In Her Shell
Thursday, May 25, 2006
  Another Theory
Kids act out because they feel like they must make a mark, anywhere.

When I was in fourth grade, I unscrewed the lid on our cafeteria table's ketchup squirt bottle. I left it sitting on top of the bottle, as if it were attached, but anyone picking it up and turning it over would not get the bit of ketchup they were expecting, but a huge blob of ketchup, all over their tater tots. I did this every day.

I did this at the end of the lunch period; I didn't want any of my friends to suffer an unwanted mess of ketchup, so I would unscrew the lid right before we went outside for recess. I never got to see the fruits of my actions, but took a wicked glee in imagining their consequences.

A few months into that year, the squirt bottles disappeared from individual tables, replaced by gigantic squirt bottles, the kind with the pump tops, on a table near the cashier.

I couldn't have been the only kid unscrewing lids on the sly. But still, I felt proud. At least partly due to my actions, something had tangibly changed in my world.

My students who lash out want the same thing: to make an impact, any impact. To make a teacher angry or upset is an indication that they have some power. Vandalize a wall, tear down a poster, get drunk. You have created something, even if it is but chaos. Proof that I WUZ HERE.

Curriculum needs to address this, particularly for kids whose subverted energy turns to destruction. Publishing their work for real audiences and community-based pedagogy are two options that are typically offered only to the academic elite. These are students who may initially seem more open to such unconventional projects, but they need them a little less. They already have experience in making things--prom decorations, Eagle Scout projects, other people proud.
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