There are several foundational principles to the pedagogy of delinquency.
These are kids who value respect like nothing else in the world because it’s so rare in their world. Respect yourself, respect them, and accept nothing but respect towards yourself. There can be no comments on their attire, no requests to remove sunglasses, hoodies, head-wear, jewelry, headphones, etc. No comments on tats or piercings. Don’t try to impose authority until you have earned it. Don’t raise your voice even if you are at MOMA with them and they are swinging on the chandeliers (true story). Be serious, professional, do not condescend. Don’t show emotion because these are kids from emotionally chaotic environments who see exhibitions of strong emotion (whether negative or positive) as threatening. Inform yourself about their culture before beginning to teach. There are certain words and phrases, certain gestures, etc that are out of the question. Speak at a lower volume than you usually would but don’t mumble.
2. Teaching persona.
The best way to go, especially if you are not very experienced, is the most buttoned-up persona you can muster. If you have a naturally giggly, smiley, bubbly persona, can it. This is not a crowd that is well-disposed to respect a class clown. No degree of familiarity is OK. Forget that you have a first name. In a Latino classroom, use usted. In the English-speaking classroom, it’s Mr and Ms. …If you are a middle-aged college professor with a bunch of degrees from fancy schools, don’t pretend to be somebody else. Be who you are. These kids can see through a fake in a second because it’s their survival skill. …
3. The past does not exist.
Nobody’s past gets discussed or mentioned or alluded to in the classroom. …
4. Trust and responsibility.
Since the past doesn’t exist, everybody in the classroom is an upstanding individual with a stellar reputation. …
I honestly never smiled less in my entire life than in that classroom. And I taught exactly like I would a group of graduate students at an Ivy League school.
In a way, the censorship in US academia is worse than the Soviet kind. The Soviet censors were mostly dumb, uneducated people, and it wasn’t all that hard to pull wool over their eyes and make them think you are saying the opposite of what you were. Writer Vera Ketlinskaya, for instance, created a very realistic and poignant depiction of the horrors experienced by young people in Stalin’s industrialization projects. It was investigative reporting of the highest caliber. And she got Stalin’s Award in literature for it because she was smart about how she framed the story.
We don’t have any dumb bureaucrats censoring our work. We censor each other during the peer-review process. This means that the people keeping you in tune with the party line are very smart. If you hide your ideas so well that even they can’t find them, then nobody else will find them either.
My friend Clarissa writes:
Many people are lured into believing that apps can do everything a computer can and never acquire crucial computer skills. They go around brandishing their smartphones and tablets and have no idea why, in spite of all the productivity apps, they never seem to catch up. It’s especially sad to see young people get caught up in this self-defeating mentality.
photo by Miles Basil