Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Little Life Lessons

It happened again.  Just when I thought my current classroom activity was either A) an amazing exercise or B) a complete flop, my students surprised me again.  This time it was to show me just how much they still have to learn in their 35 short days that remain at MHS.

We've begun to read 1984 and I have several preliminary activities before the kids get books in their hands.  Today's was my ROOM 123 PERSONAL INVENTORY.  The gist is that students are instructed to complete the form - no questions, no talking.  Then most of them, out of a bit of fear and good public school obedience training, set to work filling out the necessary information that gets progressively personal.  Things needed are identification numbers, GPA, make and model of car, medical history, family history, current employment status, cell phone network provider, list of close friends, and so on.  There are always one or two who fundamentally refuse to give up such personal information and question my motives.  And in a way I'm glad they have those reservations.  But more importantly is the brief discussion that follows.

Usually when I ask "how did that feel?" I get such responses as "invasive," "violated," "suspicious," "angry" and such, which is exactly what happened with today's groups.  Then we end up on a couple of tangents about how well they've been trained as students to sit quietly, obey the authority (teacher), and not question him or her.  One young lady was very uncomfortable with the word trained, but we eventually agreed that that's pretty much what has occurred over the past 12 years of schooling.  I mentioned that as an observer, several young men reached for their wallets to access their driver's licences (the number was needed for the exercise) and that's when I realized how much these "big kids" need to know before we let them loose into the adult world.

"There's a lot I need to know about myself," proclaimed one young lady.  And it's true.  We don't often think of how many numbers, records, and forms are connected to us until we are called upon to provide such information.  One young man asked which of the several numbers on his driver's license was the actual number.  So I showed him and then enlightened the rest of the group that the official number is the one that starts with the first initial of their last name.  You'd have thought I just gave them the secrets of the universe - seems no one knew that tidbit.

"I thought the M meant Michigan." (her last name begins with M)

"I always thought the numbers began with zero." (his last name begins with O)

"Mine is a D and I figured it meant driver."  (last name starts with D)

In a way it was a great "teachable" moment for me to be able to shed some real-life information with these soon-to-be graduates.  And I'm sure there are more to come as we continue to draw parallels between Orwell's world and ours in terms of technology, government and politics, societal trends, and the risks associated with all of the above.  Hopefully I can impart some more eye-opening wisdom before our time here is done.