Monday, June 02, 2008

Liars, Damned Liars, and Teenagers

How do you tell if a teenager is lying?

Her lips are moving. That's what Judge Judy says, and cynical though it may sound, I'm just a little more inclined to agree with her today.

Now here is a secret that you absolutely may not share with teenagers--the very best way to trick an authority figure is to be unfailingly polite and accommodating. I mean, when Harold takes off his clothes and runs around the halls shouting, "I am the greatest," he's likely to draw attention to himself. People are gonna notice him and he's gonna get in trouble one way or another.

But it's the quiet kids, the ones who always say, "Excuse me," or "please," or even "Thank you, Mr. Educator,"---well, who's gonna question them when they're out on a test day? In fact, this morning I surprised myself by asking Ronnie where he was on Friday. He said he'd been to a doctor, and that he'd had a terrible fever. I asked if he had a doctor's note, and waddya know, he did.

I looked at it very carefully, and noticed no other teachers had signed it. I asked him why that was and he said no other teacher had asked to see it. That's possible.

I looked again, and noticed that the diagnosis was "fever," and that the doctor's number had an area code that I associate with cell phones. I asked him why that was and he shook his head. I dialed the number, and got an announcement it was disconnected. I asked him what was up. I dialed again and got the same announcement.

I took another look at the doctor's form and noticed that this doctor didn't seem to have a specialty.

"Ronnie," I said, "It's time for you to tell me the truth. I will go to the directory and look up this doctor if I have to, but I'll be very disappointed if I find you've been lying to me."

"It's a fake note," he admitted.

"And where were you on Friday?"

"I was at my friend's house."

I found a colleague who speaks Ronnie's language and she called his dad. Based on Dad's reaction, I don't expect it will be a good week for Ronnie.

Still, in two weeks, I absolutely expect him to pass the NY State English Regents exam, and that's not too bad for a kid who's only been here two years. He's gotten good at fooling crotchety teachers like me, but he couldn't have done so without learning a whole lot of American culture, including our version of English.
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