the circular runner

A Little Bit of Reality TV in Real Life…

In life, observations, teaching & education, Uncategorized on December 2, 2011 at 12:02 am

hey, mom, let's be a family here...

Today, I got a heaping tablespoon of bureaucracy–enough of a taste that for a moment, I wondered if those Libertarian-types had a point about doing away with government controlling things like education. I’m happy to say that I bounced back quickly. Bureaucracy is bad, but come on, Libertarianism? That’s some crazy sh$t.

Still, there are other crazy things in the world, and today I experienced a new one: it’s called a SARB hearing. SARB stands for Student Attendance Review Board. The basic gist is this: a lawyer from the DA’s office, a counselor from the Board of ED, a social worker and some invited guest from a non-profit (that’s me in this case) come together before a student with ridiculously poor attendance and his/her parents. After the well-meaning SARB-ers ask the kid a lot of really dumb yes-no questions, as in, “you want to be good, right?” or “you don’t want to keep being bad, right?” these same adults then present the kid with an option: either you comply with the contract we put before you OR you will go Truancy Court where your parents–usually poor, almost always non-English speaking–will pay fines and be shamed by a judge–never poor and always able to speak English.

Now, a few things become clear when you go to one of these things: 1. whoever came up with the SARB was pretty old and really lame. It’s like some kind of puritan ritual in which church elders try to shame the flock into holy-goodness. And 2., that crap didn’t work back in the day, and from what I can tell, it didn’t work today. I can tell you without a doubt that it didn’t work with Elsworth Wong (that’s not his name, but his real first name was equally old-fashioned in its attempt at WASP-iness). Elsworth is a thirteen year old kid who has already pulled a knife on his step-dad and stolen his mother’s car, but wise elders that we are, we, SARB-ers ignore him and instead focus on the parents, who are divorced and from what I could tell, hated each other with a passion you usually only see acted out on Reality TV. (I can’t understand Cantonese, but I’m willing to bet from the look on the poor translator’s face that some pretty foul language was getting tossed around.)

What surprised me most–yes, even more than how violent Cantonese can sound–is that the head of our little committee got all Dr. Phil on us and started lecturing the parents about the need to pull together, that they had to do it for the child. Worse still, all the while, he keeps addressing these parents as “mom” and “dad.” As in, “mom, come on, let’s be a family here,” or “dad, I know it’s hard to control a teenager with a knife, but I really think you’re up for the challenge.”

I told a friend about this after I got out, and she said it might not be a bad idea that the panel went off on the parents. I’m still not sold, but even you agree with my friend, I hope you can see that the members of today’s SARB, though well-meaning, were completely off when dealing with poor Elsworth. At the end of the proces, after “mom” went off on Dr. Phil in a mixture of English and Cantonese expletives, after the DA told the dad that he needed to get in the game–he didn’t understand the idiom–and after the lame questions were exhausted, when the head SARB-dude writes up the contract that he has the family sign, he leaves out any mention of academic support. It was ridiculous.

Earlier in the hearing, while the parents were yelling and the DA was berating the dad and the head SARB-erista was feeling people’s pain, I asked Elsworth what it was that kept him from school and without a beat, he said, “I feel like I’m behind and I feel stupid.” Now, I know that this poor kid probably is kind of messed up and I imagine that much of the problem stems from his parents. I also admit that academics is not the only thing to talk about in this case because it’s not like good grades are going to heal him. I get that.  But considering that SARB is part of the Board of ED–as in Education–you’d think that at least part of the contract where school officials promise they will support the student–at least in THAT part, some small mention about academic support would be made. But no. Nothing of the kind. What was required? Counseling for the parents, counseling for Elsworth, drug-counseling for Elsworth (seems he once tried pot) and some other kind of check-in with a school counselor for yet a third- kind of counseling. All good things, sure. But Jesus, the kid said he was ashamed about his grades and all the Board of ED dude says is yeah, tutoring, that’s a good idea.

FUCKED! Need I say more? Cause that’s Elsworth’s academic future. And meanwhile, the SARB-ers will go on requiring stuff and feeling pain and pointing fingers. Libertarians of America, I hate you, but if you do manage to win big next year, I may be able to recommend one tiny arm of government to get rid of.

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  1. Sad to read, but a reality. Thanks for sharing

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