a young lady with the female equivalent of our ungrateful friend's name. The difference is, in the parlance of the Spanish language, reduced to a mere letter, which is already causing some snickers. By 6th period, our young friend said, "I think it's time for that nickname now."

No chance, buddy. Live with the pain.

  

Somehow, I find myself invited to Facing Violence, Justice, Religion, and Conflict Resolution: World Forum 2007, featuring big name speakers like Elie Wiesel and Madeline Albright. At this three day affair I listened to a lot of world music, looked at many mood-creating slide shows, and experienced hours of how-we-will-discuss-the-issues protocols. Lot's of good, well-meaning people just all over the place with their comments, with their goals, with why they're here. We're endlessly invited to question, to drop into ourselves, to dialog, and to learn. I've never been around a group more prickly about the critical differences between dialog, debate, discussion, diplomacy, diatribe, and discourse.

And I'm bad at this. I'm not good at constantly meeting new people, which is required, and feel by the end of the second day like I've been on about 37 first dates, when we all know the good stuff starts kicking around the third date. I'm not so good at dropping a 2-minute reflection on the nature of inherent violence, not so good at learning from the personal reflections of others, not so good at being inspired by indigenous wind instruments. Where folks find the energy to endlessly mine their inner horizons I just don't know (says the guy with a million words of blog posts).

Listening to the famous people was nice, but I think I'd rather be teaching.

  

Masters program update:

[√ ] lack of content organization
[√ ] belaboring of small points
[√ ] disjointed course work
[ ] elevation of jargon over skill
[√ ] permanent residence in the Baltic Avenue of Bloom's Hierarchy
[ ] general awkwardness

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