Wednesday, January 11, 2006
How to really screw up your child, part I
Band class, seventh grade. The instructor tells student to play their instruments while sight reading the music (i.e., don't look down at your instrument, look at the music). The instructor then notices one child staring down at his hands while playing. The instructor approaches the student and says "I can teach a monkey to do it that way; I need you to do it this way."
Kid tells parent, who promptly go ballistic and claim it was a racist comment. Parent then drags kid before local television cameras to scream racism. Parent gets upset that he cannot get instructor removed from his position immediately.
"To me, I don't want this guy to be working around kids," [Parent Ray Clark] said. "Comparing a kid to an animal, there's no way to misconstrue that. Right now, my wife and I are discussing what to do next."
Mr. Clark tried to address the school board about the issue at its Monday night meeting but was denied the opportunity.
[Superintendent Al] Frailey said a new board policy requires parents to first take complaints to a campus principal, then the superintendent, and then the school board. He said Mr. Clark did not go through the proper procedure.
"Going through that process could take three months," Mr. Clark said. "This was something of a grave nature. I couldn't wait to talk about it. Kids at school are calling him monkey boy and making sounds at him."
Frailey is black. Clark and his son are black. The teacher is white. The school district is located in a city split nearly evenly between whites and blacks as a portion of the population.
I taught for a year in the Desoto ISD before leaving for the wilds of legal practice. I know of this kid from that time period. He is well known in the area for his recitations of Martin Luther King speeches (apparently, he began doing this at age three).
I don't have a problem with his making speeches; I don't even have a problem with a parent saying "Hey, please don't call my kid a name" (setting aside the question of whether the teacher did, in fact, call the child a name). I do have a problem with a parent who immediately jumps to the conclusion that the teacher is a racist (highly unlikely given the district's racial demography) or that would label this single, isolated incident as "something of a grave nature."
So how does this screw up the child? Simple. It teaches the child (1) to be hyper-sensitive to verbal statements and construe negative comments into something they are not intended to be; (2) it distracts the child from his own failure to follow instructions (i.e., to sight read the music); and (3) it feeds attention to the child by portraying him as a "victim" and parading him in front of local media outlets (I saw the kid interviewed on television last night).
The parents here aren't doing this kid a favor; they are doing him an injustice. When they ultimately lose in their efforts to get the teacher fired, what lesson does that impart? That the system is racist? That the system is unfair? That one must maintain hyper vigilance against any perceived slights to determine whether they are racial in nature?
I'd rather the kid learn these lessons: (1) Follow instructions. (2) Don't look for evil or racism in any criticism others make of you or your behaviour. (3) Let your efforts be focused on building something positive and learning from your experiences.
Maybe I should just retreat to my dream world.