It’s been a day, People.
It started out well enough. I approached my morning class with a fair bit of enthusiasm; I had a plan in mind and a pretty good idea of the road map I was going to use to get to where I wanted to be. I got a little derailed, though, and I’ve been thinking about it all day. I had another adventure with Henry this morning, and I know it’s wrong of me to invest the boy with so much power, but he really threw me off my game.
The class was brainstorming persuasive speech and essay ideas at me and I was writing them on the board. They came up with some pretty good ones – there were the usual “gay rights” and “abortion” topics, but there was also “Coke vs. Pepsi” and “why you shouldn’t hate cops” tossed in for good measure – not all persuasive speeches have to be heavy on the politics, and I was glad to see the class having a little fun with it.
Henry came up with the topic of “racial profiling,” which I put on the board. He then went on to tell us that he and some friends of his had been followed around a local Wal-Mart not too long ago, and he was outraged (which, I’m coming to realize, is his default position). Of course, the only possible reason for the attention he and his friends got was race; there couldn’t be any other motivation for the employees to keep an eye on a group of teenaged boys wandering around the store. He then told us that someone got away with stealing something and they just walked right out, but Henry and his pals couldn’t make it past the front door without being detained and molested. How did Henry know that other person had stolen something if they’d not been caught, I asked. Of course, he had no answer. Neither was he moved by the fact that I, a thirty-something, white woman, often get stopped at the store’s exit and asked to show my receipt – sometimes a security device doesn’t get deactivated at the checkout, or the greeter just wants to be sure that I paid for that bag of cat food under my cart because, you know, it’s easy to forget to scan things tucked under the cart.
Nope! He’s a victim of racial profiling! No amount of logic will change his mind.
It was at this point that I suggested that, even though the idea of racial profiling is a really intriguing topic for a persuasive speech, it might be best for Henry to choose something that he’s a little less personally invested in. I pointed out to him that he might find it difficult to approach this topic with the detachment and logic that would be required for him to make a compelling, articulate argument one way or the other.
He glared at me and gave me a dismissive nod.
After a short while, I sprung the class for a ten minute break. Four students stayed in the room, and one of them was Henry, who promptly took out his cell phone (the same one I’d told him – twice – to put away at the beginning of class, by the way) and called his father. He then proceeded to beg the man to let him drop out because, as he explained loudly enough for me and all the other students in the room to hear, he’s not being sufficiently challenged at TCC, his teachers all “hate” and “disrespect” him, and he’s failing miserably at TCC while he’s managing all A grades in the classes he’s taking at the local university.
Once I figured out what he was doing over there, I wandered to the far side of the room and made small talk with a student. I smiled at her and said, “Honey, let’s just chat, shall we?” She knew exactly what I was doing and managed to keep me from losing it by telling me that her 102 year old great-grandmother had recently died. While I’m sorry gradma’s dead, I’m really grateful to the girl for keeping me busy until Henry snapped his phone shut and stormed out of the room
It was at this point that another student, God love him, actually STOOD UP and apologized. “Mrs. Chili, that was just rude; you shouldn’t have had to listen to that and it was all I could do to not tell him off.” Bless you, precious boy – I really needed to hear that.
I’m hoping that Henry does get permission from his father to drop out. He’s not serving himself here; he’s not taking constructive criticism and he’s not trying to improve his writing or speaking skills in my class. I’ll keep working with him as long as he keeps coming, but I’m not confident that it’s going to matter a damn to him: he’s already decided that I, like the Wal-Mart employees, have it in for him. I doubt there’s anything I can do to convince him otherwise.