Another Revelation

one of the most profound observations from the book, “dark star safari” was on my mind as the 84 year-old master (sensei fusaro – 9th dan) was schooling us in karate this week. he had to sit down once or twice, but no one was bellyaching about having to work too hard or being tired or being frustrated with our inability to do what he was doing–not with that guy out there, no way! gall dang inspiring!

what all older people know, what had taken me almost sixty years to learn, is that an aged face is misleading. i did not want to be the classic bore, the reminiscing geezer, yet i now knew: the old are not as frail as you think, and they are insulted to be regarded as feeble. they are full of ideas, hidden powers, even sexual energy. don’t be fooled by the thin hair and battered features and skepticism. the older traveler knows it best: in our hearts we are youthful, and we are insulted to be treated as old men and burdens, for we have come to know that the years have made us more powerful and streetwise. years are not an affliction. old age is strength.  

-paul theroux

A Revelation

as a teacher at an alternative high school, i regularly find myself critical–or worse, cynical of young people and the choices they make every day. but, over the last couple of months i’ve seen something that is truly astounding–young people discovering their voices and finding their true power — standing up and speaking up — for what they believe in — their right to life. it is inspiring. and, no matter your social or political leanings, you’ve got to be moved by that, you’ve got to respect that. for me, it’s been a while, if ever, since “i looked up to a teenager”–but, that’s exactly the way i feel today. good speed and carry on, youngins! cheers!

somebody’s son

as a teacher, you have a lot of power…

and, depending on how you use it…it, and you, can either be a force for good or for evil, you know…

a couple of weeks ago, i was in a position to use my power for good…to stand up for a student…something that’s always been important for me…it’s always been important for me because i’ve always had a strong sense of justice and fairness (some might call it an overdeveloped one;)…i can trace the origins of this kind of mindset and posture back to my youth, back to elementary school…back to one week in elementary school to be exact–the week when we watched the movie ‘roots’ in class…that movie blew my mind…sitting there, watching it, i couldn’t believe that one human being could treat another human being so harshly just because they were a different color, just because they were a different race and culture, just because they had power and the other person was powerless…it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right…that movie had a great impact on my life, then and now…

anyways, here’s what happened in class…

we were watching a video in class and i had called a student up to the front of the room to help me with something…so, he got up and came towards the front of the room…right away, when he got up, a few other students started snickering…that got my attention…so, i looked over…my eye caught an object, a thin strip of paper peeking out from behind the student who had stood up…so, i told him…young man, you’ve got a piece of paper on your back…

[one thing, there are 43 kids in this particular class…which makes it a bit difficult to see what the kids are doing all the time, especially those that are a few rows deep…i wish i could say i was the only teacher in the u.s. that had this problem, but i’m not…and it’s an issue for learning and classroom management–and for student safety…anyways, had i not had him come up to my desk i probably wouldn’t have even have seen it, maybe he wouldn’t have seen it until later]

when i told him that he had a piece of paper stuck to his back, he spun around and awkwardly pulled it off his back…he looked down, read it, then looked up and walked straight towards a group of guys a few rows back…i got up from my desk and followed him…a heated verbal exchange ensued between several young men (the guy who had the note stuck to his back was standing in front of two students who were sitting at their desks)…one of the guys who was sitting at his desk grabbed the piece of notebook paper and started to crumple it up…

when i got to his desk, i said, hey let me see that… 

reluctantly, he gave me the piece of paper…i un-crumpled it and read it…immediately, i looked up (and at the two students who were sitting in front of me) and said (in a low growl), who wrote this?!

one of the boys spoke up…i did…

i looked at him and said, plain as you like, pick up your stuff and head to the clas program…

[clas program = iss]

we resumed class…

when i got back to my desk, i sat down and re-read the words on the piece of paper…

it read: he likes it in the ass

at the end of the class period i addressed the entire class, with a quiet intensity (it’s a register i hit when i really want something to stick), saying…

a student, a person…should be able to go through daily life, walk down the street, and most of all–come to class without being bothered, without being harassed…when something like this happens, there’s usually more than one student involved, i got one of the offenders today, and he’ll be out of here for tomorrow’s class as well…so, if you were in on it, i’m talking to you right now…don’t do it again.

when the class was dismissed, the student, the one who made the mistake of putting that note on his peer’s back came back to my room from the clas program…as i requested…

i asked him, why did you do it?

he said, i don’t know, it was stupid…

i told him, i can tell you regret it…but, just to remind you–that kind of behavior doesn’t fly in here, got it?! it’s serious enough that i’m going to keep you out of class for another day…please don’t do that again.

he said, yes, i’m sorry…

i said, we’ll see…

[and i didn’t say “we’ll see” to provoke him further or to belittle him…i told him that because i’ve told all my students that–on occasion–saying “i’m sorry” is important and does mean something…but, a lot people say it and it doesn’t mean a damn thing…teenagers and adults…so, i’ve told them i don’t want to hear i’m sorry, i want to see it–so, do it different next time!!!]

after he left, i emailed my principal and ‘the other powers that be’ to document the situation and allow them to follow-up if they wanted to…

we’ll see how the next few weeks go…

if i had a heightened sense of justice before i had kids, it has only magnified (x1000) since my own kids came along…i guess i’m like parents everywhere–when i send jack and grace out to daycare in the morning, i want to know that they will be safe and secure…and believe me, it’s a risky proposition, a high stakes game…sending your children out into the world…i want to know that their daycare provider, teachers, coaches and other trusted adults will be looking out for them when i’m not there…i want to know that they’ll be alright, you know…

it’s what i try to do for my students…it’s what i was able to do for the kid who was ridiculed with the sign on his back…

it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right…what happened…he deserves to be treated with respect and with dignity…

because he’s a person, because he’s a human being…

because he’s somebody’s son…

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