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“I look forward to seeing you. The school is great. I mean, I don’t think it has any of those ‘punk’ kids.”
I overheard an administrator (not mine) say the above statement the other day. The administrator explained how he was excited about his new school. He bragged about the school’s vibe. He felt positive feelings walking around the new joint. He was clearly excited he wouldn’t have to deal with any of those ‘punk’ kids. The fewer ‘punk’ kids, the better the school.
I know it was an innocent statement. The gentlemen made it in passing. It was not callous. I do not know him and don’t want to judge him. Yet, I was troubled by it.
“I don’t think it has any of those ‘punk’ kids.”
What exactly is a ‘punk’ kid?
- Is it a kid who doesn’t complete his/her work?
- Is it a kid who looks ‘tough’?
- Is it a kid who is ‘difficult’?
- Is it a kid who is loud?
- Is it a kid who challenges the teacher?
- Is it a kid who wears baggy pants, or skinny pants, or piercings, or silly t-shirts?
- Is it a angry kid with an oppressed culture?
- Is it a kid from a ‘bad’ neighborhood?
- Is it a kid with ‘bad’ parents?
- Is it a ‘bad’ kid?
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There are other labels that substitute for ‘punk’. Those kids are lazy. Those kids don’t care. Those kids aren’t motivated. Those kids are disrespectful. Those kids are ‘bad’.
More than anything, I worry about the last one. What happens when educators think a student is a ‘bad’ kid? What happens when we label kids? Are we repeating cultural bias? Are we reflecting social injustice? Are we mirroring society’s prejudices? What dichotomies do we reinforce?
How many of us educators only want the ‘good’ kids. The ones from stable families. The ones with manicured lawns. The ones from good neighborhoods. The ones with straight A’s. The ones that let us teach. The ones that are quiet.
As an educator you will not like every single student. Every relationship will not be perfect. I have struggled with students before. I will struggle with students in the future. I am not perfect. I am not the world’s best teacher. No matter my relationship, I maintain that each student is a ‘good’ kid. Blaming the child for a inherent character defect is an excuse. It is a cop-out. It is not what we should do as educators. Students reflect the attitude we have toward them. Students live up to the labels we place on them.
I challenge all educators, including myself, to fight the urge to call students ‘punks’. I challenge all educators, including myself, to fight the urge to name students at one school better than others. I challenge all educators, including myself, to honor the difference of all schools and communities. I challenge all educators, including myself, to start from a place of empowerment, not deficit. If we start with the attitude that all kids are ‘good’ maybe students they will live up to the respect we give them.
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