Monday, April 18, 2005

Hostile Environments

Over at instructivist, you can read about the difference between a heathy classroom and a hostile one. As a public teacher, I have to admit a bit of anxiety befell me this morning. My current unit for my Pre-College English class is a collection of Literature Circles. I presented six books for my students to choose from and let them draft the book of their choice based on attendance.
Many of these novels deal overtly with the most taboo subject in public education, religion. Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory or Alan Paton's Cry, The Beloved Country, both have a heavy dose of God. I consider both of these novels to be wonderfully real portrayals of humanity, but now I wonder if the Thought Police, might be knocking on my door. Which brings up again that aged question of how to balance anything religious with public education. Does religious content in a novel that is required, or not required as in my case, constitute as a hostile environment?
I guess I am starting to show my age, especially when I make statements like the next, but when did the school environment become such a sensitive place. In the last ten years since my graduation, did I miss something? In my Pre-College class in a suburban Connecticut high school, chapters from the King James Bible, a clearly British infulenced translation, were read and viewed for their style and verbage.
In my 11th grade English class, my revered teacher taugh us poetry. She included the Psalms--clear examples of beautiful poetry, whether one considers himself religious or not.
Perhaps I should revisit my education in search of hostile environments. If you wish, come along:

1st grade: Ms. Stack dressed as Ms. Viola Swamp and had we first graders convinced that she was a witch. Ms. Stack also would not let me go home with my mother after recess, even though Ms. Fluckinger (yes, her real name) said I was not feeling well. But I owe Ms. Stack big time. I have only ever called in sick to work once. But in retrospect, it was a hostile environment.
3rd grade: Ms. Mudgett harassed me endlessly about my penmanship. I don't know that I ever satisfied her need for beautiful and clear, ah what is that called again--I don't use it now, cursive. She made me feel bad about it. In fact, as soon as I could write in any style I wanted, I did; no more cursive. Ms. Mudgett, I'm sorry, but your classroom was hostile--but, you'd be pleased with my penmanship on the White Board.
4th grade: Mr. Wood was one of the funniest teachers I ever had. His humor was dry and witty. But he would often accidentally step on my toes. "Oh, did I step on your foot," he'd say; and then we'd laugh together. Once in a while he would pull up behind one of us as we worked on math and tug on our ears, like he was flying the Red Baron. What a kick we all got out of that. Sorry, Mr. Wood, but that was a hostile environment. But, you'd enjoy the dry humor I employ in my classroom.
9th grade: The previous year in 8th grade, Ms. Mosely from the high school stopped by our junior high to talk to us about high school Spanish. My brother had Mr. C, and said he was real cool. I told Ms. Mosely precisely that. On my first day of Spanish, not knowing that Ms. Mosely was the lady who stopped by the previous year, she took roll and stopped at my name. "Well, Mr. McNamar, it looks like you didn't get your wish." Hostile. But to this day I can communicate in Spanish fairly well.

Interesting, isn't it, what perspective and time will do? I don't intend to imply that hostile environments don't exist, that would be foolish at best. I only wish we could be human again--connected by the simple things that make us laugh or the greatness of a good book, regardless of subject matter.


At 6:41 PM , Blogger Boston Dreamer said...

Well, certainly, hostile environment exists, but I think that there needs to be a bad chemistry between teacher and student that brings it out. If the students believe that the teacher cares for them, no amount of sarcasm will change that (and that is my own issue...the principal always marks me down for being too sarcastic!).
As far as the religious content of the books you are reading, why worry? Academic freedom: as long as you can justify why you chose those books and not others, and allow an opportunity for a child to choose a different book, you will be fine.
On another note, how about Manny today? I guess it was Drive in 5, let in 2, huh? :)

At 7:06 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Sarcasm, I wonder if it is a something New Englanders get from the water source. When I student taught, my observing professor regularly reminded me not to be sarcastic with kids. There are plenty of times though, that I am sarcastic without consciously being aware of it.

Now Manny, that guy is simply a clown--a court jester that can pull off some of the greatest feats and then stun you with his stupidity.


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