Today I took my middle school class on a field trip via city bus. On the drive my eye fell on the text message the guy sitting in front of me was writing. It said, “Like birds eating throw up on the sidewalk.”
Full confession: I spied on his conversation for the next few minutes. Here’s how it went.
Guy: The kids on this bus.
Girl: Oh, hate that.
Guy: I’m surrounded by them.
Guy: If they don’t stop screaming I’m going to kill someone.
Girl: Shouldn’t their teacher be handling that?
Guy: He’s not doing anything.
I had a small avalanche of thoughts in response to this. None of them were guilt about snooping on someone’s private conversation, although I’m now thinking they should have been. My first thought was to wonder if my class was actually being disruptive, and if I had become so inoculated to teenagers that I was out of touch with acceptable energy levels for public spaces. But as I paid more attention I decided my students were actually behaving well within parameters. They were definitely bubbly and excited and chatty and laughing, but they were not screaming. They were staying in their seats. No one was swearing.
So then I had a maybe cynical thought. Is the true purpose of school to corral the youthful rabble and protect civilized society from it during working hours?
And then I thought about how easy it would be for me to utterly subdue my students into quiet passivity– all I would need to do is give them permission to use their electronic devices. Then they would stop relating to each other and reacting to things outside the windows and so on. They would blend right in.
And then as we drove on I felt moved by the life and edge and brightness my students exuded and infused into the space around them.