Thursday, March 19, 1992

This will be an easy day to report, hours 1,2 and 3 all had the same guest speakers who did an excellent job. Hour 1 was doltish and unresponsive, but for the other classes we had several classes join us and they were much more involved. The speakers did a good job on three themes: staying in school, taking advantage of what you have, and recognizing that though there is adversity it can be overcome. There are opportunities aplenty for those who seek to achieve something for themselves. There are dead ends aplenty for those who don't.

In conjunction with Joe Clark, I recognize that all of us have three and only three possibilities: either we support ourselves, we take from others (legally or illegally) or we are in jail. Unfortunately, the other option is death, one that several of these kids will probably face. One of our tough gang members, who rarely attends school and infrequently comes to class if he is there, was shot in the stomach. Not a fatal wound, which may be a bad thing, since revenge is his probable response. Then of course we have the Capulets calling on his family, and on it goes.

Anyway, the speakers (a claims adjuster for State Farm and the first black female State Trooper) gave some background and history and told about why they are where they are. I was pleased; they gave a comprehensive and thorough examination of their high school careers (she a teen-age mother and drop-out, he a track star whose goal in life was a Hardee's managership) and talked about how they got to where they got. Worked well.

Hour 5 pushed me to the limit. We orally went through the test preparation booklet, and several were gone almost as soon as we began. I am beginning to get fed up with them; they are either rude (Rodman was quite vulgar and vicious today) or asleep, and those who want to learn have little opportunity to do so. Old Joe would put them out, but this school does not have the desire to do so (nor do I, I am looking at survival for myself first). But I want them to see that the test is manageable and possible. They have the skills and the talents necessary to figure out much of what we are going to test them on. They just need to look.

Hour 6 was remarkably small today. Those there did their work, and I saw hard copies from everyone. I asked them to come by to pick them up before leaving school (though I doubt they will). I was pleased with the quality of the writing, there was no phoniness and no artificiality (though there was a bit of stolen material, which stands out like a racehorse in a pack of donkeys). But their spelling is atrocious, which frightens and disturbs. Joseph says he is going to Grambling next fall, and he can not put a sentence together and cannot consistently spell anything longer than a 4 letter word. Is this possible college caliber work? Others lack some of the basic skills necessary to communicate on any level other than the most primitive. I attempted to write positive comments about every paper, ignore grammar and spelling, and go for content. I want them to express themselves well, the method will take second place now. In an ideal world, peopled with mythological students eager to learn and compensate for deficiencies, they would use these papers as points of departure, trying to use what they have to make it what they want it to become. They would look to dictionaries, thesauruses, texts, encyclopedias and other references to fix their grammar and fill out their ideas. But I was an 11th grader once, and I know that there is little reason to do more than necessary. They need so much, want so little, and are willing to be satisfied with even less than that. I am not. I hope the school is not. I do not see my objective as prophylactic (keeping them off welfare and out of jail) but quite positive (giving them the tools to give their lives meaning). Enough.

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