JUST WHEN I THOUGHT EDUCATION COULDN'T GET ANY WORSE
“I never got to do the job I wanted in my class last year,” my nine-year old grandson said one summer day.
“What job was that?”
“The babysitter. The teacher never let me be the babysitter.”
“What did the babysitter do?” I asked.
My grandson said, “The job of the babysitter was to write up other kids when they did something wrong.”
What the teacher did in creating that job was mean-spirited, cruel, likely malicious and unconscionable.
A teacher’s job is to inspire, encourage, and support. It is to set up an environment where true learning can occur and discovery happens on a daily basis. The teacher’s job is to provide
opportunities for students to personally grow in ways they never thought possible. Classrooms should be places where children can begin to understand their hopes and dreams, where teachers give them the skills to reach those dreams. Teachers should be encouraging students to think for themselves and to reflect on their thinking. If we walk by these classrooms, we should hear joy and laughter.
The teachers’ job is not to teach children how to police each other. Children are not and should never be responsible for spying on and policing their friends. It is not okay. It is never the job of a third grader to “write-up” a friend for running in the hall, talking when an adult tells them they are not supposed to, or disobeying any of the other arbitrary rules a teacher has designed. Teaching children to do so is wrong. The delegation of tyranny onto the backs of our children promotes social paranoia and creates a culture of fear. These students become bullies, tattlers, and foot soldiers for an authoritarian leader. The end result may be that these children become non-thinking adults or authoritarian leaders themselves.
If a classmate falls on the playground and is hurt, a student should tell an adult. If a friend is being bullied, a student should step in. If a classmate is struggling with a problem, a student should help.
Forcing children to become bullies and spy on their friends is different from helping someone when they need help and must never happen in the classrooms of our public schools. The teacher who instituted this “job” in her classroom doesn’t understand the
basics of how to set up a powerful learning environment and possibly has no business teaching.
“How can we live together as a community for one hundred and eighty days?” a teacher asks her students the first week of school. “How can we structure our classroom so that we can all learn?”
When those discussions happen, trust becomes the driving force of behavior in a classroom. Students feel safe to be themselves, to experiment, to struggle, to question, and to identify what is and is not working for them in their lives. Students trust the teacher to help and support them, to be honest with them. Teachers trust the students to be honest back, to help and support each other.
Students don’t need to live in fear. They don’t need a billboard of rules. They need a safe place of love, respect and trust so they can grow to be the amazing people they are in all their diversity and wonder.
My grandson was reading a book when the lights of the classroom went off. That was the signal for students to be quiet. He was so absorbed in the reading that when he noticed the lights were out he sat up and said, “Oh.” The “babysitter” for the day wrote him up for disobeying the quiet rule.
Did my grandson want the job of babysitter for revenge, to get back at the friend who wrote him up? Did he learn from his teacher that ‘an eye for an eye’ is the way we ought to conduct ourselves? That’s not a lesson I want my grandson to learn.
Did he want that job for power? These “babysitters” are granted authority by a leader to wield power over even the most vulnerable. They are, in essence, given permission to bully their classmates. I don’t want my grandson to learn that lesson either.
Students and teachers do not belong in positions of absolute power where they turn against their fellow human beings. That’s not the way public schools ought to operate. That’s not the way society ought to operate.
I don’t want my grandson to feel that it is okay for him to police his friends. I want him to be in a school where he feels safe physically and emotionally. I want him to be respected for the amazing human being he is. I want him to be able to trust that teachers will give him powerful learning experiences where he can develop skills and discover incredible things. I want him to be in a place where he can take risks without fear so that when he makes a mistake he can think about what he did and correct his course. I want him to find his passions and be given the space to pursue them. Most of all, I want him to be filled with integrity and to learn to be kind.
That’s what education is about.