Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Loose has broken all hell
I thought our first period class was on point and no problem aside from one problem child, and that our second period class was liable to blow its top at any moment. So this morning first period starts as Maurice and Chenikea are verbally sparring and it carries over into the first few minutes of class. I have to intervene and request that Maurice ignore "that trifling bitch" while my mentor tries to quiet down "that 'bama-lookin' muthafucka who lie all the time." Class starts, and Lukie is showing transparencies about the achievement gap between rich and poor schools in Maryland. Her intention is to get the kids to conclude that students in the counties in Maryland have more money and resources and better teachers and less wasted time than the students in Baltimore City. Instead Chenikea and Chanaqua'kea start screaming about "white ass teachers coming down here saying we dumb" which immediately starts a conflagration of verbal abuse and ridicule of the teachers and the administration and the Board of Ed that lasts about twenty minutes. Lukie gamely tries to reign the discussion into manageable form, but the kids are angry (rightfully so) and many are already bored and pissed off about school and eager for the three-day Labor Day weekend. Chaos rules. Tamalik and LaQuann look fucking stoned when they arrive at class--could be conjunctivitis? Both are good students and they sit at a table of fine and upstanding young men who are smart and spend their time trying to survive school first and learn something second. At the high point of the chaos poor little LaQuann raises his hand and asks Miss Lukie if we can move on. He doesn't want to argue any more. Tamalik is fast asleep. Lukie tries to move on but mostly the class limps along to its own discordant conclusion. For about ten minutes I crouch by Chenikea and Chanaqua'kea and try to get them to write on their worksheets the points they were making in class. "You have things to say that are important. I heard you make good points. What would you write in a letter to the Board of Education?" Chanaqua'kea says "Fuck that shit. I'm going to get my GED and get out of this mess." Chenikea says "Oh my God I would tell them something. First I would tell them--hey, that Hakim in the hall?--Hey Baby! Maurice is fucking with me!"
The second period class is a dream. Lukie switches her approach with the same lesson to focus on the money first, to elicit the intended criticism of our fucked-up resource problem in Baltimore City schools, and to dispell the racial tension that blew up the first class. It works. We have worksheets completed, a positive discussion, and ten minutes left over at the end of the period for the students to sign out books from the class library. I spend my time talking to the tough kids who don't participate, who don't do their worksheets. John says "I like math but me and writing? We simply don't get along. We oil and vinegar." I tell him he's got style and he speaks like an actor and that he just needs to put his words on paper as he thinks them, but he's having none of it. "You know this class is going to get all volcano soon enough. I'm gonna make sure I get to punch some niggers out. I got to get ready for high school, and want people to know me. The only way they know me is if I punch niggers out here and now. Then I'll be the starting running back." I tell John he won't be starting anything if he doesn't get his work done, but he laughs. "I know how it works. If I'm good I'll play. Don't matter if I fail. Principals bet on the games." William tells me he wants to get a Master's Degree some day. John tells him "Shit, man, you gotta go to school for another five years before you get out of high school. Why you want to go another six or seven years? Fuck that."
I saw today how quickly things can derail into a dangerous situation. Our first period class has three adults in the room, and we lost control over a third of the students for much of the period.