Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Real Education

I wasn't the type of kid to question or challenge much. I was pretty weak that way.

When I did my recent school events I worked with 111 students over the course of three hours. Wouldn't you know it, session #1 as I'm being introduced the teacher says something about me having written a great book.

Which is when the student, who I'll call Axel in this post, piped up and asked the teacher if he'd actually read the book.

The teacher admitted he hadn't.

Axel asked why he said it was great if he hadn't read it.

I was standing behind the teacher trying not to laugh. I'm sure my amusement was as plain as the teacher's embarrassment. Okay, I did jump in and rescued the teacher, or at least tried to. Here we were, not one word out of my mouth, and the first session was almost derailed.

It didn't stop there with Axel either. He made me work for it. But I have to say that my other sessions that day were better than the first, because he made me think and he pushed me.

Now, Axel was... 12 or 13. All the kids I had that day were. I was talking to the teacher at lunch about what had happened and he said that when he was younger a teacher had told him there are two kinds of people, those who follow and those that will change the world. And he said, "Axel wants to change the world."

That isn't meant on the Nelson Mandella scale. It means that there are people who just except the way things are put down to them and follow along. And there are others that challenge. Instead of adjusting themselves and their behaviour to conform, they want the rest of the world to conform to them.

Now, this is true of criminals, as much as it is true of leaders. So perhaps I shouldn't express my blatant admiration for Axel, but I do respect the process of questioning.

It's no secret I spent a lot of time in the church community, much of it being treated like an outcast because I wasn't a "born and bred" Christian kid. But I'll tell you one thing I always knew about myself - I knew I'd made my own choices to be there. I heard how these "good" kids talked about their parents and church when they were out of earshot. They were itching to run wild. One of the gals held up as the role model to us all is a single parent now.

And I would say it's the direct result of not being given some latitude for freedom of thought. Even if I disagree with a person I can still love them. I mean, I have friends who vote NDP.

But for me, nothing shuts a serious conversation down faster than someone who doesn't have reasoning behind their beliefs. You know, this is one of the reasons I really enjoy interviewing authors. I love seeing how they think, hearing what they think about all manner of stuff. I just love talking to intelligent people, because it makes me feel smart by osmosis.

I should have clarified that I wasn't defending the kid who wanted to start a riot yesterday. As I said, the ones who were legitimately questioning the policies shouldn't have been expelled. I also agree that talk off of school property is a sketchy thing for the school to discipline for. Come on, I'm not the only one here who's called a teacher an asshole, am I?

I also mentioned yesterday that a teacher blamed me for being fired from their job. This was a substitute teacher, brought in for a few months to fill a mat leave or something - that I don't remember now. But he wasn't unionized with the same protection as everyone else, and he was new, so he was on probation.

He was a horrid teacher. I mean, horrid if you wanted to learn something. The mouthy kids ran the classroom. I guess they'd pushed him to his breaking point, because it was mid-term exams.

It was also just after I'd been assaulted, in the grand scheme of my life. I was trying to write the exam and a couple kids around me were bashing a box back and forth and giggling and it got to the point where others were joining in. I lost it and yelled at them to stop - Mr. Dickless up front sure as hell wasn't going to do it.

He ripped up half of my exam because I had spoken while writing it.

The next day I was in the hospital. I don't know if the beating I took was solely responsible for the surgery I had, but it sure didn't help.

The school principal came out on my side of the equation, made the teacher allow me to re-write the exam, and a couple months later when the term ended the teacher was out of a job, and I was in therapy and ultimately sent off to a new school - the one I blogged about last week. A fun time was had by all.

I know what it is to feel both powerless and afraid going to school day in and day out. The ultimate reason I was transferred was for my own safety, because two of my attackers attended the same high school. Now, they attacked me off school property, so the school couldn't touch them, and maybe we didn't crack down hard enough on young offenders back then. But the school had the decency to say that they couldn't guarantee my safety, and sent me elsewhere. Of course, they were really saying that they couldn't guarantee anyone's safety, but since I was already a 'victim' it was just easier to send me away.

Well, anyway, enough about that. Kids can be a lot of things, and chief amongst them cruel. Expressing opinions, showing independent thought... This, to me, isn't a bad thing. It's a good thing. This subject should be discussed in social studies classes in that school - in the same way that when I did my school events I used To The Power of Three and discussed school shootings. I brought it to the kids on their level, to discuss real issues that affect them.

That is, ultimately, why I love writing crime fiction. It's a platform for doing that.

**I should add one thing. Part of the reason the beating I took wasn't worse was because one person - ONE PERSON, a fellow high school student - put himself between me and my attackers. There were others who turned a blind eye. This guy came to my defense. And that's the kind of independe action that I can really admire. He was and is for me, in every sense of the word, a hero.


angie said...

I don't have a problem with kids speaking up and questioning adults. What does concern me is the how. I know this sounds horribly old fogey-ish, but what about asking in a respectful way? I'm not talking ass-kissing, wimpy stylie, I'm talking about simple respect. Yeah, yeah, respect has to be earned, but that goes both ways. Is that so crazy?!

Sandra Ruttan said...

No Angie, it isn't so crazy. I know what you're saying.

Eileen said...

One thing in your post struck home with me yesterday and that is the strength it takes not to be just one of the sheep. I admire people who stand up and have a view. I admire them much more if they stand up, have a view and then listen to the other view. They don't have to agree- but I want them to listen. I think that is one reason I like your site- I don't always agree- but you always air both sides. And as Angie pointed out- in a respectful way.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well... I'm not sure I always do air both sides. But I try to keep an open mind. I'm a bit two-faced, in that if I taught at this school daily this kid would drive me nuts. But as a one-off I was certainly entertained. And he made me think.

I like what you say about hearing both sides. One of the biggest problems in conflicts is the lack of direct communication between people. As soon as you get layers of people in between it mucks things up. A lot more problems would be solved if people just sat down and acted like adults...