Wednesday, March 4, 1992

In class tonight everyone was talking about how insane their kids were today. I wish I could have stood there and said that mine were different, but I had little cooperation all day and feel like I had another wasted opportunity. Though mine were not as bad as some I heard of, they were enough to make me wonder about trying to help people that adamantly refuse my help and encourage people that already feel superior to me. Onward?

Hour 1 was my first attempt at the library scavenger hunt. Some worked and performed, but others just sat and waited for time to pass. They have no library skills whatever, they do not know how to look things up, they are so unfamiliar with the resources there that they wouldn't know how to copy a report out of an encyclopedia. I know that I was not the wisest, most organized or worldly ninth grader (it seems I spent most of my time trying to get views of Mrs. Sandburg's bra as she bent over talking to us), but I did know far more than these guys will ever even realize is knowable. They wanted me to point them to the proper books and tell them where to find the answers. When I asked them what the purpose of an assignment would be that had me answering my own questions, they didn't understand my irony. So they at least worked together (and my old nemesis Robert was the leader, foul-mouthed though he was, of his group) and accomplished something.

Hour 2 was the epitome of smug inner-city idiocy. David decided today would be his day to perfect his wolf howls, and not only was he fool enough to howl he was coward enough to lie to me that he didn't do it. Stupidity I can handle, lying I cannot. The librarian had to intervene to ask him to be quiet, but because he has automatic respect for authority he laughed foolishly as if he had won a prize.

Tomorrow I know they are going to challenge me, and I am going to respond with less than perfect composure. David is going to be crazy, and probably gone, which does nothing but give him the recognition he craves. But what can I do? He refuses to even think about cooperating, he is so cocky that I want to take him and rap the back of his skull against the bricks a few times and see which is denser, and he smiles that shit-eating grin (as my father used to call it, though why anyone would smile so serenely after such a meal I still don't know) that he makes my blood boil. I know he is lonely, pathetic and insecure. I know he gains stature by irritating the teacher and getting his classmates to laugh. I know too that he is so far in his world that I will not bring him back. Yet he comes (more or less every day) and I know that he has needs that I cannot meet with anything other than hostility. The depressing thing about all this is that some of the girls did an excellent job (one even said it was fun) and their pleasure is buried under the mindless time-wasting retribution that David calls upon himself. Why should he be in school? There is no benefit to him or anyone else. When he wants education, let him one get it. If he never does, then attempting to force it down his throat accomplishes nothing more than my frustration and his playful animosity. Who wins? Who even breaks even?

Hour 3 was unhappy with the assignment but did it, though they too needed hand-holding and babysitting. They did what they were told, but I thought they might be interested in the variety of books available to them, but they didn't care. They were diligent and did their work but nothing more. Like Benjamin they neither shirked nor sought extra. Like him also, they derived no satisfaction from their completed task.

Hour 5 was clean up day. Nigeria is on the do not admit list (sad to say I hope she still is on Friday) and there were only 9 kids there today. We finished Chapter 3 of Animal Farm (vague memories for all of them) and then completed some career interest survey sponsored by the Boy Scouts. What this was for, and who benefits from it, I cannot say, but one wonders if it is a recruiting tool as it asked for names and phone numbers. As they completed this, I collected them and gave them yesterday's test to finish. They did, many quite quickly. So we had about 15 minutes left and we played the 4 letter word game, and they are getting better. It is a very good game, it requires them to use clues from the word in conjunction with their own vocabulary knowledge and they enjoy it. I do too, and it is a pleasure to see them so eager.

Oh, a passing note. As Rodman walked in today I said "Ah-ha, here's my best student." He seemed genuinely surprised when he realized I meant him.

Hour 6 was anguish. They do not want to write these papers, and they want me to suffer in proportion to the pain they will endure composing them. I wanted to do 3 pre-writing strategies, all the while emphasizing that these are tools that can be used rather than obstacles or traps. We discussed (and I do mean discussed, no lecture but painful extraction, full of long stares and silences) clustering, outlining and brainstorming. I modeled the behavior, but they were so loud and rambunctious (and not just a few but many spent the time talking to their neighbors) that I'm not sure they saw much of what we did. They supplied the topics and the sub-topics, and yet they still looked blank at the end of the hour. They were so enthusiastic yesterday; tomorrow I will let those who want return to the computer room and will help those who stay to get some ideas on paper.

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