Is It Time To Be Politically Incorrect About The Mentally Ill?

  • Last week, a 15-year-old girl walking home from a friend’s house in an affluent Las Vegas suburb was attacked, raped twice, and stabbed more than 40 times by a 19-year-old predator.  He then set fire to her corpse and left it in the desert. 
  • This murder was similar to the 1997 rape and murder of little Sherrice Iverson, who was unfortunate enough to be left unattended in a casino all night while her father gambled.  A then-18-year-old playfully made contact with her, then took her into a bathroom where he ended up twisting the 7-year-old’s neck. 
  • Also last week, a man walked into an IHOP in Carson City, Nevada’s capital, and fired at random with an assault rifle, killing four people–including three uniformed National Guardsmen–before killing himself.
  • And let’s not forget the shooting in Arizona this last January which killed six people, including a judge and a little girl who would have turned ten years old today, on the anniversary of 9/11. 

These four tragedies have something in common.  They were all perpetrated by people who were known by those around them to be mentally ill.  Continue reading

Two Shakespeare Quotes Dissing School

Some people may think Shakespeare is difficult, elitist, old-fashioned, or whatever else they don’t like, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Like all permanently classic works–Mozart’s music, the Bible, The Simpsons–Shakespeare endures precisely because he’s the opposite of all those things.  Shakespeare speaks the truth of real, universal human experience so powerfully and honestly that he makes us see life more fully. 

Case in point: Shakespeare had no illusions that school was fun or popular.  He makes fun of how much kids hate school.  See?  Hundreds of years later, and people are basically the same. 

I recently finished reading Henry IV, Part 2, which wasn’t nearly as good as the other three plays in that series, but it did have one line that I really loved.  In act IV, scene 2, after being tricked into a truce by the prince, some rebels report that their armies have disbanded.  One leader tells the others just how quickly the soldiers have gone home after hearing the news:

My lord, our army is dispersed already;

Like youthful steers unyoked, they take their courses

East, west, north, south; or, like a school broke up,

Each hurries toward his home and sporting-place.

Heh.  That information could be visualized like this:

Things that run away quickly

A stressed out army after peace is declared

Farm animals after being unchained

Boys leaving school

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Parenting 101

During the year I spent working as a school counselor, I wanted to put a sign on the door of my office that said, “Parents: you are not doing your children a favor by excusing them from the natural consequences of their choices.”  That sign would have cut my work load–and stress–in half.  I’ve been thinking about that sign a lot as this school year winds down.

Square Fairness Pegs and Round Reality Holes

I know of a student who’s been enrolled in a high school class since January, but who has never showed up to class.  Perhaps he had moved, but had not officially withdrawn, leaving the school to do so after he’d been gone long enough.  This happens all the time. 

Last week, the office asked his teachers to confirm his absences, a step in the withdrawal procedure.  But, then, a couple of days later, there was a homework request in those teachers’ mailboxes for him.  Apparently, he was out of school due to a medical condition, and the teachers were all being asked to provide “homework” to cover January 24-March 16.  Was this a joke?  Sadly, no. 

It’s beyond impossible to give a bunch of worksheets and textbook questions to a student a teacher has never even met to cover two months–just one week shy of being an entire quarter.  If that were even an option, any attendance would be pointless, and every kid could just do their stuff at home and mail it in.  The request was a pretty disturbing insult to the integrity of all classes. 

What kind of parents would expect a school to able to almost literally phone in enough work to cover a quarter of a school year?  If they did think that way, how could they respect an institution that they think is so easy?  And how could a school go along with the farce of such perceptions?  

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Students Cheating On Me

Once again, for about the umpteenth time this year, I find myself having to deal with students I’ve caught cheating in my class.  It makes me angry, it makes me discouraged, and it makes me feel…cheap.

Yes, cheap.  Like I’ve been used.  Like it wasn’t just my test but me, personally, who was cheated on. 

It’s not that silly of an analogy.  I try to trust students, want to enjoy our time in class, working on something I deeply feel to be important, only to find that I’ve been lied to.  Like anyone who’s been cheated on in a relationship–even a work relationship–I have to wonder how many times it’s happened before, when I haven’t caught them.  How many days have I spent giving them the best of myself that I could, totally blind to the fact that they were consciously deceiving me, making a mockery of everything I thought our working relationship stood for? 

Actually, all these instances of dishonesty in the classroom make me feel worse than cheated on.  If some students are so set on simply getting to that reward at the end of the relationship–the grade, that fun payoff that they feel entitled to indulge in, without all the messy work, discipline, and sacrifice that goes into naturally earning the fruits of relationships–you know what that makes me in the cheater’s eyes?  A prostitute.  “Don’t bore me with all that sappy stuff about commitment and responsibility; just gimme the answers I want.”  Isn’t that nice? 

I don’t know how such dishonest, fraudulent working relationships work in real life, but in my classroom metaphor, I can tell you that once the truth has been exposed to me, I certainly lose all respect for the cheaters who think they can use me and what I work for like some kind of object who exists to serve them. 

It gets difficult sometimes to work with people who clearly have no respect for school.  I’ll take this opportunity to echo what a local newspaper editor wrote two days ago about more children needing to drop out of school.

Pen Demographics

Every class leaves things behind after the bell rings.  Once my charges scoot along on their way, I take stock of the ruin often left of my classroom.  I usually try to have them pick up during the last few minutes, but, nonetheless, a thin layer of detritus often remains lingering, like the cast-off slough of a snake skin.

Among the endless items I could catalogue here–notebooks, textbooks, hats, PE shoes, jackets, notes to each other, random drawings, broken pencils, lunch bags, gym bags, wrist bands, toys, candy, and other accessories–the most interesting are the pens.

Pens, if they have a company’s name and logo on them, can tell you a lot about someone.  How many TV mysteries have been solved because the detective saw a pen in a suspect’s office from the motel where the body was found? 

The pens left in my classroom–even by good classes at a good school–invariably have advertising on them for casinos, social service organizations, and (by far the most often) pharmaceuticals. 

I’ve never seen a pen left in my class that came from a college, a bookstore, or a theater.  Maybe some kids do have those pens but don’t lose them.  Does it say something about people that those with casino pens lose them and those with college pens don’t? 

This might be tied in to a fact that I often remind students of when they tell me that they “forgot” to do their homework: you remember the things you care about.

After all, I have never once had a student exit class and leave behind their cell phone.

Some Sad School Stories

There are forty students enrolled in my third hour class.  Thirty showed up today: one had been suspended, nine others were truant. 

For the previous two classes, their homework—as explained at the beginning and end of each class and posted on the board—was to get a copy of a novel from a list I’d given them, and merely to bring it in to class today.  The list included authors such as Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury (and, for that matter, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer) among two dozen others, the only other requirement being that the book they choose be at least 250 pages long.  I told them that our school librarian had a copy of the list and could help them find a book.  Obviously, they had a few hundred books to choose from.

Out of the thirty students in class today, only ten had a book.  A few others probably had a book but left it at home.  However, the vast majority of the unprepared twenty clearly hadn’t put forth any effort at all, hadn’t bothered to write down or remember the assignment, and had lost or thrown away my handout list.  They didn’t even care enough to try to do it.  Keep in mind that the assignment was merely to have a copy of the book with them.  That was it. 

And only one-fourth of the kids in that class will get credit for it. 

Is this a remedial class?  Far from it.  Continue reading