Monday, March 3, 2008

Pennies for Your Thoughts

OK. Readington is not Flemington. But from the point of view of discussion and the Washington Post that ran the story, the fine distinction is neither here nor there.

Last week in Readington, evidently some 29 merry pranksters, specifically 8th graders, coordinated and executed a plan to pay for their lunches with 200 pennies as a protest for the shortened lunch period. (See Below). Superintendent Jorden Schiff slapped them with a 2 day detention as punishment.

Well, you guessed it. Were I superintendent, I would have commended the students for their creativity, their ability to organize, and coordinate and make a point, perhaps a bit disruptive but not intended to be disrespectful or harmful while at the same time explaining to them---point made and that should it continue there would be consequences that were specifically spelled out.

In a playful way these students did what students are expected to do from time to time, namely... think on their own, act on their own, create and, yes, even challenge authority and take risks. They did so in a bemusing way. The road to educate is fraught with much disruptive meandering.

This repressively politically correct society has “dumbed” down creativity in thought and expression. Instead educators and politicians are generating a bumper crop of students who are to march to the cadence of good little test takers while we know in the depth of our souls that mindless obedience is not the stuff of American politics and ingenuity, necessities of life in this highly globalized world.

As a college student, I taught religious classes to high school students who were, of course, poked and prodded to attend by their parents. Come Halloween, they egged my car. The next class I came and laughed with them, somewhat impressed that they wanted to get a rise out of me. At least they were not sleeping in that class. We bonded then and there, they and I, and as I have learned once you have bonded with your students, the learning really begins for both teacher and student. In Readington, as I sit from a distance, I see an opportunity to bond with these little ones lost and a punitive, alienating relationship begun that may descend to the ranks of the younger students as they observe the consequences meted out for any bit of rebellion.

By protesting a shortened lunch period maybe the Readington Penny Gang was trying to tell the adults something they had tried to say in other ways but were not heard. I wonder.

Schools need to give their students a fair amount of latitude to express their viewpoints, political correctness notwithstanding. Superintindent Schiff says he punished these students to teach them how to express their views without being disruptive. I fear all he has taught them is that if you get on his wrong side, you will be punished. So, indeed, were I the superintendent facing this little gang of protestors, I would have met with them with respect and, given them kudos for their creativity and organizational skills, basic gutsy-ness, heard their complaints and addressed them, rather than pounding them for the very qualities that make us human and specifically good Americans. Also with a wink and smile, I would warn them very clearly----don’t push your luck here.

Stay tuned.


bob said...

Joan, I agree: those kids engaged in civil disobedience and the superintendent should join them in detention.

I did this once, a long time ago -- showed the town of Larchmont, NY what I thought of their unfair parking ticket by paying the $15 in pennies. I stood at the cashier's window as the clerk and I counted them out. (I know the ticket wasn't her fault, but I also knew she would pass it along to the parking enforcement people).

Courier News Flemington blog said...


So this penny thing comes in handy...

My daughter is a fourth grade teacher in Hillsborough so I am kept somewhat informed about the happenings in local elementary schools. What I did not write, trying to avoid being heavy-handed and not overly judgmental because I was not there, was that there is increasing pressure on our students, which I think is out of control. Maybe these kids were saying something more and educators ought to be present to that possibility even if the students are not be totally cognizant of their gripes. Educators should understand that disruption in schools just goes with the territory. The important thing to me was for the school administrators to iron out what was at the bottom of this while reinforcing all the positive aspects of the prank/protest and there were positive aspects to it.