Yesterday I slipped out of work for an hour and had lunch with T. for the first time since school started. While I can't say I love eating lunch at school cafeterias, I do enjoy some parts of the experience. Seeing T., of course is the best part, and walking with her to the multi-purpose room, her hand in mine. I enjoy talking with the other kids at the table around me--finding out about their big brothers and sisters, or younger siblings, too.
Sometimes I can't help myself and I dole out nutrition advice.
"Fruit is SO good for you," I told a tall girl across from me, who left her fruit salad in a discarded puddle on her lunch tray.
"I hate fruit," she said.
"Oh, but it's SO good for your body," I said again, and her friend next to her chimed in to tell her the same.
In the end, she poked a fire engine red cherry with her fork and ate it.
T.'s school, like a lot of schools in our state, uses a positive behavior support system for guiding kids to make the right choices, and to walk quietly to and from classrooms. Both my kids' schools use brightly-colored masking tape to mark lines along the hallways. Children have to walk along the lines, quietly, facing forward at all times. L.'s school is much more relaxed about the lines; T.'s school more rigid. Some teachers are also more relaxed, other teachers less so.
I don't like the masking tape line system, and I never have. Last week I heard a story on NPR about Louisiana schools and rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina. A guest on the segment I was listening to mentioned the masking tape system and pointed out that it is used in prisons in much the same way. I couldn't find any information verifying that, but it didn't seem so off the mark.
My problem with the tape system is a problem I have with lots of other behavioral systems in place at public schools everywhere. Some kids like T., and a handful of other children in her class, have no problem walking along the line quietly. They are pleasers, in all the good ways; happy to oblige, happy to follow the rules, worried about the consequences. But there are also plenty of other kids who just can't--for many reasons--adhere to that system; wriggly kids, kids who need to move their bodies; kids who can't help but whisper to their friends, or twirl their hair, or touch up against the body of the child next to them, or behind them. Kids like L. who just can't (and won't) walk in a straight line. They aren't bad kids; kids who need other interventions. They are, in the end, just kids.
I can tell already who the "troublemakers" will be in T.'s class--they look like the young girl who couldn't hold her body still at the front of the line yesterday. She had some song in her head, I could tell, and jiggled her body to the tune. Maybe she gets in trouble every day for not walking the line properly, for not following the rules. Maybe she's a daydreamer like L., a restless, independent soul. Soon she'll believe herself to be a troublemaker, and others will see her that way, too.