Friday April 10, 1992

The Last Day

The date I have been waiting for for at least a year has arrived. There is a remarkable feeling of having endured something rather power ful. The day itself was of almost no on sequence. We got through with the smallest challenges possible as if today were the day preceding my execution and everyone wanted to ease me to and through it.

Everyone was exceedingly nice and cooperative. It was weird. Hour 1 was relatively scantily attended. Karen told me she was going to spend the hour with Mr. Phillips (she did not ask, she told) and I dutifully gave her a pass and gladly sent her on her way. She left behind 6 rather sleepy compatriots. I tried to get several discussions going about the importance of communication skills, not just for jobs (after all, most people, even if unlucky, don't look for more than 10 or 20 jobs in their lifetime) but as a way of life. I tried to show Steven, who would never need to look for a job because he could go to work for his dad's construction company, how important good communication skills would be. I had him pretend to be selling me a deck, but he could never transcend the world he was in and ignore his heckling classmates. I told him to behave as if they were neighbors, but he still talked back to them. When I told him he wasn't going to get the job he was irritated and started yelling. Not the appropriate behavior package, I'm afraid. Robert managed to get the best of Steven by hassling almost everything he said, and what was so interesting is that they speak metaphorically on occasion, but never can accept the other's metaphors, but are incredibly literal.

It is a fault of their training as well as their environment. Black boys seem to have a single plane of functioning (at least many) and they cannot see above it. It includes sex (automatically good) money (same) physical strength (you know what) appropriate skin color and hair texture and, for some, appropriate clothing as well. These are their values, and they are things easy to measure or verify, either they did or did not get laid or have the correct jacket or win the fight. They do not seem to value intangibles, and when facing them (as I discovered when we discussed Animal Farm, prejudice, propaganda, and other such personal concepts) they say "I'll kick that muthafucka's head in" or "I'd shoot that white bastard in the face". They like the things the can see touch and feel, and those they cannot just are not a big part of their life. Which brings up the question, how can a teacher incorporate those intangibles (even if they are not official MMAT objectives) into the curriculum? They just do not seem to want to think about things, at one point I asked a quest ion, to which they replied yes, and I, of course, said "Why?" Steven, in snarling tone, replied "I knew you were going to say that."

There was no Hour 2. They all stayed upstairs to watch "Boyz 'n the Hood" (I hope the punctuation is accurate). So Mrs. Korman sat and discussed my successes and failures. She is feeling a bit brittle with the combination of atrocious attendance and daily field trips that remove students from the class. So am I. So many things happen 6th hour, if I were working on a sequential project it would be challenging to get through it. I am glad the track team is going to Springfield and some kids are going to Yosemite and others to the Arabia Museum etc. etc. etc, but the constant in and out flow is a bit nerve-wracking. When will everyone be there (at least among those who want to be there) for a whole week. It appears never. These big field trips should take place in the summer, when the kids can have the time they need without having to interfere with school and its concomitant responsibilities. We also cleaned up her room, and rearranged the chairs, to give a new look for the kids when they return, as if they are starting a new place with a new teacher.

Hour 3 was going to be a real class; it wasn't. I had wanted to talk about language evolution, but they could not have been more uninterested. They looked blankly at me, began peering out the window (toward what I do not know; as a second story room there is not much one can see), and Kerri, carrying her flour baby, used it as a pillow and drifted off into a very comfortable sleep. I then moved to a new topic, why it is important to try to learn to speak. They gave the old "get a job" recitation. Coryanna told me she was going to attempt a job search (I think she was that equivocal in her conviction), so we started on that. I told them one of the themes of my teaching, you will spend your whole life attempting to get others to do what you want: boyfriends, spouses, parents, teachers, children, friends, co-workers, bosses and subordinates. There is only one way to get it, convince the other person to do it. For a while money, food, sex, treats, threats and companionship will do the trick, but after a while something more powerful will be necessary. No option but words. No way to be successful, by whatever terms you measure it, than by words. Coryanna played prospective applicant, but she had no oomph, and would not look at me. I was brusque to her and she withered and left. I then reversed roles and got her to accept my application, though she said she wasn't taking them. I got her to do what I wanted. We then talked about hairdressers and how they have to manipulate their customers for the benefit of both. I hope they saw it. It is something I can do again, in a different environment, but I need to harp on this topic and get them to see it over and cover and over and over. No escape from my special hobby-horses topic.

Hour 5 was to take the test, but they were not interested at all (again there were only about 7 present). I went over the worksheet; they busily filled in the "correct" answers. But they gave no effort to the test. I see that they need a lot more leading before I can expect them to be responsible enough to do their work. Now the question is, how do I get them to have some reward for doing some of what they did and get the info to Mr. Reynolds? I don't know, but I hate to leave such a sloppy mess at the end. I told them to take their tests home and work on them over vacation, but they won't, and most of them will have lost it by the time they get back, unless of course they leave it at school . No good options.

Hour 6 went out with a whimper most extraordinary. We had 4 in class to begin, and they were already watching Boyz when I arrived. There was no way I was going to stop it, and fortunately my speaker did not come. Though if he had I did have another class coming down. But attendance policies are so spotty that these kids sat through the 6th hour and 7th as well, and no one bothered to report to their appropriate classes. To the film: it is a vulgar and gloomy picture of urban life that makes some very potent points that its audience misses entirely. The main theme "Stop the killing" is clear enough, but the rudeness, promiscuity, vulgarity, hatefulness, intra-racial violence and disrespect for others that are such a part of the world I see and were a part of this film were ignored, or laughed at, by the class. That, I think, would depress the creator (I am hoping that he had a message as well as a price tag too deliver). They laughed when the hero was shot; they laughed when his friend cried and had a tantrum, they enjoyed the profanity and pitifully ignorant communication between the protagonists. Women were treated as receptacles for semen to be ignored since the real friendship is between men, and the men swear, drink and threaten each other. They have nothing to say. This is a potential "Best Picture"? These are a group of fools that can not communicate enough to make anything of their lives, but resort to cocking the trigger to prove both manhood and affection. Life at its most primitive, clan against clan of grunting, copulating cavemen. And they never noticed.

Enough rambling. Be grateful for word processors; without them there would be no way I could have gone on at such length. I have seen much of what there is to see in a year, a death, a host of dropouts-to-be (David never returned, Joyce has been out for 2 weeks, Diamond, smart though she is, insists on arguing with everybody and frequently stays away, Karen will be either dead or pregnant before long, and Dawan, a boy I like immensely, will be the victim of the violence he relishes), enough hostility to last a lifetime, and enough humor to keep it all going. Is it worth it to try too get rockheads to think about things they don't want too? It better be. To end, let me transcribe (unedited to show my work was incomplete) two unsolicited notes I received from 6th hour students.

Dear Mr. Clark,
What's up? This is your favorite student. I really had a nice time while you were here. Sometimes I gave you a hard time because I wanted to give you your money's worth. As a teacher it is your job too make sure the students learn, but as a teacher the students in your class half to have fun or like what you are teaching. So as a student we judge teachers and the teachers that are pains get the shit end of the stick from the students. Just make your classes where ever you go challenging and knowledgible. And students will give you a lot more respect believe it. Your a great person in all though and a great teacher. Thanks for making us write those reports Mr. Clark.
Yours truely, Earl, B.K.A. "TANK"

Dear Mr. Clark
Although we gave you a hard time and tried not to like you I'm gonna miss you and your teaching strategy and those talks we shared. Thanks for hangin in there and caring.
Shaunda Scales Tonikka Farmer
P.S. don't forget about EHS. or Hr. 6
P.S. Friend Forever

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