Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Now Junior, behave yourself!

It’s been over two years since I retired from my job, driving a route for a large school district. I’ve been going through my archives, bringing back memories of what things were like as a working guy. With a few changes, here’s a posting from May 27, 2007:

A bad little kid moved into my neighborhood
He won't do nothing right just sitting down and looks so good
He don't want to go to school and learn to read and write
Just sits around the house and plays the rock and roll music all night
Well, he put some tacks on teacher’s chair
Puts some gum in little girl's hair
Now, junior, behave yourself

The other day I walked into an elementary school during an assembly for parents. In the office the principal was pushing a kid, maybe a 5th or 6th grader, onto a chair. She told the secretary, "He's not going to ruin this for everyone else." I assume she meant he had been acting up in the assembly.

I've seen this kid in the office of that school before. I've seen his mom and dad in the office with the principal. Apparently this kid is the school hell-raiser. The office staff just shake their heads, but the custodian told me once he had taken a dump on the boy's room floor. Sounds like a kid who has some problems.

As I was leaving I noticed he was sitting with his arms folded in front of him, his lips set into a thin line, and his eyes were straight ahead, not on anything in particular. I don't know what a child psychologist would call this body language, but to me it says defiance.

Going tell your mama you better do what she said
Get to the barber shop and get that hair cut off your head
Threw the canary and you fed it to the neighbors cat
You gave the cocker spaniel a bath in mother's Laundromat
Well, mama's head has got to stop
Junior's head is hard as rock
Now, junior, behave yourself

I don't speak to students. It's a policy I've had for 30 years, and unless I'm asked a direct question I just keep my mouth shut. This kid, though, I wanted to tell him in as direct a manner as possible: "You can't win."

The deck is stacked against rebellion, defiance of authority, in the school system, in society in general. Some inner programming in some kids makes them kick against the pricks, though. I could tell the kid that, but it wouldn't work. It never does. You've just got to hope they get smart early enough, so that everyone won't give up on them, because that's what happens. Then the real trouble begins.

Bad boys, bad boys
Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do
When they come for you

When you were eight
And you had bad traits
You go to school
And learn the golden rule
So why are you
Acting like a bloody fool
If you get hot
You must get cool

For several years part of my route included one of the kid jails in our county. I call them kid jails but they're official "detention centers" or some other euphemism. But really they're jails for youthful offenders. The worst was a secure, lockdown facility out in the middle of a field, fed into by a single road. If a kid were to go over the wall from that facility he'd be easily picked up because of the distance he would have to travel to get anywhere. I called that one the Young Murderers Program.

A few years ago they were holding a 16-year-old who had invaded the home of a 40-year-old woman, beat her, raped her, kidnapped her, drove her in her own car to the shore of the Great Salt Lake, stripped her nude and left her. This was in the middle of December, too. You can't throw a kid that age into prison, but what he did was so bad he belonged there. So they put him in the youth offender program until he was old enough to go to prison. I was talking about him with a school custodian who told me he'd known the kid when he was five-years-old. He said, "If I was ever to pick a kid who would end up in prison, it'd be him." You've got to feel sorry for the teachers and counselors who tried and failed to reach that boy during his growing up years. You also wonder if there came a point where they all looked at him and said, "We've done all that we could, now just go on out and do your thing and we'll see you when they stick the needle in your arm on your execution day."

I looked at the defiant kid in the chair in that elementary school and wanted so bad to tell him what I had to say: You just can't win. No matter how many times you show hostility to authority or act out against your family or society you just can't win. It's not the way our system works. Wise up now, kid. Pay attention.

But what I did was what I always do in that situation: walk out without saying anything, let the professionals handle him.

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