Posted by: chrisdavis | January 22, 2009

I can punish you, you know


“No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders.”–John Taylor Gatto

Today I entered a class of 7th graders. They were full of energy and youthfulness. I told them that if they were able to finish all the busy work their teacher had left for them to do, I would tell them a riddle.

That opened a floodgate. Almost every child had a riddle of their own they wanted to share with me and the rest of the class. I just couldn’t say “no”. So we took some of the time to do riddles before I finally stopped the fun and told them we simply had to do the work the teacher had left for them.

They settled down and began to work, but they kept asking me if there would really be time before the end of class for my riddle. I said I didn’t think so.

But I just couldn’t say “no”. With 15 minutes left in the period, I told them to put their work aside. If they got in trouble tomorrow, they were to tell the teacher it was my fault. It was riddle time.

I told them the “red hat/green hat” riddle. They came alive with all kinds of quirky and interesting answers. All were wrong, but all were clever. They were jumping up and down with excitement.

Riddles, questions–things that make them want to know something. To get involved. Not just predigested information that never stirs the mind to think outside the box or that has any connection to something in which they are, themselves, involved.

My previous class was an art class. It was filled with 8th grade boys being made to do things they knew had no meaning to their current or future lives.  The boys simply couldn’t sit still and draw.  I knew that if they acted this way with their regular teacher, they would have gotten in-school suspension. They were being “bad”. I could have said, “I can punish you, you know.” That’s how schools keep its young people in line. With fear. That’s what I was taught to do in my substitute Orientation Class.

But, these boys weren’t being bad. They were being boys. I wanted to make the walls go away and let in the light of day. I wanted to let them out of their cages.  I wanted to punish a government that actually thought it was a good idea to do this to the next generation while, at the same time, it was saying it wanted the next generation to be creative and inventive.

In 1990, 1 in 15 millionaires was a school dropout. I wonder what that statistic is almost 20 years later.

Teachers are mostly good people. Education is a wonderful, and necessary, thing. Schooling is an abomination because it mostly mitigates against being able to receive an education.

Should I tell them another riddle? Maybe I could kidnap them and we could all help Phil build a house, or work in a homeless shelter for a day, or…

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