Friday, May 29, 2009

If You Had to Lump Them…

Would you rather get hit in the face or the stomach?

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.
Seriously.

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.

36 comments:

Jan said...

WOW.

He's going to grow up to be one helluva an adult.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

What an amazing young man! We need more cut from the same cloth!!! This is inspiring! ~Janine XO

Kristan said...

Wow. That's some kid.

:)

In fairness to the group that invented a third choice, I might have been tempted to do that as well. Not to have my parents come yell, but to find an alternative in which I am exonerated and my test grade stands, since I (like to) believe the truth can and will eventually prevail.

darsden said...

both those pictures scare me...wacko's

Sprite's Keeper said...

I think that kid needs a blog. He would have a lot of readers.

Mrsbear said...

I'm not a teacher, I don't know if I could be and I find teenagers (I own one of my own) for the most part a tad annoying, but being able to teach a kid like that has got to be really inspiring...even if he doesn't do all his assignments. I loved this post.

The Rambler said...

Like the others. Wow.

Cristin said...

I love knowing that there are kids like that out there.... thanks Pseudo.

Nubian said...

What great insight this young man has. I am guilty of "bitching" about Generation Me, but need reminding (as your post has done) that there are some great forward thinkers in the group! Thanks for sharing :)

Gaston Studio said...

Oh yes, I'd miss that student too! It must have been worth whatever else happened during the entire year just to teach one student with that much insight.

Michel said...

Oh my. That kid has more integrity and insight than many adults I have met.

Amazing. I think I might miss him now too!

Cheryl said...

Great kid, interesting answers! As an artist I have to say I'm glad it was the artist amongst your students whose answer stood out.

Your I Miss My Sister post caught my eye, btw, and I'm glad I read it. Made me tear up, it reminded me so much of my own sister and me.

Kathy said...

boy, his parents sure have been doing something right!! :) what an amazing kid to have in your class.

mo.stoneskin said...

Genius. In a good way, I'll bet it was a pleasure to teach him and I'm sure you'll miss him.

And crumbs, the psychology of it all, I would have struggled answering such a question!

Lisa said...

great post- great kid x

Casey said...

Don't tell me you're one of those tough teachers who actually makes her kids think. Shame on you! Actually, that's my favorite kind of teacher and I still remember my 10th grade English Honors teachers to this day. She was awesome.

Twenty Four At Heart said...

Interesting prompt. Sounds like a great kid in your class. I still clearly remember the teachers who understood me in high school ... they were few and far between, but made a world of difference.

anymommy said...

I love this post, for all you shared about your students, but also for the insight into what a truly fabulous teacher is. Thanks!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Absolutely a poignant and insightful post. I wish I knew how my kids would answer. As for the individual student? I believe you WILL miss him very much. Oh, how lucky he was to have you as a teacher.

Columbia Lily said...

I am pretty sure 95% of my kids would have fallen into one of the last two categories, and probably invented yet another one, where they argue with ME and refuse to do the assignment on the grounds that it's STUPID and THEY'RE TRANSFERRING ANYWAY so WHO CARES.

My facebook status yesterday stated that I wanted to rip off my own arm and beat my 6th period to death with it...and that pretty much sums up my week.

♥ Braja said...

In terms of the test, it reveals one glaringly obvious fault: that honesty, integrity, and moral 'standards' for the day are determined by the weaknesses of society and institutions on whom we choose to rely: the set rules which one with integrity cannot aspire to and still achieve what is required to succeed in society. Further evidence that society is a sick, sick place...

alntv said...

I hope my son grows up to be THAT kind of person! That is an amazing story!!!

starrlife said...

He sounds incredible! I just don't know how you can go, year after year, missing certain students!So cool!

Tricia said...

Rare breed, indeed. Your student sounds delightful, and like a gift.

Rikki said...

We've been calling this generation of kids generation re-set, so their answers don't surprise me; they're used to getting to begin afresh with no penalty.

This guy sounds like he would have been fun in class discussion - his perception would add new dimensions and probably shake things up a bit! I imagine he doesn't tolerate the plastics very well...

Smart Mouth Broad said...

What a thinker. I, on the other hand, are just glad you weren't my teacher. *grin*

Tough assignment, Pseudo. I may have to think about this for a month or two and get back to you. nah, you know I'll forget as soon as I see something shiny or I get hungry. *sigh*

Thinkers impress me. Too bad I'm not one.

Cairo Typ0 said...

You presented your kids with a very tough challenge, Pseudo. I think this kid did an admirable job. :) It'd be interesting to find him again in 10 or 20 years to see what he did with that kind of intellect.

Melissa B. said...

Cheating has run rampant at Our Humble High School, so I'm not sure I'd be surprised if I read some of these responses from my own students. It's a great exercise, though, and I might teach The Crucible next year, so I'll keep it in mind, if you don't mind.

PS: Please don't forget to join our Sunday Funnies with a visit to Sx3 today!

skyewriter said...

I do a unit on academic integrity with my freshman compers at the U where I teach. Mind if I borrow this prompt?

Almost all of my students admit to cheating (since they are no longer able to be punished for actions in high school) and a lot of them see nothing wrong with it.

They have someone else take their online quizzes in math, science, foreign language. It's rampant.

Sadly, plagiarism is about as deep as my authority goes in asking them to question their scholarly integrity. Intellectual property is a concept completely removed from their techie views on just about everything...

creative kerfuffle said...

wow, first, his poem is moving, second, what a great answer he gave you. he has a great mind and talent that i imagine will take him quite far. just think, some day you can say, yes, i did teach mr. xyz best selling author in high school : ) maybe he'll acknowledge you in a book or something : ) the possibilities are endless.

Fragrant Liar said...

Incredible kid. What a beautiful piece of poetry, and his answer to you about the quiz was really so poignant and well-thought. He really is a fabulous kid or a great liar. ;) I am going with the former. And you can say, one of these days, "I knew him when."

The Rambler said...

I'm linking you in tomorrow's post...about B-52 roaches.

:)

Beth said...

I want to nominate that kid for President. I love his honesty.

Joanna Jenkins said...

God bless you. I could never be a teacher!
I'm new to your blog from Joanie's post. I'll stop by again soon and read more! YOur writing is terrific. Nice to meet you.

Momma Chae said...

WOW. I know what you mean. Those kind of students rarely come along. And when they do, I want to talk to their parents and take notes!

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