Moving was a part of my father’s biological imperative and true to form he moved my family to yet another venue in the summer of 1978. This time we went to Ottawa Kansas and the flavor of the week was Hawthorne Elementary. Kansas still had corporal punishment but the locals didn’t call them “licks” and I was careful not to show my recent pedigree by using the term. ( I now only enjoy the term in the context of movies where southern kids fear punishment from a strap or some other medieval device.) Hawthorne was a revelation. There were kids of different colors and the size of the school meant that the adults in charge could in no way take the time to dispense all of the paddlings that were more than earned by segments of the population. They tended instead to focus their disciplinary attention on a few players in a “usual suspects” approach, this is how I came to know and befriend Ricky Green. As I was getting enrolled and Mom was filling out the required paperwork to allow my to eat my lunch for free, I noticed a large, sweaty figure nestled in a narrow hallway adjacent to the secretary’s desk. He slumped in between two coat hung above his head and was half hiding behind them, sharing his sweat with the fabrics. “ I didn’t do anything!” he screamed as my mother’s writing speed increased. I pictured her ironing in five minutes and me playing dodge ball with the sweaty figure. “ Let me talk to the principal!” he demanded but the secretary shook her head. It so happened that as I stood on the blacktop playground, too new to be considered for kickball, the sweaty boy, still sweating named Ricky approached me. It felt strange to talk to him, as if I was identifying myself on day one at Hawthorne as a trouble maker, hungry for a paddling but it was not as if he was at the head of a long line of kids wishing to strike up a conversation. “Do you get in trouble a lot?” I asked.”Every day” he replied with something akin to pride in his eyes. I thought about the boy who would become a friend for years afterward but especially as a teacher, whenever I encountered kids who had come to inhabit the social identity of "trouble maker" and had chosen to wear the stigma like a crown. There are many crimes committed in schools daily but non I fear more lasting than those inflicted by a system that paints kids with broad strokes in order to preserve it’s rules and control measures.

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That is a great thought. You know how carefully kids from toxic homes must hide the abuse, addiction or situation. Yours is a thought that hadn't occurred to me. : )



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