empty school desk

What does a middle-schooler say when…?



Part 1: Remembering my teaching days

After teaching middle school for many years, I am accustomed to the 12-year-old perspective. For some reason, my pre-retirement memory keeps replaying the soundtrack of belligerent middle school boys I taught.

For example, let’s call my quintessential recalcitrant male middle schooler Johnny. When I tell him to get ready for a pop quiz, all of a sudden he can’t find a pencil. When I ask him for his homework assignment, he tells me that he spent last night in the ER for his peanut allergy which doesn’t seem to bother him when he eats his peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch later that day. He brags about how he usually stays up half the night and that he can get away with anything.

Although I try daily through my lessons to change things, Johnny appears to lack empathy and the ability to listen to others. He seems to lack the will to learn.

When I begin to teach an especially important concept and remind the class they need to listen so  they will understand tomorrow’s lesson, he is writing and passing a note to a friend. When I rebuke him for something inappropriate that he just said, he answers,“ “That isn’t what I meant.”

He snickers at the girls and whispers to his buddies about how each one rates on a scale of one to ten.

When I give him a D on his essay, he says “That’s not fair. You keep finding all my mistakes. I’m gonna get my parents to fire you.” When I question why he’s late to class, Johnny doesn’t give me a straight answer, implies a talk with the principal and suggests there are some things he knows that I don’t.  

When someone laughs at his answer in class, he pretends he meant it as a joke in the first place. More often, though, he lashes out and puts his classmate down, “You’re a retard!”

I wonder how Johnny will grow up and if he ever will. When his tax return is due, will he still be looking for a pencil? When he tells his neighbor that there is a secret underground tunnel beneath his house, how will his neighbor know what he means? When he doesn’t get a sales contract he wants, will that be because his boss is incompetent?

I always understood that some middle schoolers needed a lot of guidance, that they needed to be held accountable to certain rules so they would neither destroy themselves nor lead everyone around them crashing into a wall of insanity. Until this past year, I thought I was through dealing with a certain middle school mentality when I retired, but these old memories haunt me today.

Part 2: And now a word from Meryl Streep

...“ But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hook in my heart not because it was good. It was — there was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart, and I saw it, and I still can't get it out of my head because it wasn't in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it's modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. When the powerful use definition to bully others, we all lose. Ok. Go on with that thing. OK. This brings me to the press. We need the principal press to hold power to account to call them on the carpet for every outrage.

That's why our founders enshrined the press and its freedom in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists because we are going to need them going forward and they'll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something, you know, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, "Isn't it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?" Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. “ (Meryl Streep, Golden Globes speech as recipient of the Cecil B. Demille Lifetime Achievement Award, January 2017)


A somewhat related blog from 2016:  http://bjschupp.blogspot.com/2016/11/love-top-down-and-bottom-up.html

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