Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"You hood, ms. Samantha"

For my service learning I hang out with fifth graders after school and attempt to force them to learn a lesson in literature. With the Higher Achievement program, the kids have the opportunity to take extra curriculum, extending their school day until eight p.m. But before you go feeling bad for them for having to endure such a long day of learning, it is important to note that they take care to entertain themselves throughout. In fact, you should probably feel sorrier for the teacher (namely, me) who has to try to force them to remain focused long enough to actually do the school work.

At first, they were as wary of me as I was of them. They were careful about their jokes, glancing at me after each one to gauge my reaction but addressing only one another, as they were unsure of how to talk to me. However, once they got rolling there was no turning back. The two girls were good friends and they were ripping the poor boy like there was no tomorrow. I told them to have a little mercy since he was outnumbered and they assured me that when he was in his group of friends he would be saying plenty back to them. It was clear that they were all friends with each other outside of class, the girls making fun of Justin and his friends, and calling his friend Ian the leader of their “wolf pack.” I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing at some points. Justin defended himself by saying, “Why are you makin’ fun of Ian when you dated him in the fourth grade. Dang,” sending the girls into a fit of giggles as they thought of their next come back. Then, Dontraya looked under the desk and said, “Never mind the wolf pack, you can be part of the elephant pack because your knees are ashy boy.” Her friend cackled at this and Justin just shook his head.

Now, if Madea had been there, she might have recommended some Vaseline instead. But I simply turned to the girls and said, “Oh-KAY. Time for reading.” This sent them into another fit of giggles and Dontraya shouted, “You Hood, Miss Samantha! Did you hear the way she said that?” I laughed out loud at this and that was all it took. I was in. They didn’t suddenly feel a greater urge to work but now that they had a joke that involved me, I wasn’t as scary to them. Sharing with their sense of humor included me within the little social circle that our mentor group formed, and thus I was allowed more freedom to talk and joke with them. Little did they know that it also made me feel freer to get strict with them.

Then I realized that perhaps Tyler Perry really was on to something with this whole Madea business. Though Madea argues that intimidation is an important technique when handling children, she also has to first assert her connection with people before she can jump head long into her recommendations for them. For example, she starts out her paragraph about school by first reminiscing on her less than excellent experience. She says, “My best subject was P.E. “Play and eat,” that’s what it stands for. I went every day for P.E., lunch, and recess” (89). Only after she asserts that she struggled with it too, and also made the mistake of not taking it seriously, does she move on to talk about why it’s important to everyone. This method where she sets up her advice with her own ridiculous personal experience first can be found in various chapters throughout the book, and it is essential to the freedom with which she punishes so many targets as the butt of her jokes. Because she includes herself in the group that she is making the joke about, it is not taken as a superiority statement and she can feel free to say more without coming across like a nagging old bag.

I knew that I needed a similar approach if I was going to move onto the next phase of the “whup that ass mentality” Madea swears by. Before I could attack the kids with corrections and reprimands, I had to assert some shared ground with them. They clearly bonded and celebrated their social group with their joking, as was seen by their digs against one another. When they could joke with me that I was hood enough to earn their true respect, that allowed me to assert my power from within the group. It is important not to come across as a tyrant to children, because there will be a violent revolution (mrs. Trunchbull anyone?) But now that I have a little Madea inspired validity in my relationship with the kids, I am able to utilize the intimidation. They don’t think I’m crazy yet, but if I have to pull out the rest of the Madea advice I’m sure they will.

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