Monday, October 27, 2008

On Raising a Tiny Vigilante

My son is a good boy, with a big, tender heart. He is whip-smart, funny and aims to make people happy. He is the kind of kid that will play with anyone, regardless of what they look like, how they have treated him before or whether or not everyone else is playing with that person. He is also quick to root for the underdog, and anxious to defend the weak. Like I said, he is a good boy. And I am very proud of him.

Like all kids though, he makes bad choices sometimes, and gets in trouble...which is today's overly PC euphemism for "being a little punkass". When he is at home, we can and do closely monitor what he is doing, so that we can guide and advise him for or against certain actions (read tell him "knock it off, right now, or I will auction you off on eBay") and decide on appropriate punishments for his various "crimes" ("You are grounded until your grown-up teeth are all in!"). At school on the otherhand, we are at the mercy of the teacher's rules.

Sebastian's classroom, like so many today, uses a card system to track and quantify behavior. If a child keeps all of their cards on a given day, they did well. If they lost all 3, they are on a one-way trip to juvy hall, or worse, the principal's office. I've never been a big fan of this format that starts every child out, everyday, being the best that they can possibly be, and giving them nowhere to go from there but down. But it is not my classroom, and I understand that my role, as a parent, requires me to show a unified front with his teacher. I would much rather let my child start out each day with a clean, neutral slate, which he can then improve upon. But maybe that's just me. Either way, it is what it is, and I am along for the ride, whether I get car sick or not.

Sebastian has been losing cards. Almost everyday he loses at least one. And he will get off the bus, shoulders slumped, hang dog expression pasted on his face, upset to report back that, yet again, he has been judged a "bad seed". See the thing is, in this color-coded, card stock brand of justice is all crimes are judged the same. There is no "misdemeanor" versus "felony" level of misbehavin'. You do exactly what you are told, or you will lose a card. And if you lose said card, there is no defense. You are guilty. You are wrong. You are bad.bad.bad. Reading a book while the teacher is talking? Bad. Lose a card. Throw a pencil at someone's head, because you don't like them? Bad. Lose a card. Help a classmate tie their shoe, when you are supposed to be sitting at your desk? Bad. Lose a card. Call someone a retard, and make them cry? Bad. Lose a card. ...Now, again, maybe it is just me, but I tend to think that some of those things are worse than others. I also think it is an odd message that we are sending to our shoelace tying friends about the inherent "rightness" of being altruistic. Personally, I think first grade is a bit young to be learning that no good deed goes unpunished. And as for the "no ifs, ands or buts about it" aspect? I think it is a bizarre lesson to teach in the land of "innocent until proven guilty."

So, the litany of his sins?

  • Monday: He lost a card for finishing all the sheets in his packet for that week, even thought they had only been assigned the first one.
  • Tuesday: He had his hat pulled down over his head and was pretending he couldn't see anyone as he was sitting at his desk, waiting for his bus number to be called.
  • Wednesday: He blew his pencils off of his desk, and onto the floor during reading time. He had finished his work.
  • Thursday: He was seen tackling another child to the ground.
  • Friday: He kept all of his cards.

As the parent, trying to show the unified front, I have to attach some consequence to these transgressions, but really? Sometimes I just don't see the point in meting out further punishment for a crime that, well, I don't really understand as so wrong in the first place.

So what can I, as a parent, do to ensure that my child doesn't become a"good, card keeping at all costs" citizen, who in order to keep those precious cards looks out for only number one? And almost as importantly, what can I do , without totally subverting the rules of the classroom? The answer that I ahve come up with is simple: I talk to my kid...which I would have done anyway. Rules are rules, and if you break the classroom rules, you have to bear the punishment. If the rule that you break in the classroom is *also* a family or house rule, there will be further consequences at home.

So the day that he did all of the work? We told him that he couldn't have any candy. That was all. To us? To me? To our way of thinking? This was a stupid thing to punish him for. He gets the work, he knows how to do it, he just wants to be done.

The day with the hat? No candy...but really? I bet it was pretty funny.

The day day that he blew his pencils on the floor? No candy and no dessert...he was distracting the class and being us, that doesn't fly.

So you can imagine that, the day that he came home and had to tell me about tackling another boy, that he was quaking in his boots. And I am sure that you would guess that the punishment was more severe...and it would have been...except for this:

"Why did you tackle "little Johnny", who is 6 inches shorter than you? "
"Because he was kicking "Mikey" and throwing his notebook away from him, so that he couldn't finish his work."

My little vigilante...he was doing the wrong thing, but for the right reason. And the real rub? "Little Johnny" is one of his best buddies. "Mikey"? "Mikey" has been known to push Sebastian in line and take the ball from him on the playground. Even though he doesn't truly *like* Mikey, he knew that what Johnny was doing was wrong, and he did what he could to stop it.We talked him through it, and explained the concept. And then hugged him, and told him that although using his words, and telling a grown-up would have been a better choice, we were proud of him for looking out for another person. That doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason will always get him in trouble, but doing the wrong thing for the right reason, when he has no other choice...well, that is a different thing altogether.

Now I guess we just have to order him up his very own "Bat Symbol".


Julie said...

That really is a tough one. Roman got busted for spilling his milk in the cafeteria last week.... no throwing or spitting or chucking his milk at someone, but accidentally dropping it on the floor. He also got "busted" for getting up during class... he was getting another pencil out of his box because in 3rd grade they switch classes for certain subjects and the kid that was using his desk while he was in another classroom stole his pencil from his desk. At some point you have to step in and say, come on, what's up with this! And I have gone to talk to the teacher before about bogus persecutions. If they're disrupting class that's one thing, but some of the crap they dock our kids for is down right ridiculous! Our system has multiple levels, the first of which you get 2 warnings before moving to the next level. Anything in level 1 is acceptable as long as note from the teacher isn't coming home about the offense. Once at level 2 we would discuss the situation in detail. At this step they have to write a letter home, then call parents, then head to the principal's office..... we've never gotten to level 2. LOL The warnings are to keep my kids in line. The old system was a level 3 that sounds similar to yours, but fortunately Roman's teacher rewarded them with exceptional behavior and they could redeem themselves and move back up a color (or in Sebastian's case earn back a card). Not all teachers allowed that though, I guess Roman was just lucky. LOL

Susan said...

Can any say homogenized children and silly rules!!

We all know what bad behavior is and this is not that. Ah well hurray for "no child left behind" lets make them all mediocre in a world that is far from that!!