Jan 16, 2011

We're Human Beings First

Here is my response to an Education Week tweet posting a blog from Edutopia blogger, Ben Johnson. This comment is originally posted along with many others on Edutopia. Links to the original articles are here:

Teachers Are Not Social Workers - Teaching Now - Education Week Teacher http://bit.ly/i0qSyY

The Most Important Need: The Need to Learn | Edutopia http://bit.ly/f4aUFL  by Ben Johnson 

"I remember a student who came to school with bullet holes in his coat and limped around with an injured leg. I asked him about it and he shrugged it off saying something about if it was his time to go, then, oh well." --Ben Johnson

Last week this quote ran, albeit out of context, in a short blog that appeared in Education Week. Later, that Education Week blog was tweeted by someone I follow--still out of context. Prior to reading your full blog, Ben, it bothered me immensely to read it because for me this quote represents the crux of so many problems in our society right now. We don't put people first. 

Earlier comments about cell phone assumptions and roadside assistance touch on it, but I think the problem goes much deeper than that and can be found in every aspect of American life right now. We choose to threaten and criticize each other rather than to offer help and assistance. The negativity occurs in situations involving celebrities like Michael Vick, Sarah Palin and President Obama; in response to the shootings in Tucson; and in situations with the people in our classrooms and towns. When someone cuts us off in traffic we scream out names and obscenities. If someone stands on the side of the road with a sign begging for money we view them as animals. When a student comes into our classroom riddled with bullet holes, we keep teaching. 

Now, I've read your entire blog and I see some of the context that was missing in the Education Week snippet. I now have the full picture, but I am bothered only slightly less than I was before reading the whole post. You did ask the student if he was okay. And I think that you are right about training future teachers--they should not go digging into their students lives looking for problems to solve. But if a problem walks into the classroom, a problem like a student riddled with bullet holes, I think it is their responsibility as human beings to try to help. Helping students in need is important because doing so models a critical lesson that we all need to learn: human beings are important. People are our most important resource. Show your students that in your classroom they come first. Perhaps if that lesson were modeled more often, young people wouldn't be so quick to shoot each other.

Does this mean that the whole class should be disrupted in order to help one student? Sometimes. It really depends on the student and the situation. I have interrupted the learning environment in my classroom to deal with students' issues in the past and I am sure I will do it again--because my classroom is a cooperative of individuals. Each individual contributes to the whole. When one of them is suffering, we all suffer. We teach each other and we learn together. We are both a team and a family.

Now that I have read the quote in context, I have a better grasp of your main point, but I still have a question: whatever happened to the young man with the bullet holes in his clothing? Did the learning environment you created and maintained on that day lead him to graduate from high school, go on to lead a productive life? Or did he end up with a final, "oh well" because it was his time?

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