Garrett (garote) wrote,

school fights

When I was in the third grade, I would occasionally get picked on by a revolving list of bullies. There was sometimes a fine line between mocking someone in a playful way, and just mocking someone - and when that line was crossed, punches were thrown. I was in a class taught by a sweet old woman with curly grey hair, who remembered my name five years later when I passed her in a grocery store. Her class was a generally happy place for me, even though I had a brutal and accidental mishap with the corner of a desk one day that left a scar near my eye.

Some of the other kids, most of them bullies as far as I could tell, had a class with a different teacher. She was tall and thin, with severe lines on her face, and straight brown hair in a ponytail. I remember her face well, even though I wasn't in her class, because I was called to her class several times. I had to pack up my things and put them under my desk, then walk empty handed out of my own classroom, across the campus alone, and into her class. All the students would be sitting in a circle of chairs along the edges of the room, all facing inwards at an area where the desks had been pushed aside to reveal a single chair. I was ordered to sit in the chair.

The teacher would introduce that session of "The Agenda" by making some trite speech about justice and good conduct, which I can't remember a word of. Then she would call on a student, who would recount the details of a conflict that happened during recess, that I had been involved in. I always knew who it would be beforehand because when I got into a scuffle or exchanged insults with the student, he or she would shout "I'm putting you on The Agendaaa!" in a taunting voice. And the next hour or the next day, I would be called out of class.

So the student would retell the story - sometimes accurately, but often with various details omitted, and sometimes with outright lies. I would be ordered to explain myself or say something in my defense, and then the teacher would ask various students how they would have acted differently, had they been in my alleged situation. I remember feeling surprised a few times because the story the "victim" told was completely different from what I remembered happening - and though I wanted to stand up and declare that I hadn't done any of those things, I was never given permission to. I was afraid of the teacher, the authority figure, so I just sat and held my tongue.

Eventually the teacher would suggest some form of punishment, disguised as a bizarre remedy for my maladjusted emotions. Once I was ordered to take a large foam-stuffed punching bag outside the classroom to the lawn, and beat and kick the bag for half an hour nonstop, in full view of the tinted bay windows that bordered each room. It was supposed to "cure" my aggression, the teacher explained, by teaching me "the futility of fighting". Another time I was convicted of chasing someone (it was never revealed that I'd chased the person because they'd said horrible things to me), so I was ordered to go outside and run laps around the campus for 45 minutes. "Maybe if you get your running done now, you won't chase people later" she opined.

"The Agenda" became a campus-wide phenomenon. People who weren't even in the woman's class would threaten to put others on "The Agenda", bluffing in retaliation or in self-defense. Some students who were too eager to threaten with it got abused more severely by their attackers, who would push things further to show their defiance.

I can't say being on "The Agenda" taught me anything, in the immediate sense. It was years later before I was mature enough to think about it abstractly. All I remembered at the time was, "There's this adult, who has a mean streak, and she gives her students the power to humiliate and punish me. I can't do anything about it. I fear her, and I hate her students."

Those years later, my memories of the ordeal would conjure a seething, righteous fury inside me. That woman treated me like a dog. If I'd had access to the school records, I would have called her, and each of her students, on the phone, and screamed at them, until my voice gave out, for taking such advantage of that confused, hapless younger self that I had been.

Now that I'm older my perspective has cooled somewhat, though I'd still probably yell at the teacher if I met her in the street. My memories of schoolyard fights got me to thinking about "Zero Tolerance" rules that some districts have adopted. The rules have variations, but their basic theme is, "punish everyone involved, not just the aggressor". Given the ability of some children to tell outrageous lies with the same voice that they use to speak the honest truth, and the scarring emotional consequences of punishing the "wrong" student, I can say that I eagerly endorse that one aspect of "Zero Tolerance". However, pretty much the rest of the program is draconian poop. A society so eager to discard a subset of its developing young members, by expelling them from school and denying them access to further education, it a society with its collective heads up its collective asses.

I got in many fights in Elementary School. Those tapered off in Middle School, as I matured and wrestled with my emotions. Finally in High School I joined the football team, and that completed the puzzle by showing me that there were acceptable venues for my rage. How badly would this progression have been stunted, if I'd simply been ejected from school altogether? Would I have proceeded to far worse crimes?

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