the circular runner

Young People Fighting & Other Ugly Things I’ve Been Thinking About…PART 1

In life, observations, teaching & education, Uncategorized on January 17, 2012 at 7:42 am


Ugly Thing #1

I have a student. Heavy-set, bad skin, completely and utterly awkward and sweet and smart as all get out. Notice the way I just described her. I almost rewrote the sentence because I thought it made me look like an ass,  but then I stopped myself. There’s something important to notice about the order I put these descriptions in without even thinking about it. Something, I’d argue, that is ugly. But let me backtrack for a second. The ugly truth that if you have eyeballs, you are likely to overlook or put less importance on what’s inside a person than what’s outside is something we will discuss in a moment. First, let me say that this student who I really like is also a brawler.

I have taught enough “bad” students to see the tell-tale signs of anger and frustration that they try not to show me because I am “the teacher.” These super-sweet students, when they come up on something they don’t know how to do, completely close up. That alone would not be unusual. No one likes things they don’t know how to do, especially if they have come to believe they are dumb or chronically untalented. As a teacher, there is an intensity to the silence you face when you work with a student like this. It’s like an invisible physical force pushing out at you, and you have to know when to weather it and when to give in and walk away and come back to it another day.

Part of the reason this force is so intense is that it is powered by a sense of shame and self-hatred–forces that could power city blocks if someone could invent a way to harness them. For now, the power of these forces gets harnessed in personally destructive ways. In the case of this young woman, these forces move her to fisticuffs. From what I hear (she never lets me know this stuff herself) she is a good fighter. Like any good fighter, she’s been moving up the ranks, taking on more and more powerful opponents. Last week, she took on a dude, a tough dude from what I hear, and she beat him up pretty bad.

She isn’t a bully. Again, from what I hear, she gets into fights because she wants to help her so-called friends out of the jams they put themselves in. On one level, this worries me because from what I can tell, these friends are using her, and she is letting herself be used because she wants to be liked and appreciated.  Put this way, she is not really different than any other teenager who does silly things for the sake of acceptance. But for my student, the stakes are substantially higher than popularity. This young woman does not live in a neighborhood where fights are just scuffles. Respect is currency, and, as you can imagine, the homie she beat up feels pretty disrespected, which means that things can only escalate, which means that my student is in danger of something quite horrible happening to her.

  1. […] is that I’m in the stew along with my female student who fights in order to feel useful see (see ugliness part 1) and Todd Glass (the middle-aged comedian from post #2) a man who is, at the age of forty +, still […]

  2. You must be a really good teacher.

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