Friday, March 6, 1992

Observation day, which became a comparatively small part of the day's work when all is said. I am experiencing a massive frustration that makes me feel not only powerless against the onslaught of ignorance and negativity that these kids pride themselves on, but deeply saddened by their apathy. Those who are motivated at all are motivated merely for a grade. All they want is the honor roll. I do wish they had some idealism, and I guess the school is attempting to teach that in the environmental classes, but their world is so small and untouched by any hope or possibility of accomplishment. The only success they know is in sports (this is why they value high school sports so much more than I do; it is the only place there is a level playing field). They can achieve there as well as anyone, and when the school is so poor (lost every football game, almost every basketball game) they have no way to give themselves pride. The idea of drawing pride from their intellectual accomplishments is unthought of; the concept of establishing worth rather than acquiring it unknown. They need to be taught so much; they have none of the advantages their suburban counterparts have. This is a generation lost in ways uncontemplated before today, and frightening in all its consequences, to become even more lost as time goes on.

Hour 1 managed to get through Chapter 4 of Animal Farm. They were bored and almost hostile, but we got through and they have some idea about what is going com. I read, they read and we stopped and I told them what was going on as we did it. Either their comprehension skills are almost zero or they just can't pay attention enough to it to see what is going on. The plot is not too difficult, the allegory is, but they seem incapable of getting to know the sequence of events that is occurring.

Hour 2 was again chaos. They paid no attention, they were outwardly hostile and they again advised me that the book is a waste of time. "Why we wanna read no book about animals? Maybe my little sister would like it, but if my dog came up to me and started talking...Well, it's stupid." Nice to know everything and be only 15. I suggested they no longer need to come if they know so much already but they said "We have to come." I replied that they are wasting their time and my time if they come and put their heads down. They exasperate me, because they say, in effect, I will never perform for you, I will never give credence to anything you say, I know all I need to know. I think a student has to have some feeling of inadequacy before learning can begin. He cannot come to class with a closed mind and never pay attention enough to see if there is any reason to open it. Maybe an explosion or a naked woman might get them (they have a fixation on sex that belies any real knowledge; it's hard to believe that gigglers like these kids could be sexually active) but I am incapable of both.

We try a new strategy on Monday. I give them a contract and tell them that they can select a book of their own to read and write about. I will let them choose anything and create tests for them. They can either stay with me or read silently on their own. But I will demand compliance if they stay with me. There will be no going back and no wavering. I will throw the work out that they've done so far and give them the opportunity to pursue their book as they see fit.

Hour 3, with 2 of the 3 regulars, got through Chapter 4 also, but we had a good discussion. However, I am seeing that they cannot see a topic through very well. They get stuck on a word and the conversation veers to the unimportant or unrelated. However, we are making progress and will get through on schedule and with all colors intact, if not actually flying.

Hour 5 was a little messed up. We were a day behind so they had yesterday's writing lesson today, and they responded without much enthusiasm. I exhorted and encouraged and they looked at me blankly. I hope they saw what I was trying, but they didn't pursue it. I was bored with their apathy (and antipathy) and they were ready to give up on school. What do they want me to do? We have had our bad days, and we are getting better, but I am tired of trying to entertain them into an education. If they don't want what we're selling, what do they want? Certainly not skills.

Hour 6 was a pleasant antidote to hour 5, for they were eager to get to work on the computers and accomplish something. Thankfully, they are not just sitting there fooling but are working with me. Most of them at least. Some cannot be bothered to work. But some are anxious to do more. If I had them for a year I think we could get somewhere. I would like to make computer lab a regularly scheduled part of our week and have writing projects interspersed with other things. Will my freshman be this mature (they are still babies, but they can, when they want to, demonstrate some skills) in two years? Let us hope so; they need to recognize their inadequacies, not boast their greatness.

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