Break an arm or a leg?
Lose your sense of smell or taste?
Who would you make out with if you had to pick one of these two - or be put to death?
Sometimes in life, you are forced to make a choice and neither of your options makes you want to get up and do the happy dance.
That was the premise on one of the anticipatory journal prompts my students responded to before they began The Crucible. The prompt was getting them prepared to wrap their minds around the concept of “guilty until proven innocent.”
You have been accused of cheating on an important test when you did not. You can either admit to cheating, even though you didn’t, with the consequences being that you will serve after school detention and the incident will be put down in your permanent school record. But, you will also be allowed to retake the test.
Or, if you refuse to admit to cheating, you will still have to serve detention. However, your school record will be kept clean with no incident of cheating recorded. The down side, you will not be allowed to retake the test.
Under these conditions, which choice would you make and why?
I had not expected the students’ responses to this question to be such a tool for categorizing them, which, try as hard as I might not to do, was difficult.
Students who would admit to cheating even if they did not so that they could retake the test. Overwhelmingly, the students who responded this way were students that I might suspect would have no trouble with cheating in the first place. But. I was surprised (and yes, try as I might not to be judgmental, disappointed) that some of my best students academically would take this route just to retake the test. No problem caving their integrity? Or…not yet able to think of the subtle consequence of their permanent record being scared?
Students who would take the zero on the test rather than admit to something they did not do. These were the most satisfying responses to read. Again and again I had the honor and pleasure of glimpsing a young person whose principles were rock solid at such a young age. Who claimed that their integrity was not for sale at such a price. There were some type “A” kids who justified this choice because of the possibility that down the road it could affect their college applications. I just wished while I read them they had also mentioned their own personal principles.
You might think that was it. What else could there be? Maybe you will be as surprised as me that there are two more lumps or clumps that came out of this little assignment that turned out to be a social experiment of sorts.
A handful of students fall into the category of not reading directions or writing prompts very well in an effort to fly through any and all assignments. These students said they would admit to cheating so they could retake the test and it is better to just go ahead and admit to something when you know you are guilty. ??? or WTF?
Then there is a fairly large clump of students who cannot wrap their minds around the idea of having to choose between two courses of action which don’t fit their fancy. These students invented their own third choice, which usually called for bringing their parents down to the school to yell at the imbecile of a teacher who would accuse them of something they did not do.
Then there was the rare breed. The kid whose honesty and introspection made me think twice about my own ability to answer that journal question. That kid who comes along maybe once in a career. This is the same kid I quoted in this post with two stanzas of a poem he wrote back in the first quarter where the subject matter was his using sleep as a way to get through the angst of middle school:
What wonders it brings
to shut my eyes closed
and put down all the walls,
and weapons and soldiers
that keep me safe from
the biting and gnashing of bitter teeth
and bothersome, mindless chatter of the world.
Please leave me for awhile
And I will reach you across the wide oceans of my mind
Through the colossal mountains of thought
Beneath the clouded sky of reflection
And speak with you
In the green fields of sleep.
In the first quarter he also wrote a personal narrative (topic= self identity) that actually made me weep every time I read it. The entire piece was an extended metaphor where his life was a mural and he was the artist. It was one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve ever read.
But he is an artist and not motivated too much by grades. Translation: he doesn’t do all his work. I have heard this from his math and science teacher. He does most of my work as he loves writing and he loves literature. He DID NOT do this journal assignment. So I pulled him aside and asked him why not.
Well, Ms Pseudo, I really tried. I started it twice. But I realized I could not answer it honestly. I’d like to think I would take the zero and keep my integrity. But writing that down just seems so pompous and without the humility that such a choice would suggest. And really? How do I know that I wouldn’t just go ahead and say I did something I did not do unless I actually had to make the choice? Whichever way I started my response, I felt like I was being dishonest.
Suddenly I realized that I felt the same way about the entire assignment, but had not let myself get there in my thinking…
I’m really going to miss this kid next year.