Sunday, April 06, 2014

We Need Answers

I believe it was the late, great George Carlin who once suggested that telling kids not to run the halls made no sense. This is because, according to the child's perspective as gleaned by Mister Carlin, "Of course you want to run in the halls. It's the only place you can get up any speed. It's a straightaway." This is what goes through my head at least a thousand times a day as I remind children from seven in the morning until five at night, from five years old to twelve, and from August through June, "Don't run in the halls."
It's the dynamic that we set up early on. We want order. We want conformity. That's what we're teaching. The problem is that kids don't come to us in nice neat lines with their mouths closed. Another Carlin observation comes to us via his inspired retort to those who would tell kids not to "talk back." He suggests, "What? You're teaching me a language here and I'm not allowed to practice?"
In a word: No. Not unless you are willing and able to respond in forms and manners that we determine acceptable. That's where the game begins. How do we, as adults, engineer questions that don't automatically open us up to the smart-aleck response? Please feel free to use the space provided below to leave your witty response to this rhetorical question.
That's one of the lessons I took away from my first dozen years of teaching: Don't ask rhetorical questions. Don't ask "What were you thinking?" unless you're really interested in hearing why this kid kicked the other one or why that kid tossed his entire lunch on the floor. There are answers. They just don't fit our grown-up blanks. Sometimes they tell us what we want to hear: "I wasn't thinking Mister Caven." Sometimes they tell us what they want us to hear: "None of your business." And sometimes they don't say anything at all, in which case, see number two on our list.
The truth is, kids are always thinking. They just don't spend as much time on the highly structured curriculum and schedules that we adults might like. That's the struggle. That's our jobs as teachers. That's our job as parents. Their job is to not make our jobs easy. It's that simple.

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