Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ethics in the Classroom

I got in a long discussion with one of my classes about honesty. The topic ran to cheating, and a bunch of kids said it was rampant in their home country. They swore up and down they didn't do it here. It was odd to hear that America had sparked such a fundamental change. They were adamant about it, though I hadn't accused any of them of cheating. I spoke of how some students placed notes on water bottles, and one of my most serious students commented on how smart that was. I was pretty surprised to hear that from him.

They pretty much described cheating as a national pastime. They rationalized it by saying the tests were so hard they had no choice. They said they'd often have practice tests that were so hard they were ridiculous, and then sometimes the actual tests would be far less challenging. In any case they had that whole cheating thing to fall back on. A girl from another country swore that everyone was honest in her country, all the time, but a guy from the same country kept rolling his eyes at her.

Somehow the issue of consequences came up, and getting hit by teachers became the theme. A group of students said it was frequent where they came from, though it was prohibited. I asked how the teachers got away with it and the kids insisted the teachers always lied (a line I've heard once or twice before). My students had no love for such teachers, insisting they made them pointlessly copy things for hours. I was glad I didn't go to a school like that.

If I understood my students correctly, in their country, when you get hit by a teacher you don't tell your parents about it. That, evidently, puts you at risk for double punishment. A young teacher who came from the same country assured me that things like this never happened to her, and wanted to know which part of the country those kids came from. Are kids just making things up to get a rise out of me? If so, I hope they do it every day. This was probably the most interesting class I had all year.

The kids asked me what I thought about hitting students. I shook my head. A large point of being a teacher seems to be to demonstrate to kids you can think things through, that you can function in challenging situations. You'd hope, with experience, you'd have some kind of repertoire of ways to deal with issues, and could work your way through things. Anyone who hits someone has run out of ideas. I don't hit my kid, I wouldn't hit anyone else's kid, and the idea of any teacher hitting my kid is completely unacceptable. I'm grateful I've never had to deal with it.

The closest I came was when my daughter was in a summer camp, and I got a call saying she had uttered an obscenity at a counselor. Apparently the kids were misbehaving, and the genius counselor made all the kids run around in circles for a long time. Daughter had foot pain, had had it with running and told the counselor exactly what he could do with himself. I went to the camp and pointed out their liability had a kid collapsed, or worse. It never happened again. I told daughter she shouldn't talk like that, to stop and call me if anything like that happened again, but was secretly proud of her.

The counselor was young and stupid. I hope he has found a new line of work, Maybe he has grown up. Otherwise, the only career paths for him are fast food or governor somewhere on the eastern seaboard. For teachers,  the whole stupid thing can't work. If your only idea entails inflicting physical pain on those you're paid to serve, you can either spit on the burgers or go into politics. It seems to me that people who physically abuse children ought to be in prison, where they can more easily meet others who share their interests. Cuomo and Christie would fit right in.

I've been with these kids all year, and this was the most passionate I've seen them. Maybe I'm naive to entertain the notion that they're truthful about cheating abroad but not here. It doesn't really make sense that a habit like that would die. But most of these kids haven't given me any reason to mistrust them.
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