Chapter Nine: Social Skills?
Angie was one of my favorites. Yes, the teachers have favorites. They are human beings that prefer some people to others. And Angie was easy to like. She had a happy disposition. She was willing. And she was thoughtful.
One morning her class was all in their seats, ready for Music. I handed out a few little drums and sticks for the kids to beat while we sang a song. I explained that we would pass them around so that everyone could get a chance to play them. As I handed a drum to the girl seated next to her, Angie reached out and snatched it away for herself. The little neighbor took it back. Then the fireworks began. In a matter of moments there was screaming, pushing and hair pulling. It was hard to see who had the drum. There were no signs of the fire dying down. It was starting to spread, so I had to put myself at risk and step in. You have no idea how dangerous fourth grade girls can be.
After a moment of silence the red- faced girls all got back into their seats. Tears were streaming. There was some time left to sing a song or two, and the bell rang. The class started for the door. “Angie, Mindy, we need to talk. Will you stay back for a minute?” I saw the terror in their eyes. After all the little bodies had filed out of the classroom, two straggle-haired little girls remained. “What happened?” I asked.
“It was my turn to get something!” Angie nearly screamed at me. “Mindy always gets stuff first. It was my turn.” Her voice melted into sobs. Mindy stood there, her hair ruffled, her cheeks red, and mouth still open in bewilderment.
“You handed the drum to me!”
I got the little drum. “See this little drum? Seems like a silly little thing to get this upset over. This isn’t like either of you. What’s going on?”
Then the real sobbing began. They traded apologies, promised to behave in Music, and left me alone in the Music Room wondering what on earth would make such nice little girls turn into dangerous fiends. Maybe what I saw in Music wasn’t the real Angie. I only had her in my class twice a week for an hour at a time.
As it turned out, Angie was quite a naughty girl. I watched her on the playground and talked with the staff. It seemed she liked to complain. She got in fights if things didn’t go her way. She argued with teachers. Along with learning her ABC’s and 123’s Angie was learning her social skills in the Public School. Was the sweet Angie that was my favorite the real Angie? Or was the naughty one the real Angie. There was no way for me or any other teacher to find out. There isn’t time for that kind of interaction with the students. That type of thing is left to the school counselor. You remember what the school counselor said about Tory? We’ll talk about counselors in another book.
What are good social skills? Being able to carry on a polite conversation? Being respectful of other’s views? Being able to resolve conflict? Being thoughtful and kind? Being willing to help out and give meaningful service? Are these the things that you plan to teach your little one? Of course you do! If you send him to the Public School, it won’t be you teaching him his social skills. What he would learn there would be something far different from what you would teach him.
No matter how devoted you are as a mother, it would be physically impossible for you to spend as much time with your little one as the Public School would. For his prime waking hours, your little one would not be interacting with you or other real world people. He would be interacting with an organization that is not social at all. The Public School is an artificial world.
From the earliest years, when they are most impressionable, little people are separated into groups. They are allowed to interact only with that group and their authority figure (no, not the mom). This will be the case for twelve years. They will further be separated into “levels”. The kids with the most sparkling stickers go as a group to the library to do their math together. The kids with the least sparkling stickers go as a group to the media room to catch up on math together. The middle, mediocre group will stay in the classroom and continue learning middle math together.
Remember, mother, that to us these are just classes and groups. To little people, these classes and groups comprise their whole world. And what a small puckered-up world it is! There is little time for real interaction even in the small categories of little people. They are allowed only to speak at certain times and in certain ways. The sentinels are always on the lookout to make sure that the rules of interaction are followed. This happens all day long, day after day. Do you really think that your little one wouldn’t be affected by this stunted form of social interaction?
But of course they could still learn good social skills at recess, that ten or twenty minute slice of time when the little people are allowed to run and play. They are not allowed to be free though. As we’ve seen, sentinels are placed to see that comings and goings are done properly. There is also a playground sentinel. That teacher, assigned to see that proper interaction takes place out in the pen, hates being there. She has papers to correct. She has a cold. She wants some quiet time. She wants to eat lunch in peace. What are the chances she will see how badly the kids around the corner are working on the new kid? Do you think she will notice what is happening over at the swings? Even if this sentinel really wanted to be doing her playground duty, there is absolutely no way for her to see how much these little people resemble animals let out of a cage during recess.
They have been confined, shackled and deprived of the human desire to create and discover. Now they are let loose for a few minutes and we actually think that they are learning appropriate socials skills then?
The adults in the school are the parent figures in the little people’s lives. How they act to one another and to the little people will be the basis of much of their social behavior. Do you remember that list of teachers you read about? At least one of them would be the parent figure in your little one’s life for one year. Which one of them would you choose to be an example of good social skills? Send your little one to the Public School and you will have no choice. Would your little one learn the basics of coercion by watching his teacher? Or would he learn about communication and compromise?
The interaction with other adults and the children is done in a contrived environment. The Public School is not the real world. Would your little one learn social skills by interacting with his teacher? What skills would he learn watching his teacher interact with other teachers? Will the teachers behave in a real world way when they are around him? For all of his formative years, your little one would have the Public School staff for his example of proper social skills. He would spend more time with them than with you. That is, if you are still considering giving him over to them.
One of the things that would strike you if you could spend whole days at the Public School (I did) is how aloof and impersonal the adults are, to each other and to the little people. I thought it odd as a new teacher from outside the system, that hardly anyone greeted each other. It seemed like an anti-social bunch until I was there for a while, and realized that was just how they behaved to one another.
How to be impersonal and aloof is actually taught to new teachers. There are courses on how to interact with little people in a way that will not minimize teacher control. A teacher must keep her professional distance in order to maintain her authority. It is the teacher (no, not the mother) that a little one has to look to for attention, acknowledgement, nurturing and discipline. And yet the teacher must remain aloof to do her job well. So there is another important social skill your little one would learn in the Public School: how to be impersonal and aloof. This skill should come in handy in marriage, and raising little ones of his own!
Can little people learn to respect others in an environment where they aren’t respected? Can you force respect? Little people are forced to act like they respect the teacher, the principal, etc. But respect, real respect is an individual attitude. Respect must be earned. It can never be enforced. Even if a six-year-old can’t describe it, she knows that she is not being respected when she can only go to the restroom when a bell tells her it is allowed. She senses no respect when she is bound with invisible shackles to a desk for hours. Will she learn true respect in such an environment? How about when she or her fellow inmates get humiliated or demeaned? Do you want your little one to learn respect?
What would your little one learn about meaningful service to others in the Public School? Service is actually used as a punishment there. When a child behaves so badly that the punishment must be more severe than detention, she will have to do community service. Service to the community is a punishment! In all fairness I have to add that most schools will take time to clean up the roadside or do other community service as a school. But do the little people choose to do it? Did they have any part in arranging it? Will they see it as service, or a wonderful opportunity to escape confinement?
How about personal service, you know, just helping someone else? If Lily is struggling in Math, Mrs. Smith will assign Jim to help her. Would Jim have helped her on his own? Who knows? He isn’t given the freedom to make that kind of choice. Besides, Jim is in the library with the higher level of Math students. It’s not likely he would choose to associate with Lily during Math anyway. So there are some more important social skills taught in the Public School: You must be assigned to serve others. And community service is for criminals (does the prison parallel bother you?).
Little people learn to associate only with people that are just like them. They have very little interaction with anyone other than the kids in their own class. This makes their already small world even more pinched. The real world is nothing like that. If you send your little one to the Public School he will learn to seek out “his own” for the rest of his life. The rich experience of knowing many different types of people will be stolen from him. This will happen in his formative years. He will learn to associate only with a small group of like individuals. He will look down on lower “levels”. He will suspect that higher “levels” look down on him. He will be afraid of older groups. He will torment younger groups. He will become a little bigot and he won’t even know it.
Hate and bigotry are generated in the Public School. Little people are segregated, labeled and compartmentalized from their earliest years. Could we think that this would have no effect? Should we be surprised when they learn to be suspicious of and stay away from those that are different from them as adults?
We have already noted the results of being confined and deprived of creating and discovering. We have talked about life in the chicken coop. We have seen how the Public School is saturated with constant unnecessary competition. Is that an environment where good social skills can be learned and practiced? Here are just a few more social skills your little one could learn in the Public School:
- How to avoid getting noticed. Doing so means losing feathers.
- How to get noticed. Suzy, like all little people in the Public School gets only superficial snippets of personal time with teachers. There is so little time for real human interaction that she will come up with some creative ways to get noticed. It doesn’t even matter if the attention is negative as long as she gets it.
- How to coerce people into giving you what you want. The person that little people see as their example and authority (no, not you, mom), uses coercion to get what she wants. She will even withhold basic human rights to get a behavior she wants or a task completed.
- How to scare people into doing what you want them to. Bullying and menacing are not only accepted, but encouraged in your community’s Public School. The staff doesn’t call it that. The staff might not even realize it. But the adults use bullying techniques that would make the playground bully envious.
- How to “take it”. I actually had a friend tell me that he kept his kids (they were bullied) in the Public School so they could learn how to take it. He was sincere and totally serious. Learning to be the chicken in the coop that resigns itself to its fate is a worthy social skill in some people’s eyes.
- How to “give it”. If you don’t learn this important social skill, chances are you’re going to be “taking it”.
- How to whine.
- How to swear.
- How to attack what you don’t understand.
- How to lie and cheat. Even the nicest kids from the most loving families are affected by sparkling stickers.
- How to behave like an animal. After being deprived of so much that is human, after being confined and restrained for hour after hour, day after day, people will behave in ways they normally would not. Hours, days and years of tedium and repetition have a profound effect. Much of the promiscuity, the profanity, the rudeness and crudeness that we see increasing, I blame on the dehumanizing Public School system. Parents are not allowed enough time with their children to be an effective counterbalance. Their role as parents has been so diminished by now, that their examples and opinions have little weight.
- How to conform and adapt. Never question. The teacher is the authority. The book is the authority. There are penalties in the Public School for questioning a rule, a punishment, a policy, even a math fact. In the Public School, questioning is “anti-social” behavior and must be dealt with as such. The smallest of the little people learn this social skill early and thoroughly.
Would you send your little one to your community’s Public School for the excellent academics, or for the social skills he would learn?