Entries Tagged 'Schoolteaching' ↓

How abuse by Trinity Valley School and others led to psychiatric slavery

A middle schooler in the mid-nineties, I played (U.S.-style) football as a student at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas, while parents sat in the bleachers and watched their young children injure each other. A football field is the perfect training ground for United States culture, filled as the country is with violence everywhere, daily mass shootings, bloodthirsty Hollywood, violence replacing sex in the bedroom, all of it voted for and purchased and excused by nearly everyone with any substantial power. My family was no different, and I presume yours was much the same, although perhaps you come from a healthier environment.

My older brothers were among the top of their football teams at TVS, so it was expected that I play concussionball as well. I haven’t much skill at sports, so they made me a lineman. A friend drew skulls on my forearm pads. With terrible eyesight, I wore big wraparound Rec Specs that would get knocked off my face and jumbled up in my helmet whenever someone slammed into me hard enough, which was often. Since I didn’t know how to rotate my hips at that age, before the snap all the other lineman would squat down, but my rear would be way up in the air as I sort of hunched over oddly. No one bothered to teach me how to rotate my hips until years later; the athletics department put little to no effort into helping kids with things like that, even though body mechanics should be a core component of physical education, and that’s what they were being paid to instruct.

The head coach of my team was Johnny Miller, the guy pictured below, who had a certain football policy. This was that his players should jack opposing players if they weren’t paying attention and were available to be knocked down. Didn’t matter if they didn’t even have the football. Just, if you see an opponent who isn’t looking, then if you can get away with it, charge at him and bash him with your arms and knock him to the grass. Unsportsmanlike conduct to say the least.

Johnny Miller

Something about Miller’s policy of telling players to visit harm on unsuspecting innocents must have excited me back then. With his son in middle school, my father had shot his own head off, so I was full of extreme rage. Plus, there was repeated physical abuse against me in my family (I was punched unconscious at one point), and although I asked for help, no one did anything that stopped the violence. So, Miller’s policy offered a way to pay back what others had been doing to me. That my target wasn’t the perpetrator isn’t something that occurs to an angry 13 year old abandoned by his father.

Only once did I jack an opponent–I don’t remember what team he was on, maybe Greenhill. It was toward the end of the fourth quarter. We were winning, and during this play, most of the players were thirty or forty yards downfield, close to the end zone. By himself, this opponent kid was slowly walking toward the end zone, babysteps kind of, looking down at the grass, maybe sad his team was losing or just bored and daydreaming. I saw my mark.

The deed was swift. I ran some ten yards in front of him. Looking down at the grass, he didn’t see me. I turned to face him, then ran at him full speed. Jacked him with both arms. He went flying back onto the grass. They had to carry him off on a stretcher.

Coach Miller pulled me out of the game–to congratulate me. When I came off the field at his prompting, and neared him, he leaned in close and whispered: “I had to take you out of the game because the parents are watching. But, that’s exactly what I told you to do.”

I never did find out what happened to the boy I jacked as a student of Miller’s policy. Is my victim out there somewhere with a lifelong injury because of what I did to him? Looks like Miller is still coaching at TVS. Has he softened any, changed his policy? Or is he still teaching young boys to visit harm on unsuspecting innocents, training them in the norms, instructing them precisely how to become rich and powerful leaders?

Things didn’t get better for me. The summer between middle school and high school freshman year, the friend who drew the skulls on my forearm pads phoned me to reveal a huge surprise: he wasn’t going to play football in high school! This astonished me. But only a second or two passed before I decided: “I’m not playing either.” I knew there would be serious repercussions for this treason, but I didn’t yet know just how bad.

High school football provided many good reasons not to play, given what was evident to a middle schooler. There were rumors about Camp Cruces, the preseason training camp where you got hazed. There was demanding Coach Norman, who’d yell and scream at you for hours as you stood out in the Texas 100+ degree Fahrenheit sun, sweating, pushing the sleds, and being slammed into. There was the permanent back injury one of my brothers received for playing football, and which he still has, decades later. Looking at all those downsides, it’s hard to see any advantages. And what if you simply wanted to spend your time in other ways? Must that be so unthinkable?

Reasonable as not playing high school football was, it was a ticket straight to ostracism, as Coach Norman dictated. Toward the end of high school, a football player finally confessed it to me: Coach Norman had told all the boys who played football (nearly the entire male population of the grade) not to ever talk to my artist friend or me, as punishment for us not playing. For years, those boys of Trinity Valley School obeyed Norman’s command. And besides, I was just some strange kid with a large bookbag whose father had killed himself. No need to lose status by interacting with me. Not that I was the easiest person to be around back then.

Ostracism takes a toll, and it wasn’t long before I started developing anxiety about going to school, which is completely understandable given how TVS treated me. That’s a long story for another day, but here’s the short version.

The anxiety about school got me sent to the psychiatric system. A loser psychiatrist in Fort Worth named Tom Murphy prescribed me, a teen, an antidepressant, which made me manic, as antidepressants often do. Mania was the green light that let most everyone off the hook for helping me as I spent decades in the psychiatric system, getting tazed by cops and being abused otherwise, because once you’re on these dangerous pharmaceuticals, it’s really difficult to taper off them successfully, and few devote time to helping other people. It’s far easier to individualize social problems, blame the individual, claim he has some lifelong invisible brain disease and unidentified invisible genetic failing, rather than change culture’s norms, which are sociopathic. And anyway, there’s all that violent porn to watch, violent video games to play, violent corporate television to enjoy, violent politicians to vote for, their violent lesser evils to normalize…

So when progressives jump to signal their loyalty to the abusive, powerful psychiatry faction in hopes complicit quacks will depose the abusive, powerful Trumpers, it’s hard to take the progressives seriously. Progressives find Trump jacking innocents distasteful, but progressives will certainly support a Coach Miller/Obama/psychiatrist silverback who inflicts and teaches harm yet puts on a show of being a goody goody. That way, nobody has to change the norms, and those who benefit from the norms can maintain their place in the pecking order.

If you’d like to learn about antipsychiatry, start here or here.

In the meantime, a happy note. This news clip, under three minutes, causes me to cry every time. It’s what sports should be:

Creative Commons License

How abuse by Trinity Valley School and others led to psychiatric slavery by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Clinical Schoolteaching, Early Observations, Behavior Management

As you might have heard, I’m working as a clinical schoolteacher — basically, doing three months of unpaid student-teaching en route to earning my full teaching certificate — as mentioned in an earlier post. The gig’s at an elementary school in the Fort Worth Independent School District, in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. Many of these children, for instance, go home and spend hours and hours alone while their parent(s) work multiple jobs, and the children often lack proper clothing or supplies such as glasses.

But one student still thought to get me, in addition to my coordinating teacher, a Valentine’s present:

For me! (Pic = Public Domain; attribution & linkage = nice)

My observations so far largely fit with what I’ve observed as a substitute teacher, a role in which I often substituted for an aide, and for the same teacher across several days. So, as a substitute I did watch regular teachers teach.

They’re mean to students. Often.

According to the fantastic instruction FWISD’s Substitute Academy gave me on behavior management (I call it “crowd control”) — and this jives with my personal experience — administering sarcasm destroys your credibility and your relationships with students more than anything else. Sarcasm’s really nothing more than a way for teachers to vent their frustration and scare students — a losing strategy, in the long run, since students lose much of their respect for downright mean teachers and don’t learn as well. There’s no need to be a Tiger Mother.

For example, teachers will yell at students for not following worksheet directions, when it’s clear the students often don’t understand the directions because, say, they can’t read them without glasses, or they’re interpreting the unfamiliar words in a novel way, or the terrible textbooks’ directions are ambiguous in the first place. And this anger when they come to the teachers asking for help with the directions!

Of course, in disciplining children, there’s no reason to coddle and give ribbons for every good deed, either. But there’s nothing wrong with treating children with kindness, telling them thank you, praising them for succeeding at what is actually difficult for them — following directions, focusing, getting an answer correct, and so on. Telling a student “Good” never killed anyone, and an encouraging, welcoming classroom community helps students learn; yet, so often I hear teachers mock students and then support their offensive behavior with a chest-pounding, macho, “toughness” credo. Yeah right. Maybe you’re just a jerk, or maybe you just don’t know what you’re doing.

Way over on the other hand, though, it sure is easy for me to spend a week or two in a new community — the school — and pass judgment, especially when I’m not under the strain regular teachers are. (Teaching to the high-stakes tests, for instance.) Kind of like committing a cross-cultural drive-by. And, I don’t want these schoolteaching blog posts to turn into passive-aggressive attacks on my co-workers, you know? But I’m calling it as I see it, and when the time seems appropriate, I’ll mention my concerns to my superiors. I do defer to their chain of command, perhaps too frequently; but, when you’re the low man on the totem pole, brazenly passing judgment isn’t always the best thing to do — especially when my superiors have years of experience that might inform their actions in ways I don’t understand yet.

Of course I don’t really believe any of that… Though I do believe this: in assessing the public school system, you can’t point fingers at any one problem (especially just because it might be politically popular to rag on that problem). The errors are system-wide; everything from underfed, hungry students to funding problems to malevolent teachers to absent parents to … You can’t single out any one thing, and you can’t ignore the good work that’s being done, either.

But I’m furious at the way teachers write off students’ misbehavior (or just problematic behavior) as due to some sort of intrinsic “badness” of the children that the teachers act like they’re incapable of addressing. I’m not really furious at the teachers, but at a culture-wide reluctance to adopt a philosophy such as Pragmatism, where one doesn’t opine about metaphysical ethical essences, but just takes the most practical assumption. Assuming at-risk students are intrinsically bad might be practical if you don’t want to stick your neck out, or if you don’t want to make the extra effort, but it’s not practical if you want to help people. And children are people. After all, adults are often just as immature as they are.

And what about gathering the courage to ditch the paint-by-numbers worksheets and make your own material, material that’d be relevant to the students and help them understand and care about their work? In class we read this long story about settlers’ candle-making. These children have no idea what the “mold” is that settlers used to create candles. There were too many paragraphs for the story also. Why not write two or three paragraphs about the snow days, answering some questions you overheard the students ask about the weather? When it’s not busywork, and when the material is relevant to the students’ lives, discipline problems often disappear.

21st Century Schoolteaching (via Our Man in Tirana)

As to that student who needs glasses (see earlier post). Some questioning, and my own experience, indicates the delay in getting glasses to students is a persistent and district-wide problem. If my questioning about the glasses supply chain turned up correct answers, a corporation called Essilor is the contractor responsible for getting glasses to students, as the students are entitled to receive under various federal legislation (if I recall correctly). The contractor apparently operates under a (state? federal?) grant, which means they have an obligation to do their work (i.e. it’s not charity), and that grant might specify a timeline for delivering the glasses. Also, the grant should be publicly available; via Twitter or email, I’ll ask organizations such as ProPublica how to track down the grants, and if I have to, I’ll file an entire FOIA.

Don’t mess with my students.

Clinical Teaching Day 1; Rumination on Roles

My first day as a clinical teacher went very well. Except: I’m exhausted!

Right now the coordinating teacher and I are together in the same classroom throughout the day. She’s running the reins, and I’m just observing, sitting at the side. Eventually I’ll be able to lead some activities. I’ve done that before when I’ve substituted for the same groups of students across a continuous week or so, but this would be more serious, especially as it’s long-term.

The day began quite early; my alarms blasted off at about 4:30am. I showered & got ready, and Wifely Kate cooked breakfast:

iPhone pic by me, public domain for you. Food by Kate!

How awesome is that? The coffee was ready and everything. I was able to write fiction for about an hour and fifteen minutes — quickly revising (line-editing) an older, completed story so I can re-submit it; didn’t quite finish, since I’m having to fact-check some details — and then I headed to campus, the lunch Kate packed me in tow. At noon-ish I discovered she’d left a note in my lunchbox. The note talked about how proud she is of me. I got teary-eyed!

The coordinating teacher uses a Promothean ActivBoard (I’m not sure if the link points to the exact same model) in some very effective ways. For one portion of the classes, she shows multiple-choice math questions on the ‘Board, then the students record their answers using controllers — all students have one on their desks. The coordinating teacher shows the results on the ‘Board — as a bar graph; looks like something off Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? — and uses them not just to motivate the class (the students love the video game-y vibe), but also to hone in on the students’ misunderstandings of the material in order to explain it again. Good real-time assessment.

Weirdly, one of the few TV shows I really like

The ‘Board can even export the collected data, so at a later time, we can analyze the answer statistics more precisely to spot recurring troubles. Totally something out of a Tim O’Reilly project.

Since I was mostly only observing — catching up to speed on this campus’s schedule, rules, etc. — I focused on watching one student at a time. (I’ve blogged before about developing observation skills. As for characterization, can a writer quickly notice in real-life what makes another person absolutely unique?) I noticed a boy whom I think might need glasses. Squinting, tilting his head to see better, putting his face inches from his paper. There’s a school program to address vision issues, but I’m not sure how prompt it is. Watching how in need and at risk students are can be upsetting. I’ve seen it before, substituting.

This particular student is enthusiastic, often raising and waving his hand even before the teacher asks another question. His enthusiasm hasn’t been disruptive. He seems to be a bit in his own world — smiling to himself, thinking his own thoughts. Good kid.

After leaving the campus, I went to Stay Wired! Coffeehouse and Computer Service for two hours, where I’m helping out as a computer tech. After my two hours were up, I informally sat in on a meeting for Democrat Cathy Hirt‘s campaign for the Fort Worth mayor position. There, upon being asked, I talked a little about my experiences and observations working for the local public school system.

I have to confess I’m bewildered about the relationships between my roles as a writer, teacher, newbie activist, blogger, and tweep (Twitter person). For example, working as an activist differs from volunteering for a political campaign (as I did for Bill White), from working for one in an official capacity, from blogging reportage or opinion about it, from incorporating observations of a campaign into a fiction project, etc. It’s a bit unnerving when you’re sitting there with a few people talking local politics and you’re trying to figure out which hat you’re wearing, so to speak. I have no real idea how to resolve these mini-conflicts, and there’s no one right answer.

The convention for blogs to be frequently updated conflicts with my personal preference for long-form or at least mucho-revised writing; and, when I’ve tried to blog long-form writing in the past, it’s often come off as too complex (Latinate, twisted syntax…) and hasn’t been revised well enough — a bad compromise between careful long-form writing and a quick blog post. Really, if you’re blogging long-form pieces, you’re essentially writing e-books. Since I consider myself a non-commercial writer (i.e. my goal isn’t profit; that possibility is a fringe benefit; I don’t mean that I consider myself highbrow — I try not to think in those terms), I’m not against the idea of eventually releasing more of my creative writing (fiction and otherwise) under Creative Commons licenses, but I sense that right now, I still need the bigger bullhorns and reputation-build of established venues (i.e. magazines, publishing houses).

Vika covers Metallica’s Orion

The increasing online success of vkgoeswild (Vika Yermolyeva) has been a bit of an eye-opener for me. I thought she was cool before she joined forces with Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione (Hipster cultural capital snobby-stupid FTW! =p). Vika supports herself by receiving online tips and selling customized transcriptions online. Other artists and bloggers have figured out similar business models (search through Boing Boing for many examples and discussions). But for creative writing, I just don’t excel at the very short, very quickly written form, which seems to be necessary to any feasible online business model I can actually think up for right now.

Besides, I love teaching!

Clinical Schoolteaching Begins: Scared but Eager

Tomorrow I begin a 12-week placement as a clinical teacher within the Fort Worth ISD en route to earning a full-meal-deal schoolteaching certificate. Tonight I’m quite a bit nervous.

Public domain pic thanks to Amada44

The campus is an elementary school. I’ve substituted a fair number of times in the middle and high school grades, as well as in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. I love kids and I love teaching. It requires patience, empathy, honesty, effective communication, a strict but fair approach, courage, an understanding of how people (young folk are people, too) need structure, a knack for facilitating group activity, good documentation skills, the ability to coordinate with coworkers…

So I’m confident in my abilities and experience. The anxiety comes from other causes. I’m not at all the best when it comes to crossing t’s and dotting i’s when time is of the essence, and that’s a necessary part of most work. I still don’t have many of the nitty-gritty details figured out (where do I park?), but I’ve always been able to improvise as a substitute. “Bring it on!” is my basic attitude, but everyone, including me, gets scared.

Wifely Kate has been so supportive and generous with her help. This weekend we did a lot of prep stuff, such as buying me more button-down dress shirts, cutting my hair (I still have a big ol’ shock of cowlick-y hair, which seems to be undefeatable). Marrying her has been the best thing that ever happened to me. And not just because she’s cooking breakfast and packing my lunch in the early, early morning as I get my creative writing in before driving to campus.

Schoolteaching is also scary because of possible political and work-world implications of online activity, online personal opinions. Working — at least as a substitute — has made me an official public servant. And there’s a lot of controversy over schoolteaching — for example, the Texas textbook controversy. What if something I tweet — such as this in favor of journalist Glenn Greenwald — bothers a parent or a supervisor? Oh well! I don’t really know how to handle that other than how I handle personal interaction in general, which is to try to be honest, fair, and diplomatic. I’m not one to stay quiet and keep my head down.

I’m ready. Again: Bring it on.

I need to make public something else soon, too, but I’ll leave that as a cliffhanger due to time constraints: I gotta get some sleep!