I said, “It�s come to my attention that some of you heard there were some people in class who didn�t have to do the project.”
And the entire classroom exploded with that simmering, pent-up indignation. I calmed them down, then said, “Tell me how you feel about that.”
Over the course of the two periods in which I conducted the experiment, I heard them challenge me, question me, and downright dis me. I heard them complain about how smug their friends were being, about how unfair it all was. I even found out later that my first period conspirators had gone above and beyond by telling their friends in the next class I�d gotten so angry about people not doing their work I�d just surprised them with an extra project as punishment.
Then I asked them, “And yet, none of you came to ask me about it.” You could have heard a pin drop.
One student said, “That�s because we heard it from all the people you took outside.”
I said, “I could have taken them out there to talk about their grades. I could have taken them out there to talk about tardies, or graduation, or anything at all. But what you believed was what they told you. Why didn�t anyone come to talk with me?”
The experiment itself is rather disturbing: lying to students, manipulating their emotions, feeding their darkness, treating students like test subjects (for their own good, of course). But it is actually her response to the students that really chilled me:
The best response of them all, when it was all over and they�d heard about the experiments and Abu Ghraib (which few of them knew about), came from the same kid who�d said after viewing A Clockwork Orange he felt like he had to go home and cry.
He said, “GOD. Everything I do for this class makes me feel like I need to go home and cry.”
I knew what he meant, and had little comfort to offer him, especially knowing what they�re about to encounter in LOTF. And yet the fact that this young man is bold enough to admit out loud his despair over certain human behaviors gives me hope. It�s also reminded me I need to do something with them, before the end of the year, that will send them off into the world with the notion that there is goodness too – and they, if they choose, are about to become part of it.
Disturbing. The world can seem a dark enough place, and there are certainly enough bad things in the nightly news to make a strong man give in to despair. But instead of feeding children with images of hope, courage, love, honor, friendship, loyalty, she gives them even more images of darkness, more reasons to despair. The idea of goodness comes in at the end almost as an afterthought.
A teacher’s job should be to fill a child’s mind with positive images, role models, ideals to strive for. I don’t mean we should pretend that evil doesn’t exist or that we should be feeding them candy-coated lies. The Lord of the Rings, for example shows a world filled with darkness but it also shows the struggle to defeat that overwhelming evil. It shows the value of honor, courage and love.
Is it any wonder the rate of suicide among teens is climbing when they are fed a steady diet of this kind of stuff “for their own good”?
I’ve read before about children fed on a constant diet of the kind of books that now seem de rigeur for English classes, problem books, I think they’re often called. There’s this misguided idea that we have to give kids stuff that holds up a mirror to the worst parts of their lives in a misguided attempt to be relevant. The Headmistress at the Common Room refers to what this teacher is doing as indoctrination and I think I agree with her. They are being taught to feel guilty for that which they cannot control. By the teacher’s own admission very few of the students knew about Abu Ghraib. So she felt it her duty to make them aware. In the process, breaking their innocence and feeding the darkness with ugly images. Because that is the goal of schools, in her way of thinking, to indoctrinate students into a certain kind of social awareness.
Just like the torturers in A Clockwork Orange ( I can’t believe she had them watch that movie!), the teacher sees herself as a benefactor. She thinks she’s upholding law and order. But what she’s doing is just as insidious. Just as the hero of the movie comes to be sick at the very sound of Beethoven, the children in this class will come to associate literature with guilt, pain, horror. And so they’ll close the books, certain there is nothing for them between the covers, and turn to television for their escape from reality.
I know, I’ve met these kids in my college classes. They are convinced that all literature is an unending litany of things they should feel guilty for. It’s the Holocaust and slavery and all the hot-button social issues that are currently in vogue.
But I don’t think it’s all conscious indoctrination. There also seems to be this mindset that kids need to emote. It almost doesn’t matter what they are emoting over. Just the fact that the kid cries is a victory for the teacher. I’ve seen this kind of thinking in Catholic youth ministry as well. The goal for some ministers seems to be to get the kids to cry. As if that is the only way to know you’ve touched them.