Meet Shawn: A ‘Real Urban’ Student

The other day I met a young man whom I can’t get out of my head (and heart).  I never caught his name, so we will call him Shawn. Shawn is about 22 years old, confident, and extremely funny.  Upon discovering I am a teacher, he embarked on a tirade about his own high school experiences. His diatribe/stand-up routine lasted about 40 minutes so I can’t fully recapture the essence of it, but I can replay some of the most illuminating statements:

  • In high school, I had three classes: A lunch, B lunch, and PE
  • After lunch, I needed a break to recover from eating
  • I was an athlete and my coaches were always writing excuses to my teachers
  • I would talk to an upperclass (meaning junior or senior) girl in the hall and tell her ‘Look, I will meet you back here in 30 minutes. I will need a bathroom break from class then’
  • We had school resource officers driving around in golf carts because the school was so big. We had around 4500 students
  • Man, you weren’t cool if you hadn’t been tased by the resource officers. When somebody was acting hard, we’d say ‘you aint even been tased yet!’
  • I stayed in ISS. All we did was sit in there and listen to sports center on the portable. The teacher wouldn’t turn it up if we asked though
  • Being suspended was great. It was like a vacation and I didn’t even have homework to do
  • We had a substitute who never taught, but she was always in the school. I think she made more money than the real teachers
  • We had another teacher who was like 23 and didn’t want us to call her by her last name. She said it made her feel old. So I would be like ‘Yo ______, bring your a** over here and tell me what you doing this weekend’
  • I was smart. I didn’t need teachers. All I needed was for teachers to give me my test
  • All teachers do is teach you to take the test

While I was thoroughly entertained by his jovial tone and reenactments of classroom incidents, my heart hurt for him. This young man had a schooling experience he thinks is a joke. And frankly, it was a joke. Coaches lying for him, teachers passing out review worksheets, students skipping class, discipline= ISS and OSS, and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, his experience is not unique. In fact, I’d argue that his experience is similar to the experiences of most high school students. No, every student doesn’t skip class, but almost every student witnesses others skipping class. Every student knows a story about a coach lying for a player. And in the era of NCLB, children from 3rd grade on are very familiar with review worksheets.

Is this our education system? Where we tase children to encourage proper behavior? Where we remove misbehaved kids from instructional opportunities to ‘punish’ them? Where we equate learning with passing a standardized test?

Yes. This is our system, our country, our children.

And for those of you who think his stories are ‘extreme’ or ‘abnormal’ or ‘exaggerated’, I invite you to attend my Urban Education class. In that course, we first define ‘urban’, then we dissect the context of urban living, identify recurring themes in urban schools, and analyze teaching in urban classrooms. We watch documentaries, read autobiographies, and follow case studies of real students. We also have guest speakers.

I invited Shawn to speak.