Telling Stories Together, III

A few days ago, I saw the Ms. X who had complained about J and E’s “visits to their lockers” last week.  I told her that problem seems to be resolved – and that I was sorry, on behalf of the Latin Family, that they’d disturbed her class … and particularly sorry that they’d deceived her and me.  “Oh,” she said, “they lie all the time!”

I was glad our conversation was over.  To be fair, J and E had told me, Ms. X, and themselves some lies.  But “lie all the time?”  That’s quite an accusation!  It’s like labeling someone a liar, isn’t it?  That’s quite a label, especially in a factory-system which, at its heart, is built on lies of its own.

“Sit down, shut up, do the worksheet, and you’ll thank me later when you get to college and the Real World!” Ms. X lies.

“Yes, the tests are long and hard, but they give us accurate information about your performance, and we can compare our results with schools all over the world,” the system itself lies.

“The information in these textbooks is true and up-to-date, and the authors don’t have any bias at all,” we lie without realizing.

“History is a list of dates and places to memorize, and math is a bunch of algorithms you use to solve problems with known answers.  Science is following cookbook steps to recreate previous experiements – oh, and learning lots and lots of disconnected vocabulary!  And foreign languages?  Those are grammar charts and vocabulary lists.”  Lies, lies, lies – or should we say untruths?

Is it a lie if you believe it’s true but it isn’t?  Many teachers sincerely believe that’s what those subjects are.  Are they lying, or just telling the same (false) story their own teachers told?

What’s the difference between stories and lies anyway?

Last Friday Debbie had these thoughts:

One of the biggest lies that we tell ourselves is that we are teaching respect or something when we use different methods of control and punishment.

In my parenting programs I used to use the scenario of a youth seeing and wanting a leather coat. If raised in a world of fear-based control, the youth may look around to see if they would get caught if they just took the coat. Is that what we want going through his/her head?

What do I want? I want them to be thinking of options, socially-acceptable options, to obtain the coat. I don’t want the idea of stealing to even cross their minds but if it did I want them to counteract the idea with thoughts about integrity, empathy, respect, etc.

So how do we get that? We nurture it and role-model it. Why don’t we loiter in the halls? Because it is disrespectful and it affects our reputation. (I especially love how you noted the effect on the class as a whole. I can hear Ms x saying, “oh that Latin class…bad and lazy.”

But before we can role-model it we have to be honest with ourselves and identify the lies that we tell and the reasons behind the choices. Change begins we “me” and my change begins with awareness.

When I am honest with myself and I am acting with honour and integrity, then I am a healthy, wise member of the Fire of Truth.

Emily added this story:

Back when I was teaching Middle School, I was doing my Hall Duty, and witnessed one of my homeroom girls hitting another one of my homeroom girls.  Needless to say, I walked over.

“Is there a problem over here?” I asked
A, rubbing the spot where she had been hit, replied, “J hit me!”
“J,” I asked calmly, “Did you hit A?”
J shook her head.  “I didn’t hit A!”  she responded vehemently.
“J,” I replied, “I saw you hit A, which is why I came over.  I’m going to give you another chance.  Did you hit A?”
And she still denied it.

Eventually, I got her to have a conversation with me and then we went and talked with the Asst. Principal together, as was the procedure with these things.

J and I worked on honesty the whole year.  We got pretty good at it.

Now, J had a bad home life and very dishonest parents.  She’d grown up seeing lies, watching people get away with them, and believing it was OK.  For us, the crowning moment of J’s year was when she took responsibility for not doing an assignment, promised to get it in tomorrow, and actually did so.  It was a big turnaround moment.

She pointed out to me that teachers were beginning to trust her more.  We talked about that, and discussed how others view her and the impression that she sends.  I was pretty proud.

We don’t have to be deliberately dishonest.  However, for students who grow up surrounded by dishonesty, even in Public Elected Officials, it’s hard for them to realize that it isn’t acceptable.

And Diana reflected:

To me, it all starts off with Acta vs. Verba.

+Emily Lewis, I’m reminded of a story you told about your first year teaching.  The way I remember this is that you helped a student fold up her frayed, “against dress code” skirt, so that she wouldn’t get a detention, and told her to clip it with paper clips, so that it looked like a fashion statement.

Ok, so, I am all for dress codes that are reasonable.  No short skirts, appropriate clothing, etc…

To me, putting the “frayed skirt = detention” bit on the list is ridiculous and shows a want of false control…and how the students lie to get around it.

Of course, if I remember correctly, this was also the same school that preached the Honor Code, and then put a hidden camera in the stairwell, without telling even the faculty, so we all know what their Acta vs. their Verba were….

Slowly but surely, like plants growing in a garden – or wood added to a fire – some of my students’ paradigms are changing, like J in Emily’s story.  Slowly they learn to trust the Law of the Farm, to share stories together, to aim for acta non verba.  It’s hard, but not impossible, when surrounding structures are all about verba, just as it’s hard to grow an organic garden when your neighbors  all use chemicals.

Hard, but not impossible.  Hard, but very worthwhile.  So what’s the next right step?

Published in: on May 1, 2013 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  

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