the twit


    fleche, coule, parry

    ben's comment, and a response embedded

    1) I don’t think your comments are particularly aggressive, or something to regret later. As long as you’ve known me, you know I love a good debate, so I take no offense at our difference of opinion (and on several of your points we do agree). The only part I think you will regret is that last paragraph. Whether you have taught for two years or twenty or zero, your beliefs are equally valid. Experience, of course, helps to inform beliefs, but it doesn’t alter the validity.
    (1) that last paragraph is only there to serve as a coincidental preemption to what i completely agree is a moot point-- the relationship between experience and validity of argument. my only regret is that i did not include a nod to the fact that pissing contests about service are often red herrings (though i'm not sure i'm using the idiom correctly).
    2) The parts of Michelle’s blog that I appreciate are, for the most part, different from the parts you most strongly disagree with.
    (2) there are certainly parts of the post that i agree with (and i also regret not taking time to better establish that fact in the midst of my fuss). it is true that teaching is at times unexpectedly difficult and at times threatens to be a unmanageable and dehumanizing experience (for the teacher, the student, the community)-- and people about to engage in this arena should be prompted in this light. my issue is less with the validity of concern for incoming teachers, it is rather with the rhetoric through which that concern is manifest-- which (and i think that this is where you and i disagree alot) i feel extinguishes the value of intent. my assumption is that you're a little more forgiving in regards to the fact that many of the basic truths and basic intents are not regrettable.
    3) The part of the blog that I was highlighting and that I, of course, agree with, is that you have to be strict to be successful at classroom management as a first-year teacher. I haven’t read Skinner so I have no idea if I subscribe to his philosophy. However, I wholeheartedly believe that people respond to incentives, positive and negative. In a classroom setting this means rewarding behavior that you want and punishing behavior you don’t. It’s going to take one hell of an argument, and a lot of data, to convince me otherwise. Michelle was making the point that some (many?) first-years have trouble with the idea of being strict and implementing rules and consequences. Further, Michelle was making the point that while it may seem harsh (key word is seem) it is not actually harsh. Having a well-ordered, safe, classroom with rules and procedures is a sign of caring about the students. I think she is exactly right about this. The main problem you have, I think, with this notion is that Michelle is asking the first-years to “put aside their conscience.” I don’t think this is accurate and I don’t see this reflected in her post. Again, the key word is “seems.” I don’t think Michelle is saying “put away your conscience.” I think she is saying, “examine the ideas of rules, rewards, and consequences before you dismiss them outright as unnecessarily harsh and/or demeaning.”
    (3) of course systems of punishment and reward produce results. i'm far from disputing that. nor am i disputing skinner-influenced behavioral training as a whole (for those of you who want to raise the issue of "that's not what skinner intended"). rather, i am deeply afraid that a deep reliance on punishment and reward systems can amplify the satisfaction of social results (i.e. kids in their seats, kids walking in a straight line, kids saying "yes, sir") to a point to which the humanity of those controlled gets drowned out. furthermore, the ultimate risk of punishment-reward fetish is that when an individual's sole reason for not doing something "bad" is the fear of punishment, the hope for an ethics substantially grounded in community and empathy is practically lost. it is this sort of control mania-- oscillating between implosion of order (due to the numbness of punishment) and amplification of consequence framework (zero tolerance everything, armed security, constant surveillance)-- that propels so much of our schoolhouse-to-jailhouse/cradle-to-prison pipelines. also, (and we do disagree on this), when i hear a lot of "do it," "ignore that," "Believe us," and-- come on-- "The only way to do it ... THE ONLY WAY TO DO IT in their world is through power. It's what they understand. It's the only coin of the realm here," and no consideration for a return to nuanced and humane engagement with a group of young people (honestly, what follows the "once you've earned their respect" phase is merely a reference to the ease of asserting dominance with a mere glance), then i most certainly feel that the call to examine the necessity of rules & consequences bleeds into "put away your conscience"-- though i agree with you in general that this is not a necessary exchange. it's just kind of awkward when we're actually comparing students to dogs (which, yes, references pavlov and by extension skinner).
    4) The stuff about chaotic and tragic lives and seeing more violence before school starts than some of the teachers have ever seen is hyperbole. I believe this is the main part you take issue with. You and Michelle can blog this out.
    (4) i agree with michelle: "hyperbole is a useful rhetorical tool." however, like any tool (e.g. punishment-reward systems) it can be used irresponsibly, and a mere note that it can be useful does not somehow breathe whisk away the problematic consequences of misuse.
    5) The part that I really like in Michelle’s post, and the point I was highlighting, is this: You'll be tempted to think, "I'll be the one who's different. I'll show them respect and they'll respect me for it. They'll want to please me because I'm the first person who's ever smiled at them and shown I care." You will be fresh meat. It won't happen. Michelle is exactly right about this. This happens every year with a few first-years…
    (5) yes. i regret not commenting on the "you'll be fresh meat" passage. one the one hand, it is certainly worthwhile to preempt a hypothetical incoming teacher's notion that he/she will be the one that makes a difference in these lives just by the mere notion of caring; that these poor, deprived people are just waiting for a savior of respect and care. however, instead of calling to light the nuance of community and individual, or countering the regrettable notion that in the event that a new teacher would show care, respect, or even a smile it would somehow be the first time these young people have ever experienced it (much the same for civilized this and that)-- the text seems to return to its violent, colonial framework of a struggle between unimaginable chaos and ignorance and the necessity of structure and power to contain/civilize it. while it is not true that a new teacher is going to be the first sunshine in these young people's cloudy existence, nor is it true that his/her sunshine will-- by mere fact of its sunniness-- fix everything, it is also not true that in response to this once should retreat to the notion that "respect" and relationship-based ethics simply "won't happen" because it's a dog-eat-dog world and these people somehow can't "understand nuanced behavior." again, though the intent is fair, the result is regrettably a violent, cynical shadow of an erstwhile conqueror's optimism. it is a failed revolt away from kurtz saying "kill them all."


    re: "the benefit of sarcasm"

    can i be on the board who gets to select "the best job of pissing me off" award?

    re: "I'm thinking it's Molina from the turgid prose and oh-so-hip lack of concern for language conventions."

    am i "oh-so-hip" because i don't capitalize?



    clearly, "the occasional bout of fury" and "in rare moments of rage" are redundant, though the sentiment remains infrequent.

    to echo myself, few things piss me off more than dehumanizing young people, romanticizing community, and colonial/paternal rhetoric as a vector for talking about pretty much anything.

    the occasional bout of fury

    selected by ben guest as an exemplary passage spawned by his annual "advice to an incoming teacher" writing assignment for the teacher corps.

    During summer school you'll be told to manage your classroom in a way that seems dehumanizing and demeaning. Do it. It won't seem necessary in your summer school class. Ignore that. Your students in your classrooms come from families that are chaotic and tragic beyond your wildest imagination. They see more violence and fear before they come to school some days than you've probably ever seen in your life. What they don't have is structure. They are in free fall in terms of self-regulation. They do not understand nuanced behavior. I know it seems demeaning, but these students need the structure that gives them an anchor.

    You'll be tempted to think, "I'll be the one who's different. I'll show them respect and they'll respect me for it. They'll want to please me because I'm the first person who's ever smiled at them and shown I care." You will be fresh meat. It won't happen. Believe us.

    my response follows. as this all came out in streams of being really pissed off, i will most likely regret the aggressiveness of the language.

    i take serious, serious issue with this (or at least the part that ben has lifted up on his blog). particularly:

    "During summer school you'll be told to manage your classroom in a way that seems dehumanizing and demeaning. Do it."

    wherein you actually ask people to push aside critical engagement in the identity/power issues that lie beneath the very real notion that applying a grotesquely skinnerian framework for behavioral control may be problematic, and-- yes-- dehumanizing (which it is). this is not to say that one should not attempt to create a humanizing and rigid environment, nor is it to say that being strict or structure-happy is necessarily problematic. it is to say, that i take issue with the (unfortunately common) implication that people will be better off putting their conscience aside for the moment while they learn the rigoramole of punishment-punishment-punishment-reward-punishment-punishment because the "reality" of the "dogs" that they're going to have to "train" is just so (gasp) different from their own that they can't possibly understand it, let alone engage in it on it's own terms and or let it inform/be informed by whatever previous socioethical framework they are fluent in.

    "Your students in your classrooms come from families that are chaotic and tragic beyond your wildest imagination."

    wherein you blatantly romanticize and make caricature of (and, to qualify my use of these terms, i point to your use of "wildest imagination") the very community that you are serving. once again dehumanization takes the form of hyperbole: that the "reality" of the living conditions outside of the school building (i.e. in the space of homes) is just beyond rational understanding. i contend that it is in fact not that hard to engage in (let alone wrap one's mind around) the wide range of family relationships that one encounters in a community (any community, actually), and perhaps the real issue is that we're letting our "wildest imaginations" get the best of us, instead of doing the difficult work of engaging in the complexities of power, race, identity, community, etc. and, of course, we can all bring out our "life is tough" list of horrible situations that students have to deal with-- but the suggestion of embedding one's response to that list within a framework that replaces rational, supportive engagement with an arm's length just-make-sure-their-shirts-are-tucked-in and use-your-discipline-ladder-so-they-know-there's-structure is far from good advice. furthermore, the most tragic consequence of this caricature is the absence of family lives that are healthy (though, like all, imperfect). dear future teacher: some of your parents give a damn. more importantly, don't for a second let a class, race, or region informed assumption ignite a functional "imagination" to eclipse the reality of your community.

    "They do not understand nuanced behavior."

    wherein you actually remove the human element from our students. are you kidding me? they don't understand nuanced behavior? this is not only a grossly offensive homogenization of young people (in the same vein of your previous grossly offensive homogenization of mississippi families), but takes the cake in what can only be racialized undertones in these other efforts to help the unconverted yet-to-be-teacher "understand" the sheer uncivilized context in which they are about to have their colonial trial by fire. by actually presupposing that a set of human beings do not (as a whole, mind you) understand nuanced behavior, one opens the door for a vast amount of abuse stemming from the conclusion that they "don't know any better" or i "know what's best for them," a pair of rationales that have some interesting historical precedent (especially in mississippi: if black folk don't understand the nuances of our fine constitution...)

    and, for those who may take issue with my taking issue (and want to play the battle wounds game), a little preemption: yes, i was a public high school teacher. yes, i was a public high school teacher in mississippi. yes, i'm still in mississippi. oh, and if you want to really find a reason for me to not having the background necessary to "understand where she's coming from," i did not teach in the delta (which, i may add, does not corner the market on educational failure).


    another spring stanza

    tearing up silence;
    throwing ghosts at it--
    arms, breasts,
    the smell of her neck--
    an empty phone.


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