Saturday, June 10, 2006

Unintended Consequences

Some of you know that I have been teaching longer than some small children and teenagers have been alive, so I've seen a lot of cultures come and go in the classroom. Goth and Emo, Jocks and Drama Queens, Gamers and Academics, Slackers and Barbies, you name the persuasion, they've all had a place for a time in my classroom.

The ethnic mix has changed as well, reflecting the changes in our surrounding community where the signs down Main St. are dual and sometimes triple language, English, Spanish, and fill-in-the-blank Asian. Many children are the product of mixed marriages as well, where integration has occurred on the cellular level, not just on the neighborhood level.

One might think, if one was optimistic, that the inclusion of all these different groups in the classroom would lead to peace and understanding among the races, but no dice. The conversations I overhear, intercept, and assign consequences for have become more and more racially charged, even to the point of entire conversations revolving around the race, its negative attributes, and personal background of each student involved.

It's not pretty, but I think it's educational for those of you out there in blogland to "hear" some sound clips I've heard lobbed around the campus in recent months. Obviously, the names have been eliminated to protect the "innocent".

Incident #1: Black student to white student across the room, loud enough for even the teacher to hear. "Hey, Cracker! Come help me with this problem." White student's response: "Can't do it right now." Black student: "(miscellaneous cuss words)".

Incident #2: Mexican student to white student, part of a longer discussion I am leaving out. "It's true, all Mexicans have Indian blood." White student: "But Vicente Fox is half Spanish and half Irish!" Mexican student, turning to third party to referee: "Isn't it true, all Mexicans have Indian blood?" Third party: "Uh, you look Spanish to me, and so does your sister." Mexican student fumes quietly.

Incident #3: Black student to Mexican student: "Hey, beaner! Bet you can't beat me up." Mexican student replies: "See you after school, nigger." Black student: "Why not now?"

Mixed race student: "My mom is from Guatemala and my dad is Chinese. What does that make me?"

Of course there are more, but these stand out in my mind. Why? They show that a) the name calling doesn't come from white kids, for the most part; b) race is very important to the kids, way more important than doing well in my class or avoiding punishment; and c) all this wackiness may lead to real fighting between the races.

I am reminded that the mixture of ants from different ant hills only turns into battle deluxe, until one group is eliminated and another dominates. Think Fire Ants, Argentine Ants, etc.

Not a pretty thought for someone who used to dream of harmonia humanitas.

God bless,


MC Bradley said...

Thanks for sharing with us once again, Laurel. I love your perceptive eye, you know, the one that sees things that others don't.

Thanks also for your words on Tim Bayly's blog, I really appreciated what you said there.

MC Bradley said...

My mother has also experienced things like this teaching in public and private school. I've got a doozie that she shared with me recently, and I'll post it over at my livejournal site soon.

Laurel1861 said...

Thanks, MC. I will certainly be interested to read what she experienced, although I have a general idea...