Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mad World

Carl got expelled from the after school program at our school. He was given innumerable chances, but since Carl is in second grade, "innumerable" is a concept that doesn't mean a lot to him. Not that he doesn't understand that poking other kids, calling them names and being overtly disrespectful to children and adults alike is hard for him to grasp. To some degree, he has a better sense of right and wrong than many of the kids at our school, kindergarten through fifth. He just tends to choose "wrong."
Why so many bad choices? It could be that he is a bad kid, but since I left that distinction behind decades ago when my father used to announce that "there are no bad kids, only bad behavior." At the time, this sounded like wisdom, and not an aphorism from the positive parenting book he had read. He said this in a suburban world of kids whose shenanigans never edged close to that of the over-the-top craziness that occurs on a semi-regular basis where I work. Still, the idea that was planted in my head by my father continues to drive my teaching career.
So, what's the deal with Carl? If he's not a bad kid, why is he getting into so much trouble? I confess that my own patience has been stretched with him, and I have had times when sending him to sit on the bench at recess was the option that I chose instead of getting down on a knee and talking things out. The other fifty-seven second graders needed my attention as much as Carl, so I made that call. At these moments, I have heard what has become a familiar chorus from kids in his situation: "I hate this school." Usually I let that hate slide off and assume that there is probably plenty of hate about plenty of things in that seven year old. When I heard that Carl had been asked not to return to our after school program, I decided to look a little further.
Carl came to us from a school up the street. This is nothing new, we have an enormous amount of transiency in our student population. We don't expect kids who come to us in kindergarten will still be with us in fifth grade, our students' families tend to move around a lot. Carl's family didn't move. His school was closed. Along with approximately forty other kids, Carl came to our school because his neighborhood school was shut down due to district budget cuts. Whatever friends, teachers, facilities he and the other kids became familiar with was replaced with us. Nobody consulted Carl on this. Along with any and all other challenges Carl may have faced, he is now being asked to start fresh.
I looked at the attempt he made at an apology letter to the after school program's art teacher. It was barely legible, and what made it decipherable was the fill-in-the-blanks format supplied by the powers-that-be. Of course Carl is angry. He's barely able to read and write, and the people who used to be there to help him in that endeavor are no longer there. Now he's got to deal with this brand new group of grown-ups with their rules and expectations. He's going to hate this place until he finds something else to hate. It's not the excuse for his bad behavior, but maybe it's the reason.

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