What Would You Do? Multiple Perspectives on an Urban Encounter

[This post is a re-blog from here. It’s a conversation among several scholars and activists about an urban encounter, each person was invited to respond. My contribution, along with several others, are included here. More after the jump. ~ Jessie]

We look to our children as promises for the future, to progress beyond previous generations’ limitations, failures and injustices. We recognize and dream about “their world” — the one we’ll live in when we are seniors, the one that embodies some of our wishes and the fruits of our labor and energy. But we also know that for these goals to be reached, there must be a context within which our young people can learn, grow and thrive. We agonize over how we can improve conditions for young Americans whose future is so instrumental to ours, and we worry about kids who seem to be heading in a direction that can undermine those aspirations. THIS WEEK, we have assembled a small panel of thoughtful folks who are thinkers, writers and social justice advocates to discuss a confrontation that Stephen had with three young men who were vandalizing a subway station on Tuesday evening. We offer these perspectives in the spirit (and with the hope) of instigating positive, thoughtful discussion. Stephen’s story is below, followed immediately by Charlton’s response and then the responses of our guests.

Stephen My wife and I were climbing down into the Harrison Red Line subway station in our neighborhood in Chicago when we happened upon three young Black boys — maybe 13 years old — tagging the station walls with spray paint. It was particularly surprising because there are security cameras down there, yet the kids were dancing around and acting as if they didn’t care if anyone saw what they were doing. I thought about it for a second or two and decided to let them know that I saw what they did. Rather than express disappointment or anger (I figured at that age, irrespective of race, they wouldn’t care — I wouldn’t have!), I simply wanted them to know that they were not as quick or careful as they though they were. Even now, I’m not sure if I was trying to scare them or warn them that they could easily be caught, or if I was trying to discourage them from doing it again. In any case, they all denied having done anything wrong, and as we boarded the train, one of the boys stuck his head in the door before it closed, called me some names, and flipped me his middle finger while another boy spray painted on the window of the train as it pulled out of the station. I spent the rest of the night thinking about whether there was anything I could have done to meaningfully intervene in those boys’ lives. Since I am a White ally, I am very conscious about not wanting to be act like, feel like or be perceived as though I need to “save” (Dangerous Minds-style) persons of color. On the other hand, as an adult who wants to see all children succeed and who knows that sometimes getting in trouble is the best thing that can happen to turn someone’s life around, I wonder if I should have tried to call a CTA employee or otherwise “bust” the kids. Further complicating the issue is the fact that with all the youth violence and gang activity in the area, saying anything to kids that age at all — particularly while they are engaging in an illegal act — probably isn’t a particularly smart thing to do. Would I have felt the same or acted in the same way if I were Black (a man or a woman — and would that matter) or if the kids were White? Would the kids have reacted to me differently? Did I act appropriately (do enough, do too much)?

Charlton There’s no easy answer to this question. I suppose like many people my response to what the kids were doing would fluctuate depending on the day, my mood, and my immediate attitude about the actions these youths were engaged in. On one day, no doubt, I’d be apt to say that I would approach them and say something like, “No wonder why some people see kids like you as nothing more than ignorant thugs.” It’s the kind of thing that comes to mind when you are looking at someone from your own racial group reinforcing the dark shadow of prejudice on those of us who have tried so hard to overcome those perceptions. But I’ve also noticed recently that I seem to be getting older. As I do, I find myself distanced from young Black teens not so much because they are Black, but because they are adolescents — adolescents who seem to attempt more today than I would have ever thought possible to get away with when I was their age. And I admit part of me would have stood silently with my wife, not uttering a word to the kids — in fear of their potential volatility and need to remain and keep my loved ones safe from potential harm. If I were wearing my charitable, racially and socially conscious hat that day, I may have spent a moment not only contemplating acting — confronting the young men — but thinking through the implications of my actions. If I report them to the authorities (“authorities” — I feel like I’m in a 1970s Japanese monster film) then these youth will probably be swept into a criminal justice system likely to impact them more negatively than the subway wall they were tagging. So no, don’t report them; they probably deserve a chance that they probably won’t get if the cops get a hold of them.

If I were to say anything — not wanting to incur the wrath of some pent up anger, or send them on a one-way trip through the American criminal and judicial process — I may have just asked them why. “Hey — why are you guys doing this?” I’ve always found that if you ask someone a question he or she will do one of two things. Some will ignore you, and others will answer the question. If they answer the question, you’ve taken the first step to engaging in some form of meaningful dialogue. This, I think, would be the best possible outcome — and opportunity — I could imagine in this situation.

Jessie Daniels The encounter that Stephen describes is a vexing situation for those of us who count ourselves as white allies for racial equality. As he describes the exchange, it is one bound up with white racial privilege (and, one suspects, class privilege). The image of the white professor chastising the young, black grafitti artists (or merely vandals) and their understandably angry response, seems like a reenactment of larger scripts about race and class in the culture. I think it’s also important to bring up the issue of gender and sexuality in the dissecting of this story. If I had been in that situation, and I had seen those young men while I (also a white professor, and a woman) had been with my partner (also a woman), I would not have said anything to a group of adolescent boys – whatever their race – for fear of retaliation that was more aggressive than a raised middle-finger. As a lesbian-identified woman, groups of adolescent boys raise the possibility of a different kind of threat for me. So, for me, the fact that Stephen feels he can call out these young men is completely bound up in his own position of privilege at the intersection of race and class, as well as gender and (hetero)sexuality. If the underlying issue here is about how to intervene in the lives of young, black youth who may have gone astray on the path toward adulthood, full citizenship and participation in the broader society, I would echo what others have said here about community engagement. I wonder if Stephen knew the names of these young men? He doesn’t say, but my guess is that he did not. Did he ever have a conversation with them prior to the exchange around the graffiti? Without a personal connection in which you at least know the young men’s names or have had a conversation once before, an encounter such as this one is doomed to replay hierarchies of race and class. And, just so you know that this not all theoretical for me, I’ll close with a story from my own life. I attend a multi-racial, queer church called Metropolitan Community Church of New York (MCCNY). MCCNY has for 8 or so years run a shelter for LGBTQ homeless teens. The shelter is open 365 nights a year, and operates in the basement of the church building. The kids who reside there come from all over, are predominantly black and latino, and are mostly homeless because they have ‘come out’ to their families and been rejected by them. These young people are struggling – often heroically – to survive in difficult circumstances. They are also teenagers. As such, they not infrequently act out in ways that are just not acceptable. If I see unacceptable behavior by one of the teens and act in ways to correct it, I am in a similar position to the one that Stephen was in. I am white and a professor, and thus have racial and class privilege in relation to these young people. All of our interactions are always going to be inflected by those differences. However, that does not mean that I look the other way when I see a young person putting themselves in harm’s way. I intercede when I can.  I’m mostly likely to take action – and to be effective – when I know a young person’s name, I’ve talked with them before in some non-confrontational exchange, and they have a sense that I care about them beyond the interaction in which I’m telling them that they’ve messed up.
Dr. Jessie Daniels is an Associate Professor at Hunter College. She is cofounder and frequent blogger at RacismReview and you can follow her on Twitter.

Tami Winfrey Harris It is easy to see the implications of race and class all over an interaction between a white, male, college professor and three, young, black, inner-city males in the city of Chicago. We are trained to think that way, especially those of us who are committed to anti-racism and the exploration of privilege and power. But in this case, I wonder if those things–race and class–are distractions. Let me explain. Race and class play a tremendous role in the marginalization of young, black males. And there may be no better illustration of that fact than Chicago, where 36 young men of color have died violently this year, and the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in the highly-segregated city grows ever wider. So, it is safe to say that race and class likely played a significant role in these youths’ seeming disaffection. But I am not convinced that it colored their interaction with you, Stephen. I witnessed similar scenarios play out during my years in the Windy City with similar results. Adults, old enough to remember the time not so long ago when grown ups were expected to chasten ill-behaved young people and the young people generally obliged out of a sense of respect for age and authority, attempting to correct a raucous or anti-social group of teens only to be met with verbal or physical aggression. The races of the adults who embraced the notion of “it takes a village” varied, the infractions did also–loud cursing on the No. 6 bus, jimmying locks to make a short cut through private property–the outcome of their actions usually did not. What is happening to our children? Well, in the case of black males (and there are certainly many troubled youth of other races, but young black men are particularly at risk), Anti-Racist Parent columnist Liz Dwyer said, in a post about the murder of Derrion Albert, that we are faced with “chickens coming home to roost.”

As a society, we have chosen to not uphold desegregation laws. We have chosen to allow low income children of color to receive a substandard education, simply because they live in a different zip code. We have chosen to not pay a living wage so that people can actually have the means to pursue life, liberty and happiness, so they can move out of dangerous neighborhoods if they see fit. And we have chosen to allow gangs and narcotic trafficking to run rampant, as long as it stays controlled on the “bad” side of town. As for having some sort of moral or spiritual “center” where today’s teens know not to beat one of their peers to death, that sort of center doesn’t just fall out of the sky and infect kids like Swine Flu. Yes, children and teens should know better, but we live in a do-whatever-you-wanna-do culture. Self-control is in no way a part of our world these days.

I’m not saying this to excuse what these teenagers did. But hello, didn’t you read Lord of the Flies as part of your education?

THIS is where race and class come in. Society has surely created an environment where anti-social behavior will fester in disenfranchised youth, including children of color and the poor. And because we broke it, it is our job to fix it. It is good that you intervened, Stephen–not as a white savior, but as a concerned adult. What most of us, including me, are far more likely to do is look away and say nothing, to tsk tsk about the kids and the mamas and daddies who are raising them, to give the children in question up for lost. We look away from the loud and aggressive behavior. We look away from the loitering. We look away from the vandalism. We look away…until a teenaged boy is beaten to death on camera…and then it seems people cannot look away. And we wonder how we got here.

Tami Winfrey Harris blogs at What Tami Said and is the editor of Anti-Racist Parent. Follow her on Twitter.

Alvin Herring It would be all too easy for me as an African American male to categorize the angst my White brother felt over this incident as just another example of the privilege Whites enjoy – as it relates to race – to stand at a distance from the dirty work of confronting the tough realities racism creates and retreat to the sidelines where behaviors, motives and choices can be safely analyzed and timidly dissected. For sure, that is the choice of many White liberals, intending to sound like allies and then losing their voice when situations and circumstances call for a more vigorous assertion of solidarity. But in the real world of race, no one gets a pass. Racism exists to systematically rob of us our humanity and psychically prepare us for the dirty work of denying to those deemed “less than” or “other than” opportunity, access, power, wealth and the very essentials of life itself. And racism doesn’t ever stand alone as a single issue but pulls in every other societal structure in around it, forcing us to contend with unholy combinations of race and other social dimensions such as class, gender or sexual orientation. What has to be remembered is that race is the predicate, the root. Indeed, a racist system will never truly let you forget it. In the encounter with the boys making mischief on the train, the scenario is as it seems. No matter of intent, goodwill or progressive racial sentiment can alter the reality that a White man has stepped into foreign territory and entered the world of these Black boys without invitation. Their response is neither novel nor unexpected. They rebuke him and put him “in his place.” His angst is also part of the “script.” Was he right to express his displeasure at the boys or was his behavior based on race? Did they reject his correction because he was an adult censoring youth rebellion or did they interpret his actions as racist? In a better world a grown-up should be able to confront misbehaving juveniles and have his intent be seen if not as helpful and corrective at least benign. But this is not a better world. It is the world that racism has created. In that world –our world – racism is an idol that must be worshipped and our desire for community is the sacrificial lamb. How do we ever get past this? How do we meaningfully enter each other’s worlds and build real connections across race lines? The answers are not simple ones but they begin with a need for a universal recognition of what racism is and how it distorts the human heart and mind. It begins with Blacks and Whites each speaking to the ways our lives have been wounded by racism. Whites must summon the courage to acknowledge how they have been privileged by the oppression of people of color and undertake the work of dismantling that privilege by working for justice. Blacks must come to grips with centuries of rage and bitter resentment (much of which has been focused internally) and become earnest partners in forging a more just society. Real community ought to be our goal, but to get there we are going to have to have the courage to step up to situations such as this and confront how incomplete our lives are in the shadow of structural racism. We’re going to have to finally reach that place where justice demands that we stop business as usual and get down to the real business of confronting racism. Alvin Herring is the CEO and lead facilitator of Side by Side. Follow him on Twitter.

Mikhail Lyubansky This is a no-win situation. That was my immediate reaction to reading about Stephen’s encounter. But I didn’t want to write that. It was pessimistic and, more importantly, not at all useful, helpful, or constructive. I try to approach my analysis of race and racial dynamics constructively. So, I didn’t write anything, hoping that that something more constructive would come to me. Nothing has. It’s a no-win situation even without the racial layer, at least from my perspective as a White ally (I’m in full agreement with Stephen’s take on it). That is, I don’t see a productive way to respond to this specific encounter, even if the boys in question are also white. The reason is that, given the situation, the boys are likely to distrust me and, therefore, perceive anything I do or say with suspicion. The remedy – the only remedy, in my opinion – is to earn their trust, to convince them that I had their interests and their needs in mind. As a clinical psychologist, I have some ideas about how to do this: I’d try to guess at their underlying motivations and needs (these might include self-expression, autonomy, fun, and even justice (e.g., payback for perceived systemic oppression) and respond to any expression (even if hostile) of such needs with statements expressing empathy and my desire to understand their motivations and experiences. Not always, but quite often, if it really comes from the heart (true empathy is hard to fake), this method is effective in building trust. But it takes time, sometimes a lot of time, and in this particular situation, the time is just not available. Stephen is waiting to get on a train, which could arrive at any moment, and even if he is willing to talk to forget the train and talk to the boys as long as necessary (unlikely since he is traveling with his wife), it is, at best, doubtful that the boys would be willing to engage with him long enough to be convinced of his good intentions. And to this, we add the racial layer, because there is no way that this encounter is not, in part, racial in nature. In Spike Lee’s classic Do The Right Thing, the local African American community, furious about Radio Raheem’s needless death at the hands of the police and despondent over the certainty that the city would not care, take out their frustration on Sal’s Famous Pizzeria – not because Sal deserved it but because as a White person in the Black community he represented not just whiteness but white power and oppression. The destruction of Sal’s Famous was not a personal attack on Sal. In some ways, it had nothing to do with Sal the person, who, the incident with Radio’s radio aside, was generally well-liked by most of the people in the neighborhood. I recall Do The Right Thing, because, I think that, on some level (possibly an unconscious one), the boys in the subway station are acting out the same kind of frustration with the (white) “system” as the residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Do The Right Thing (or not – they could be middle-class kids just having “fun” – the truth is there is no way to know). As such, until he proves otherwise, Stephen represents the “system” and white oppression. It has nothing to do with Stephen the person. And it may not even be something that the boys have a conscious awareness of. But the moment that Stephen initiates a conversation, this racial history and symbolism come into play. His words and actions become transformed by who he is racially and who he represents on a racial level, pushing the possibility of trust even further out of reach. These racial dynamics can be overcome. In another context, I think Stephen could do it. I’m sure he has done it and will do it again in the future. But in this particular case, I just don’t think the opportunity for establishing a relationship is there. In this case, an engagement with the boys is a no-win situation. Allies need to know when to lead, when to play a supporting role, and when to stay out of the way. It makes me sad to say this, butI think this is a situation we have to stay out of. Dr. Mikhail Lyubansky is a member of the faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a managing editor at the progressive media site OpEdNews.com and blogs at Psychology Today. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. ellen says

    Jessie Said: ‘However, that does not mean that I look the other way when I see a young person putting themselves in harm’s way. I intercede when I can. I’m mostly likely to take action – and to be effective – when I know a young person’s name, I’ve talked with them before in some non-confrontational exchange, and they have a sense that I care about them beyond the interaction in which I’m telling them that they’ve messed up.’
    > I think this is true for All Teenagers. When you throw race into the equation, it becomes more problematic. In the above situation, I would definitely avoid confronting the kids because I’d be afraid of physical retaliation. However, I would also not tell the police or a security guard about this behavior either. Why? Because I guess I don’t want to be responsible for getting any children in trouble for vandalism alone. I’m a big believer in picking your fights.
    >If the children were hurting another child/adult however, I would tell the nearest police officer. I would not intervene myself for fear of physical retaliation.
    > Sometimes kids act out in ways that hurt other people. It’s not merely a question of protecting kids from being in harm’s way. It’s about being kind and considerate of other people living on this planet. I know that some children have experienced a great deal of pain in their lives {I work with them every day.} This does not mean these Particular Kids are to be excused from problematic behavior. They have to learn to function in society as a whole, or their lives will be ruined Forever, not just in their teens. It’s not a sin to say No to a kid.

  2. Joe

    It seems very strange that the many experts here do not even raise the issue of tagging itself, what it means, especially as seen by young black men. What about their point of view?

  3. ellen says

    >I’ve known so many white teenagers who have vandalized property that I honestly don’t think this incident had any racial overtones. All kids do silly things just do see if they can get away with it.
    > Is the tagging supposed to be symbolic of something because the children were black? My honest opinion: this is a Teenage issue not necessarily a racist issue. Racism enters the picture when a white person reprimands the kids..maybe the kids would see that as condescending? Maybe the white person would reprimand black kids but look the other way if white kids did it? Depends on the individual involved.
    > I’ve seen plenty of black police officers reprimand black kids for doing mischievous activities. Then, racism is not an issue at all. It’s just kids entertaining themselves being silly, albeit against the law.
    >Truth to tell, I did some silly ass things like this when I was in high school. Once, some of us took about 30 live frogs out of the biology lab and let them loose all over the gym before a basketball game. 🙂

  4. Seattle in Texas

    (thought I would put my response here too)

    It’s interesting how vandalism is framed most generally by the higher SES largely white American society. And it’s even more interesting when a different meaning is assigned to vandalism between youth of color versus white by adults and professionals in general. In some, if not many respects, there is symbolic importance between the two, but at the same time, I think there are some inter-related similarities, particularly when class is involved. The kiddos are making a statement and speaking or communicating in a different fashion from the ideals white society dictates and defines as “appropriate” and “normal” (after all anything beyond that is “abnormal” and/or “pathological”–which becomes amplified when it is people of color engaging in alternative verbal and non-verbal communication styles).

    I quickly wanted to share a different viewpoint on how delinquency is handled outside of the U.S., which comes from Canada. They take more of an environmental approach on social issues from what I can see. In B.C. they were having problems with youth loitering in their underground bus stops, which was bothering the folks/professionals who were commuting back and forth to work. They (the officials) rather than cite and even arrest the youth as they would do here in the U.S., instead they installed speakers throughout the underground bus stops and blared classical music. The youth decided they no longer wished to loiter down there anymore and found a different area to congregate. It was a good and healthy solution for the city, the transit commuters, and the youth.

    And lastly, I think back to when I was growing up. My friends often revolted much more heavily against the structures than spray paint and graffiti (which is often art by the way–think of the Berlin Wall and the interpretations people have been making of the graffiti–“listening” to that wall). I only share now because these events took place over 2 decades ago. A couple of the people in the crowd I was involved with during my youth would take their vehicles and drive into wealthy neighborhoods, quietly idle back onto the lawns of rich properties, throw their transmissions into low-1 and peel out of their yards leaving huge gaping tire marks deeply embedded in the lawn. They would also tear up the local golf course in the same manner. Not all people I knew did this, but a couple did. People can interpret that how ever they wish, but it was largely class rebellion on their part. When talking about delinquent behavior with one of my friends when we were exchanging stories and memories of things either we or our friends/people we knew did, we asked each other: “What would you do if that happened to you” and so on. My own response with reference to the lawn vandalism was, first I wouldn’t own a home like those ever even if I had the resources to do so and two, if some kids did that to my yard and caught them in the act–I would probably fold my arms, shake my head, and begin laughing because while I wasn’t the one tearing up lawns and golf courses, I understood the symbolic nature of these frustrated youth–even back then. Kiddos who spray paint? Why don’t we listen to what they are saying rather than frame them as troubled delinquents–ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE OF COLOR?

    And also, psychologists are showing that there is a developmental period with the brain humans go through, which is during their teen up into early adult years. They aren’t kids, yet aren’t adults and cannot be treated as either, as their brains often don’t respond to either. They are more spontaneous, make impulsive decisions without fully thinking about all the possible consequences and repercussions–thus, they are now being called “tweens”. This work is fascinating and I think it’s going to do much to help us understand youth and perhaps interpret behaviors in a healthy manner that adults and the higher SES finds, labels, defines, etc., as problematic, abnormal, and/or pathological. Because once they get past that developmental stage, often they straighten out.

    It’s not the kiddos who are the problem, but society who makes them and defines them as the problem. If society was set up differently, even environmentally, there would be other things for them to do–and even if they did, their actions would be interpreted differently.

  5. ellen says

    @ Seattle:
    I understand what you’re saying. However, in the adult world of making a living/business..employers don’t think about Society when they explain rules and regulations and expect them to be followed. This is true in all parts of the world, not just America. Teenagers are pre-cursers to adults, if you will. In the adult world, always excusing problematic behavior gives kids a handicap when they become adults.
    >If an employee is late..they’re late. Period. If an employee won’t finish his work when all the other employees are expected to..they are poor employees. Period. If an employee expects to smoke during periods when they’re expected to work..they’re disobeying rules and slacking off. Period.
    > I do understand that society needs a heavy dose of changing the way we see each other. I teach this every day to my students. However, there is a Huge need for children to understand Personal Responsibility also. If they never get this, and all their behavior {hypothetically} is excused because of a myriad of factors..they will become Largely Unemployable and Form a Habit of Resenting All Authority Figures.
    > If people can’t make a living..that’s a formula for misery. It’s a mistake to excuse everything kids do, minority or otherwise. All kids need some Absolutes in their life.
    >Many minority male children, without positive male role models who will Permit some behavior, but not Permit other behaviors, lack the Brick Wall of the Absolutes that all teenagers actually want. Total freedom is not all it’s cracked up to be.

  6. ellen says

    > The road to adulthood is paved with Responsibility and Self Respect. If a child performs well in school and receives praise and good grades for his efforts, he Has Acquired Something that Gives Him Self Esteem. Nobody can take this away from him.
    >With good grades he can go on to college, and receive a lucrative job. He has something valuable and No Amount of Pressure or Negative Influence {if someone is truly assured of their worth..and this can only be done by Individual Effort} can dissuade him from his trajectory in life. Would you resort to selling drugs if you were earning $50,000 a year legally?
    >Many parents of minority children have told me, ‘He’ll/ She’ll push..but don’t let him/her. Don’t let him get away with anything. I want him to go to college!’ I have Never had a minority parent tell me, ‘Let my child do whatever they want cause he’s not going to college or anything..so I don’t care’. Never happened. Not once.
    > And when they see the skill level of those kids improve all the time…They’re Thrilled. The parents of minority kids I work with do Not think it’s acceptable for their kids to be dismissive of scholastic achievement. They know it’s one of the few avenues out of poverty and into security.

  7. Darin Johnson

    Great point, Ellen. Another important thing to remember is the destructiveness of the influences many poor (and especially black and Hispanic) kids do get. Their “non-shared” environments (i.e., their peers, as opposed to parents and siblings) are often terrible.
    This is related to your point about personal responsibility. Call it “cultural responsibility,” maybe. Sadly, perhaps, this non-shared environment far more influential than the home in terms of adult outcomes.

  8. Seattle in Texas

    Hello ellen,

    I respect your viewpoint and think it’s am effective approach for raising kids who are in the higher SES–but I still think it’s wrong for even them. True it works for many and it’s very effective for upholding the stratified structures in this society–keeping many at the margins. But also, often times kids in the higher SES have many more advantages and stability than kids of the lower SES. The Skinnerian approach is the most popular, but it has serious weaknesses. It teaches/socializes extrinsic motivation (do this and you will get a good grade) rather than intrinsic motivation (I am going to do this because I want to learn more about this). One is controlling and manipulative and the other is empowering. How to promote intrinsic motivation? Offer more choices, promote creativity, take the grading system away completely, and so on.

    It’s not true that kids from more disadvantaged backgrounds come to disrespect all authority. Some, if not many of them are gifted children and it went undetected by the schools. They don’t respond to the Skinnerian way of doing things and need an environment that promotes doing things for intrinsic value—if they don’t get that, then forget it. Grades, detention, etc., is not going to “scare” them into doing things that are often a complete “waste of time” in their minds. These kids are critical thinkers and yes, do often question authority. This is healthy and normal. But kids in the higher SES who question authority are seen as “bright” and kids from the lower SES are seen as being “rebellious” and so on. And kids from tougher backgrounds don’t have the time to worry about things that often seem to trivial in the regular educational setting too. Often times they are put into a non-college track and this idea of “college” isn’t there. Even if they thought they might with to go to college, it seems like an impossibility. They’ve got often adult worries they are carrying around, especially during their tweens.

    I wanted to note that the “tweens” does not refer to a nice neat linear developmental phase that goes from children, into teens, then adults. This is a developmental phase scholars are arguing is completely different from both.

    With all said, I come back and bring this short response out of my own deepest respect for a very special professor in educational psychology.

  9. ellen says

    @ Hey Seattle:
    I completely understand what you’re saying and I’ve debated this issue a bazillion times in my head regarding the Montessori approach vs Skinnerian. The ‘let kids find what they really want to study/observe’ vs ‘the kids have to do what I tell them because they won’t receive a good grade’. The extrinsic reward vs the intrinsic internalized reward.
    > OK..in the public schools where I teach, you are faced with 28 kids from all different backgrounds. It’s a Big Challenge as you can imagine.
    >You must keep order at all times. I know this sounds like a tyrant, but after the first month..honestly..the kids don’t think of you that way. You can be a kind work-a-holic. If you pepper the day with hugs and applause {for good behavior..the ‘catch a kid behaving’ meme} and make a Big Deal out of successes and small reprimands for not paying attention, distracting other kids etc..this goes a long way toward the children feeling like you care about them.
    >Why is it imperative to keep order all the time?
    >1.safety reasons. if the kids don’t really Listen then when it’s time to line up there’s a scramble for the door etc. Kids can get hurt in seconds. if they push each other when walking down the hall..same story all through the day.
    > 2. Kids are still impulsive and obviously don’t have the patience adults do. You are asking them to do some things during the day that are down right Boring. If you don’t maintain the concept of ‘ok..I know some of this is boring..but we are All going to do it. take a deep breath and let’s get going..it won’t be too bad..even I’ll get through it’ {Jokes help!} then…you inevitably have kids who are very interested, somewhat interested, totally disinterested. 3 groups let’s say..well, if I honestly divided work according to Who Really Wants to Do What…utter chaos. Respect for the teacher goes a long way in the kids Realizing that Everybody means Everybody. I know it sounds a little like boot camp..but it works when you have so many Diverse Students.
    >I think Seattle, you are an idealist..which is a great thing to be. However, I just can’t even imagine in a regular school setting managing with your approach. I mean if a kid asked me if he/she should question authority..idealistically I’d say ‘Yes. You must learn to think for yourself at all different times in your life.’ Yet, I’m the ‘Authority’ in the classroom. See what I mean? Kids will put 2 and 2 together and tell me, ‘So why do we have to do what you tell us?’
    >Because I really want these kids to have the tools of an education. Knowledge is Power. But getting there isn’t always fun..would that it were! Who wants to go over the formulas for volumes of different geometric solids 50,000 times!
    > I push myself cause it’s My Chosen Path in life and I’m Responsible for these children. I Cannot let them down..it’s about my Own Self Respect and My contribution to these little guys. I love my students! I have to do what I can in the Brief time I have with them. I agree with you in theory because no intelligent person wouldn’t..truly. But in practice..no can do and still maintain sanity.
    Whew! That was exhausting. Spoken from the heart though.

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