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Legality and laughter

Posted: November 8, 2013 3:19 p.m.
Updated: November 11, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Contrary to the opinion of most people, schools have always had to serve all types of people. In fact, I remember a lawyer and legislator who was appalled when I suggested that drivers’ licenses be taken from young people who broke the law instead of having them pick up trash when their parents could not or, wisely, would not pay their fines.

Actually, what frightened him so much was that my suggestion was something that would have gotten both the lawbreakers’ and the parents’ attention. The car was a way for many parents not to know what their young people were doing until a policeman appeared at their doors. Some parents and some young people have willingly refused to take any responsibility for their actions.

The schools of yesteryear did try to avoid the appearance of having any lawbreakers or any need for law personnel in their halls. This reluctance did not mean that a crossing of their paths did not exist.

The door leading to the hall from my room had numerous windows which I judiciously covered with construction paper so that only one open window remained. That window allowed me to see who was outside before I opened the door. It also permitted a focus so I could see who was looking out at a friend, sweetheart or event. Since that was in the days when communication from the office came over the intercom or by note, I received a rather disquieting note: a youthful offender had escaped from the correctional center and been seen in proximity to the school.

Teachers were advised to lock their doors which, of course, I did. Can you imagine my chagrin when the door handle shook and a black face large enough to obscure light appeared in the door’s clear window. A hand, just as black and huge, came to the opening and beckoned me to open the door. I looked straight in his eyes and shook my head. He would have to get past me to get to my students. A puzzled expression appeared on the individual’s face, and he repeated the beckoning motion. I repeated my refusal. The person left. I sighed a sigh of relief. I had challenged and won!

Not until much later did I discover that the face belonged to a policeman whose cap and uniform were not in my line of vision. The escapee was a young, slight white boy shorter than I. My pride in my bravery was replaced by a red face and a distinct feeling of stupidity.

Sometimes, teachers had “ranch boys” assigned to their classes. “Ranch girls” may have existed, but I never encountered one. Actually, a “ranch boy” was a juvenile whose behavior had been such that he had one more chance before he went to the reformatory. Naturally, my principals made sure I had at least one. I actually think they sat in the office and laughed about the predicament that had caused.

I ran a “tight ship,” something these boys had never had at home or in school. In speech class one day, the boys and girls were to give an impromptu speech about something embarrassing that had happened to them on a date. They, of course, knew that nothing too gauche was permitted. When a particular boy’s turn came, I had no idea what to expect, but it was not for him to tell the class about something that has noise and an odor. They rolled in the aisles, and I immediately excused him from finishing his speech.

Later, he came to apologize and tell me he would apologize to the class. He honestly had told something that, in the environment in which he was reared, would have been acceptable. I assured him that when you make a faux pas such as his, the best action is never to mention it and wait for others to forget. I did not refer it or him to the office. In the first place, the individuals in the office would have enjoyed it greatly and possibly wanted me to tell it repeatedly.

I often spoke with this individual, begging him to remember that he had no further chances. He, of course, was, as with most other teens, full of himself. One day, he came to tell me he would no longer be in school. I, foolishly, said, “Oh, _____, I have begged you and talked to you so many times.” He replied, “I know, Mrs. P; if I had you for a mother, I would not be in this situation.” I am ashamed to say that I said a prayer of thanksgiving to God. If he had been mine, he would have straightened up or died, and I would be the one facing incarceration. I did not ask him, nor did he tell me why he had used up his last chance.

Months later, I was in Columbia at USC taking classes when I heard a very loud voice yell, “Hey, Professor!” Not being a professor and being at the college, I paid no attention. The remark was repeated with a very audible pounding on the side of a van not far from where I was walking. When I looked over, I was shocked and embarrassed to see a Central Correctional Institution van with my former student at the wheel.

Evidently, he had become a trusty with “off-institute” privileges. Let me say I was the center of attention after all this tirade. I thought about just waving because I would not have wanted someone to get the wrong impression of what I did after class, but I did go over and talk for a few minutes with him. I hope he has graduated to better things and includes this time only in his memories. He did have the potential if he did not toss it.

Many actions in schools could be handled without guns, knives or violence. The potential for problems has existed for all time because people are people, and sometimes they feel they have endured enough. Learning to deal with individuals is much more important than winning a challenge, which often means violence.


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