Tuesday, December 07, 2004

What Would Number 18 Do?

I'm with Reihan on this: The super-nurturing, "character-based" high school sounds like a hellish thing, indeed. Reihan describes a scene at such a place, then notes, in reference to a kid basically let off the hook for not doing his homework, "My 11th grade self would have been forced, rest assured, to bust a cap, or, at the very least, bust a move."

Having attended 11th grade at the same understanding, caring high school as Mr. Salam, I'd say he is correct in stating that he'd have been forced to bust...something...had he not done his work. My own most vivid memory of 11th grade was being called "Number 18" for the entire first semester, by a physics teacher who decided it was simpler to call all 34 students by number than to do anything quite so nurturing as make an attempt at learning our names. (One unfortunate girl got to be called "Number 2," and my date to Junior Prom was a nice young man named "Number 11.")

The number system utilized by Mr. Robinson, absurd as it seemed at the time, was great in that, while other teachers spent hours taking attendance, struggling to pronounce names coming from just about every country in the world, then sighing with relief when reaching a "Joe Smith," Robinson could remain blissfully unaware of which of his students were native-born Americans and which weren't (let alone which were girls and which were boys) when grading assignments. Sort of a more innocuous way to reach the goal of French schools' religious-symbol ban.

High school students should be treated like nothing but a number--how else can meritocracy work if the young are not forced to prove themselves? At the private school I attended until high school, an attempt was made at making sure that, if a student cried "I don't get it!" or if her family decided to take their vacation during the schoolyear, everything would be OK, not to worry. No one was a number; each girl was a set of circumstances and difficulties that had to be taken into account when teachers holistically assessed her abilities. I preferred being Number 18.


Anonymous said...

It's probably an illusion that numbers change much. When this teacher sits at home and correct number X, you think he won't remember that this was the nice little girl who cried today after class because of whatever? And number Y is this rude kid, who is always late? For the most part, those numbers replace the name. That's it.

Anonymous said...

I went to Stuyvesant in the late 60s, and we all went by our last names there. I remember talking to two of my friends at the school and realized, that even after several months of hanging out with them, I still didn't know their first names. (I did ask).

It took another year or two before a veteran remarked, "You all use your last names, just like in the army." Maybe that explained something.

Numbers - That sounds great. One of the great things about Stuyvesant is that it was huge and impersonal. It was you and your subject matter. It wasn't all about liking your teachers and your teachers liking you and aren't we having fun here.

If you wanted to make friends, you did. If you didn't, or couldn't, it didn't matter either. When you're borderline autistic, like some of my friends and acquaintances, relating to people is hard work. I sometimes think it's hard work. At Stuyvesant, you didn't have to deal with it.

There was another advantage at Stuyvesant. It was a science oriented school, so there was some external means of telling whether you were getting it. You could use energy or least action, or cook up something on your own, but you had to figure out how long it would take the rock to fall. The teachers were professional about it and didn't argue about a right answer. It was bracing.