Tuesday April 7, 1992

I printed my copy of the first half of this journal, and was amazed at the incongruities and bizarre things I saw. I was far more optimistic than I remember (though now I remain optimistic, it is in a different way now; I realize both the greater challenges and obstacles that face me as well as the greater rewards and pleasures to be derived) and far more brief in my reports. I have so much to describe and so little time to do it; I feel both awed and overwhelmed by what has transpired. However, I plug con, ever cognizant of the fact that these words will be read by me only and that I will look back with a sense of confusion and irritation (with my stupidity, naivete and ignorance). This journal, a document of interest on one level and an anvil on another (in the Wile E. Coyote sense as well as the traditional sense), has given me a lot of opportunities as well as a lot of relief (and saved my wife from even more regular incoherent and irrational babblings).

To specifics.

Hours 1 and 2 again blazed their way through the MMAT, proving that you don't have to know anything in order to quickly complete a standardized test. They managed to finish both parts in an average of about 20 minutes, and almost every answer I looked at was wrong. They have no idea of what these tests are asking, and they give up in frustration and contempt. I suppose I would have too, though now I feel challenged by my ignorance and attempt to outsmart the tests. They do not share either my predilection for detection or my test taking skills. So I watched them talk (Royals lost their opener and Duke won the NCAA Championship) and wondered what the future holds for them. Robert and Dennis both seemed to give more effort than their peers, and I tried to offer my congratulations and appreciation. Diamond, who failed history and received a C after 2 A s, filled in all the circles and put her head down. Mrs. Korman attempted to get her peers to pressure her into trying harder, but when one of those peers is Tonikka, who skips my class almost daily, it is hard to see much benefit coming from it. We shall see, since she is not going on the field trip but will spend the day with me tomorrow (how glad I will be!). Our class is usurped (by others who have been displaced by MMAT taking place in their room) so I suppose we will go elsewhere, though where that may be I can't say.

These kids have not been prepared for their tests, and they do not have the skills that they should after 6 years, thus the tests are doubly cruel for they are becoming more difficult for them each year as they fall farther and farther behind. When will they catch up? Mr. Kozol, how long do we spend more and get less? There was an interesting tidbit today. I asked Rondell, who again came late, if he had his permission slip for tomorrow's trip. He pulled out a slip signed by Eunice Whitson, but so obviously in his hand that I was surprised he even attempted to turn it in. The girls are much better at this kind of thing, their handwriting is at least mature enough to create the illusion of adult, but this was inept beyond words. He watched with that sly kind of look that Orwell gives Squealer as I gave it to Mrs. Korman, but she didn't seem concerned that it was a forgery.

Another tidbit, Karen used her piece of scratch paper to lovingly intertwine her name with that of her boyfriend, and had a note on the same piece of paper. These children think they are being so clever; she crossed out all the c's in the note and called the recipient a blood. Do they think that there are no ramifications from these choices, sometimes far more frightening than they can imagine. However, they accept death as a friend in ways I never want to (or if not friend, at least close associate and frequent caller) and seem to see so little for themselves that they do have no reason to live. Self-esteem comes from knowing something, but that only ones from wanting to know something. These children, so frail helpless and naive face the world armed with weapons that make them killers while going out unarmed with the weapons that make them successes. Only school can change that, but only if they let it.

Hour 3 was especially dull today. I gave them thumbnail sketches of 3 of the stories and Kerri gave an especially inept version of the fourth (another skill they lack, as do my own kids, is summarizing; they just cannot select the pertinent details but either ramble on forever until cut off or give a capsule so small it is impossible to distinguish Jane Austen from Stephen King). We then went back to work on our letter, but they have no interest in this any more either (what are they interested in?) and were extremely difficult to inspire to an answer. Twanna returned this week, though this was the first time I saw her, and she has a boy named Marlon (not with her, thank goodness Joe Clark thinks having a nursery in school is a tacit approval of teen-age pregnancy, and I kind of think so too; it should not be so easy to dispose of children once they are acquired, especially when the state is paying for it). Taking care of him is more challenging than she anticipated, and she is discouraged (enough to have no more soon, I hope!) and eager to graduate. She said something interesting to me: she came to East for her senior year from Central because she has no friends here and thus can not get into trouble. Not what I would think of as the way to spend my last year in high school, but then I was not like them. I see that she truly wants to graduate.

Hour 5 again today was worn out from their grueling morning of testing. Of the 10 I had, 4 spent the whole hour awake and attentive. Those 4 received invitations to the trip today, I hope they can get their permission slips signed and returned. It would be nice to see them go, though I know that they won't benefit much from it. There was another heartfelt anguish; Dawan, back for the first time in a month, begged for a chance to go. I would not let him (he was copying the lyrics to a song for the whole hour) and he begged and pleaded as Charles did for a pack of gum on the last day I saw him. (Charles never returned after that, I hope I was not responsible. It seems like something in a movie, and will be when this is filmed some day, but he whined for a long time and then just vanished. He is such a pitiful character and so desperate to be a part of something bigger than himself. I hope he doesn't die trying, but with no skills, no talents and no personality he is going to have a very hard time making it in the world without some drastic changes.) Anyway we read Chapter 9 and they just do not see the gloom of what is happening to the characters. As Pete Townsend says "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Political satire is too hard for them to see. And taking this long to finish such a short book is a crime.

Hour 6 showed me their most irritating side today. They were just plain obnoxious. We read the end of the story. (I remembered today that in my 11th grade English class I answered the question, I answered most questions for dear old Mrs. Chalk, about how Bierce created the change in tone. I asked the same question today, but no one could answer. Did they not pay attention? Did they not see it, though they did after I pointed out the shift in tense. They sure need buckets of help, but IT ISN'T IMPOSSIBLE! Maybe 21 years from now they will have the same memory.) We watched the film again. Joseph, adrift in some wild dream that allowed him to sit through a showing of the film and a reading of the story without recognizing what was occurring, shouted in shock when the film ended. Everyone laughed at him, but it is cool to see the film make such an impression, even on such jaded and hostile countenances. But he is chillin so much of the time, afflicted, as he put it, with a ferocious case of senioritis and incapable of much work, that I never know what to expect. Tom paid strict attention to both showings and to the reading of the story, and I gave him an invitation to the trip tomorrow as well, but so eager to leave for my interview that I forgot to tell Mrs. Korman that he would be coming by for a permission slip. But he was excited to be invited, I hope he has a blast.

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