Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On Ghetto Schools. A Few Observations

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I've saved this from a post made elsewhere, in the LA Times Homeroom Blog. This is still rather rough as an essay, but it may prove useful anyway.

I have to jump back in here. Some of you are behaving as though the students are all the same, from the same background. They most certainly are not. Statistically, however, in a class of 30:

10 will be doing everything they can to get whatever education they can. If you had all thirty like this, there'd be no problems. This is why you can't blanket blame the class for tearing the place up. BTW, many of these ten would love to tell on the others, but will get beat up if they do, and even have their younger siblings attacked if they are too big to beat up.

Between 5 and 8 will be inclined to go along with these ten on many days, but they are not so desperate..

1 to 5 will have a serious educational problem, which requires special attention. They will not misbehave themselves, but they keep you from watching the remaining students.

Between 4 and 10 will be at school because that's where their friends are. You, and what you are doing, are a distraction from their main purpose for being. They will not often disrupt, but they will certainly not mind if there is a disruption.

Usually at least one, and sometimes as many as three students, will view making you miserable, by whatever means necessary, as a goal, at least 50% of the time. Classes with more than 3 such students go off like bombs, with a very short half life, and are quickly dismantled by saavy administrators, who cannot afford total meltdowns.

To make things worse, these students will have parents who were just like them when they were in school. And grandparents and great grand parents, and they are not necessarily stupid. In fact the are probably smarter than average, and each generation learns something new to pass on down to the next, Most importantly, how to scam school administrators and politicians at all levels. It's a perfect storm! Imagine 3 Chris Rocks in one room, and you get the idea.

Basically they are playing to the oldest game on the planet, "Look at ME!" For whatever reasons, some people do just not feel loved or acknowledged enough, and so wind up often looking for attention any way they can, including negative behavior. Trying to ignore them is the worst thing you can do. Give them what they want, but make sure each comment also prods them along into socially acceptable paths. If you can do this creatively, without being obvious or to the detriment of other kids, then you are a Master Teacher. I make no claims to being such a teacher, but will suggest that continually roving eye contact is one good tactic I learned back in Richmond Unified, from analysing videotapes I made of master teachers for Title One.

To Those Who Are Blaming the Teacher: Under these conditions, with this diverse population, I don't care how many kids you've raised or babysat for, how firm as an adult you try to be, the odds are your classroom will be described as at least, "a little out of control."

One solution for this situation is found in juvie. There, a teacher, at least in Nevada County, can say, "you're out of here," and in come two burley guards, who lead the problem child back to his cell. It's wonderful! In 11 days of teaching I only had to do it once. The fear of it happening kept the rest of them in line.

I'd envision a ghetto school with plenty of cells, each one wired back to the classroom for full video and audio from the classroom, and a keyboard for text messaging out to the classroom, as the only means of communication for the wayward student. At the end of the day, the student is let out, to the custody of their parent(s) or guardian. The teacher's decision is never questioned. If America wants ghetto America to get an education, that's the kind of setup that will work.

These observations are based on my year at Gloria R. Davis in San Francisco, as "da Library Man."

Gene Burns on KGO 810 talk show radio in San Francisco the other night was asking for analysis and solutions, and these are mine.

I reserve the right to make posts in the middle of the night with lots of spelling errors and then to come back and correct them the next day. I don't see as well as I used to.

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