Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bad Guy Assignment

If you read my stati (plural of status, right?) on Facebook, you might be aware of a little frustration I had with a certain assignment one of my children was given at school. Here's the actual status from a couple days ago:

"Just a bit bugged that my fifteen-year-old son has to research bad guys in history and do a report on one. Sounds like he found some pretty nasty stuff out there--no doubt. So, will they balance this with doing a good guy too? I sure hope so! Why don't we seek out the good and let the bad go its way?"

He had come home from school that day telling me about a man who had exhumed his mother's body and put her heart in a pot on his stove.  There were other gruesome things that he shared.  It was pretty disgusting.

Here's my status from the next day:

"Principal's wife, and I don't even know this...when I write an email of concern to a teacher, I'm cc-ing it to my husband, but do I cc it to the school's principal as well? Is that too hard core to begin with? I don't want to create a bit hubbub right off the bat, I'm just searching for clarification at this point. Thoughts?"

I was given some very good advice from some very good friends. Here's the email I wrote:

"Just wanted to send a quick email and voice some concern and request some clarification. To be honest, I'm not even positive that it's your class that G was referring to, so if I'm in error, I hope you'll forgive me for bothering you with this.

"G shared that he is currently doing a project about a 'bad guy.' He told me that he had chosen Darth Vader, which cracks me up but also relieves me quite a bit. Along with this, he shared that he had learned some very disturbing things about some real, true to life individuals. What he shared was the stuff of nightmares. There are sure a lot of creepy people out there. Thus, my relief when he told me he was doing a fictional character.

"I guess my concern is how much we delve into the evil that exists in this world. The other day I was reading about the young man who went on the shooting rampage in Arizona. As I read his description, emotionally he reminded me of a number of young men I'm aware of. I got to wondering what kind of things are being fed to these people in a mental and emotional way. Thankfully, G has someone to vent to, to release some of the disgust at the things he learned, but I'm wondering why we aren't working a little more to focus on those who have good things to offer this world--the heroes, the people we should be trying to emulate.

"My daughter has shared many of the things she has been learning in school these past couple of years and so many of them have had a negative slant. I know that kind of stuff is really cool when you're a teenager, but it disturbs me--the direction we are steering our kids.

"Can you help me find some consolation in this exercise?

"Thanks so much!"

I received a reply by that afternoon, and I found the happenings in this class very interesting.  I would actually love to be part of a unit of study like this.  I am sharing the teacher's reply without permission, but I am also leaving it nameless.  So, here's what I received:

"We are going to start reading a selection from the Divine Comedy by Dante Allegheri. The only selection that is in our text book is from the Inferno. In this, Dante places wrong-doers into different levels of Hell, based upon their actions. The reading is essentially a cautionary  allegory that reminds Dante to stay on the true path so that he may reach Paradise. The speech G is working on is called the bad guy/girl in history project; they are supposed to research a bad guy from history and deliver an informative speech on this. I encourage students to look at more than just serial killers or evil dictators; however, this is often who they gravitate toward. I too am glad that G chose Darth Vader. I also have another student researching Voldemort from Harry Potter.

"After they finish their research, I ask them to place their bad person from history into their own inferno that they will begin next week. In Dante's Inferno, the punishments fit the crimes, (ex. a couple who committed infidelity is continuously being blown around by strong gusts of wind, since they were so swept up in their own emotions. They are prevented from being together). This project is always one I am cautious with. Some students want to glorify how horrible their "bad guys" are. I do my best to remind students that the repercussions for their actions are severe.

"I am glad to say, however, at the end of this project we watch a touching movie called What Dreams May Come, with Robin Williams. It has dark moments, but the love his character has for his wife and his children shines through and it has a heartwarming ending. Moreover, this term we will read two romances, The Tempest by Shakespeare and The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Life has many ups and downs, bright and dark moments, I truly believe my curriculum reflects this (We begin the year with love poetry and end with a comedic love drama :)

"Thank you for advocating for your kid. G is a sharp young man and I'm glad that he shares information with you about what he is learning. He seems to have a strong sense of his own comfort level, and he advocates for himself, which is a vital skill for his success. I truly enjoy having him in class, and I appreciate your concern and communication with me.

"If you have further concerns, please continue to communicate with me. My door is always open."
I knew there had to be more to this scenario than I was getting from Inmate #2.  I love the resolution they are allowing the kids to make and the insight this gives them.


Alyson said...

I agree. If she can steer those that glorify their serial killers to understand just how severe their punishments should be compared to people who don't do that stuff, that's a pretty valuable exercise.

"Judge not, lest ye be judged." I think we Mormons don't interpret that correctly. Mostly. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't judge others. We not only should, we must. If Q came home with her arms around a boy pierced and tattooed and smoking and swearing and said, "But mom, I shouldn't judge him!" you'd flip your lid. Or I would, at least, if my daughter did. We must judge others on their choices and their actions. What we must not do is decide (in place of God) which hell or heaven they'll end up in, because we can't see the whole picture. But we can see enough of the picture to know (1) if we should associate with them, and (2) if we should pattern our lives after theirs.

And if the kids get a good insight into that—"Charles Manson is famous, but not for good reasons. And he isn't free. And he has no chance for happiness or family or job or a normal life. And he'll die in prison. Huh."—then I think it could be a pretty insightful process.

vaxhacker said...

I'm glad you sent that note to the teacher and for the response you received. That sounds like it could turn out to be a wonderful project.

I haven't watched our DVD of What Dreams May Come for a while, but I do recall it being a touching movie (odd as it is to see Robin Williams in a serious role), and the point of the story revolves around the misery imposed on someone due to her actions in life--and interestingly, how self-imposed that misery is--and the desire of her loved ones to grant her relief from her suffering.

Tonya said...

I learn so many AWESOME parenting lessons from you. You are way more awesome than you know.

Janiece said...

I am completely impressed with #2's teacher.
Her plan for the year is great!
I wish my kids had teacher's that knew what they were going to accomplish...
and teaches that we shall be held accountable for our actions, be it by a book's topic or another's plan.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...