Tag Archives: teaching

Integrity in the Face of Violence

My parents sometimes sent mixed messages when it came to fighting.  They were adamant that I not start a fight with anyone, to be sure.  However, they were – or at least my father was – just as adamant that if I were to get in a fight that I be ready to teach the attacker a lesson.  This wasn’t an official thing, but if I told my dad I got hit, I remember him asking if I made the attacker sorry.  

The whole fighting mechanism speaks to a frustration and inability to express oneself – specifically, the emotion of being upset.  I didn’t know this when starting as a teacher, but apparently growing up in today’s society automatically means that you don’t know how to express anger and frustration without beating into someone’s face.  Why is this still a thing?  It doesn’t make sense to me.  We have the words to express ourselves.  We have YouTube for comparison, gifs for emotions… why is violence still a thing?  Is there no replacement for the catharsis involved?

Or is it just… easy?  

About one in four high school students reports having been in a physical fight in the past year.

 

Social Media

Today, there are so many opportunities with social media to talk smack and say the wrong thing.  Push someone a little bit too far.  Something you post for one person can look like shade to another person.  Even the best of texts can be re-read by someone and reacted to the next day.  Worse, the immediacy of social networking means that the offense can reach scores of people and give every sleight a built-in audience.

Social media also rewards spectacle. A fight is a spectacle.  Social media has taught students to flock to spectacle instead of avoiding it.

My father had a saying. He said this: sometimes people want to bring you down to their level, and you have to treat them as you would treat dog poop; walk around it, not through it.  (My father is so poetic, I know.)

Lack of Problem-Solving Skills

It is important that we understand that some people have only been presented – either by example or directly – with a few options for solving the problems in their lives.  In fact, someone with only the most basic instincts will choose either fight or flight.  As a teacher, it is important to immediately make clear to our students that the time of fight or flight has long past – we are in an age of creativity and civilization.  Let’s build some pyramids!

Therein is the problem; peaceful solutions often require unanimous maturity, while violence does not.

If you have no idea how to talk about your feelings, or are unused to figuring out ways to talk about your feelings, then you’re way more likely to swing at someone.  Also, while it takes two to solve a problem amicably in these situations, it only takes one to fight; after all, if one person swings, there are not a lot of people that will not swing back and just take the punches.  Therein is the problem; peaceful solutions often require unanimous maturity, while violence does not.

dodge
Unless there are serious skills involved, once one person starts swinging most people are forced to swing back.

The List

Here are some options just off the top of my head for solving problems – feel free to copy this list for home use.

  1. Apologize for something. What’s that?  You’re not sorry?  Then lie.  He won’t know!
  2. Never talk again.  Be like my dad.  Walk around them.  Let the poop image guide you.  Stay in your lane.
  3. Write about it.  Catharsis!  Super important.
  4. Talk to someone you trust about it.  They can give you perspective.  Or just take your side and make you feel good without you actually doing anything.  Note: choose confidants wisely.  You want someone even-keeled.
  5. Speak plainly.  This made me feel _______.  This is why.
  6. Make new friends with someone.  Increasing your circle decreases the percentage of conflict.
  7. Listen to Linkin Park or something.  Or anyone with lots of guitars and sadness.

I remember the one time that I wanted to fight someone in high school, I remember a very clear voice ringing in my head through the red haze: “It’s not worth it.”  I’m not self-extolling, but the clarity of that voice highlights for me the problem: we need to make sure our students also have that voice.

It’s better to walk away and let them yell that you’re a coward, because all that matters is what you know about yourself.

Fighting is easy. All you have to do is make a move, and the rest is instinct and consequence, completely outside of your control.  This can feel liberating to a stressed, emotional young person.  It’s those with the strength to take control of the situation and bear the burden that will bring us toward peace.  In Chapter 9 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout beats up a boy for insulting her father.  It’s not a reaction to danger, but a response to her pride being threatened.  Her father stresses that hurting other people and becoming a person who hurts other people is too big of a change to make based on the small-minded whims of those who would insult you.  It’s better to walk away and let them yell that you’re a coward, because all that matters is what you know about yourself.  Your actions won’t match their slanderous words; they will match your true self.  You will have integrity.

A side effect also is that you’ll make them feel lame and insecure because they’ll be all noisy and blustery while you walk away like they’re no big deal.  Two for one!  

Works Cited

“Physical Fighting By Youth” Child Trends.org. 2017. Web. <https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/physical-fighting-by-youth/&gt;. 11 Dec. 2017.

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Yelling at the Ocean

During a staff collaboration, our department head showed us a TED talk by Eduardo Briceño that discussed the reason why people’s skills at their profession tended to plateau in skill despite large amounts of time being invested into their improvement.  Specifically, he said that the average person has two zones:

  • In the Learning Zone, people are relaxed and situations are very low-stakes.  The emphasis is on becoming better.
  • In the Performance Zone, the emphasis is on execution and evaluation, and the stakes are higher.

Briceño then stated that the problem is that most people almost always place themselves in the Performance Zone, and are seldom in the Learning Zone.  This is apparently impressed upon us at a young age: we are taught that school is evaluative through grades, and are often punished or docked for mistakes, enforcing the principle that mistakes are bad.  Furthermore, because the Performance Zone is one of judgment, not of improvement, the mistakes made are not used to improve any skills.

The first thing that came to mind when Briceño discussed a low-stakes situation Learning Zone was my time playing soccer.  More than any teacher making me spell and write repeatedly, my time playing soccer – especially with my father – taught me the importance of practice.

When I started playing soccer, I was typically awful.  However, about two or three years into playing the game, my skill level spiked suddenly.  This was not just due to maturity, or finally understanding the sport.  My kicks were powerful for my age, and I was able to aim the ball precisely – almost with x, y, and z-axis precision.  I was able to trap almost any ball flying toward me at my feet with a technique involving my shin.  These skills made me a valuable asset to my team, despite my lack of precise ball control as a dribbler.

SONY DSC
Demosthenes projecting his voice over the ocean.

As I reflect now, Briceño’s words color my experience with a new significance.  His example of the Learning Zone was made clearer by his reference to the orator Demosthenes, who practiced posture by suspending a sword blade above his shoulder, who spoke against the ocean on the beach to perfect his projection, and who put rocks in his mouth to master enunciation.  Individual skills were perfected and honed in ways that far surpassed the difficulty of what he was practicing for – but the situations were low stakes.  Nobody would know if he failed during these exercises but himself.

Soccer practice ran similarly.  No matter how much we begged for a scrimmage (essentially a simulation of an actual game), both my coach and my father would instead focus on drills, which were little tasks that perfected individual skills in preparation for the game.

“There’s no point in a scrimmage if you have no skill.” said my dad to me once in the car.  Essentially, using a soccer game to practice for a soccer game was limited in usefulness because it was a performance zone.  Drills were specialized in practice: We practiced dribbling.  We did sprints and liners to practice changing direction.  We did the Give-and-Go.  We juggled the ball with our feet.

When I reflect now, I realize that the things I spent the most time practicing with my dad (mostly because we couldn’t really run around) were my kick (shooting the ball with my father as the goaltender – he was better than any elementary kid would be) and my trap (my dad would always expect me to trap the ball – no self-respecting soccer player would do otherwise if a trap was possible.)

mgqo3r

Soccer practice was low-stakes but higher in difficulty.  If I missed a goal (you know, because my goaltender was a full-grown adult), I just had to try again.  Every time I missed a trap, I just had to run and get the ball.  There was no punishment. I practiced for way more hours than I ever played in a game.  I realize now that my father kept me in the Learning Zone.  Every time I tried to shoot a ball past my father, I was Demosthenes yelling at the ocean.  The drills that I performed faithfully improved my skills.  Accordingly, the drills that I performed less diligently – like running laps, dribbling, and ball-handling – did little to help me.

My skill plateaued eventually – and again, that’s easy to explain.  As I got older, I was shorter than a lot of my teammates.  When they did better than I did in practice, I was disheartened, instead of focusing on myself.  I practiced less with my father, and soon I only heard his feedback from watching my games.  Without realizing it, I had transformed my practice time into a Performance Zone.

Many parents make this same mistake with their child’s education.  Low grades are punished, average performance ignored, with only high performance receiving acknowledgment. – implicitly teaching that mistakes are bad.  If mistakes are bad, then everything is high-stakes, which makes school a Performance Zone, not a Learning Zone.

In addition, the social imperative mirrors this as well. For some reason, teenagers care what their peers think, to the point that their worst nightmare is to be caught in a vulnerable position.  The fear of becoming a social pariah as a consequence is about as high as stakes get, with teens tossing and dodging labels like “snitch” and “slut” in their day-to-day lives.  If you worry about what other people think, how can you be safe enough to make mistakes?

I’ve talked before about how we need to be uncomfortable.  In order to do that and get to sword-suspending and ocean-yelling, we need to identify our Performance Zones and our Learning Zones and treat them as such.  This is also why hobbies are a good idea: you can use the skills they give you in their assorted Learning Zones with your Performance Zone.  For example, rapping has been a low-stakes way of building confidence when speaking and demanding attention, which is something crucial when teaching teenagers.  It also expands my vocabulary and refines my pronunciation.  Blogging helps me with my writing skills and with expressing my thoughts in words, which is definitely an imperative for an ELA professional.

The concept of the Learning Zone is the rebuttal we’ve been looking for to the tired claim that you “don’t use what you learn in school anyway.”  Yes, you do!  Of course, problems aren’t like they were in school.  A school is a Learning Zone.  School tasks are drills.  School is yelling at the ocean.  Real life replaces the ocean with real people and raises the stakes – because now the waves can hear you or destroy you, and your words matter.