Friday, May 04, 2007

C104 descends into anarchy.

Today was the coolest.

My freshmen are getting ready to read Animal Farm. The past two days we studied The Magna Carta, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I put them in groups and made them write their own modern bill of rights, where they all proceeded to lower the drinking age and remove restrictions on driving cars. And men have the right to marry two women at once. And pot is legal.

Priorities and all that.

So today I told them our classroom is a country and the school is the world and the hallways are the ocean. This morning my class overthrew me as the evil dictator and must replace me with a stable government by creating a Constitution for their new nation. It must be enforceable, as in if I have a substitute I can give them an assignment and they have a system in place for maintaining order and getting it done whether the sub does anything or not. The entire class turns in one document and gets one grade, whether each person contributed or not. If they turn in nothing the entire class gets a zero. If they turn in an excellent document but one person does all the work the entire class gets a 100. Then I answered their questions and "died."

I sat in my chair and took notes while I watched their behavior. They started at 7:40. They had until 9 am to complete their task.

Here are my notes:

7:40 - Separated into two main groups separated entirely by gender. A little anarchy, a few pockets of the Isolated people who are waiting for instructions.

7:50 - Each group is making its own notes. One boy, "Omar", keeps looking at me waiting for me to tell him what to do. He has yet to figure out that I am metaphorically dead. Two people are playing on a PSP. One girl is writing her own Constitution. The boys are discussing sports. Apparently the Mavericks suck.

7:55 - Question: Can we do it girls versus boys? Answer: No. There must be one Constitution for the entire class. You are one united country.

7:57 - Boys and girls, still physically separated, have started to argue. A Leader has emerged from each group - exactly the ones I thought would do so. The boy is much older than the other kids and one of the smartest students I have ever taught. The only reason he's in this class is because he failed it from refusing to cooperate and do his assignments out of protest over the teacher's stupidity. He wants to be the dictator. The girls do not agree.

8:00 - Boys and girls groups merge to form the Brain Trust. The Isolated still sit around watching but doing nothing except for one boy who has laid his head down and appears to be sleeping. The Brain Trust is in the middle of the room while the Isolated sit scattered around them in a circular fashion. The outside looking in.

8:06 - It's now Lead Girl and her advisers debating Lead Boy and his advisers. Already a two-party system. Omar is still looking at me as if I'm going to come back from the dead and tell them all what to do.

8:15 - The debate rages on but progress has stalled. Two girls are copying down the assignment. I think they plan to quietly secede and form their own country.

8:17 - Realizing I am dead and can't fight back, two boys use the opportunity to call me names in jest. I shrug and check my email. They claim to have assembled a militia. I see no evidence of this.

8:26 - Universal frustration from the Brain Trust. They ask to use the computers to do research. They move to the computers at the back of the room, but there are only 4 so the rest of the group branch off to see what the Isolated are up to.

8:30 - Omar has apparently written up his own proposal. The loose members of the Brain Trust discover this and review his document. They bring him on board as a new member of their society. Good job, kid.

8:37 - Two members of the Brain Trust have given up and joined the Isolated. Another Isolated has taken their place and put forward her own document for consideration.

8:40 - "This is impossible". I tell them that if they don't finish it they're stuck with anarchy. One member of the Brain Trust has given up and gone to sleep. Boy Leader wakes his ass up and gives him orders. They've decided on absolute monarchy. I'm impressed. Boy Leader threatens to beat everybody up if they don't help. How very kinglike.

8:48 - Brain Trust has reformed in the center. Fewer people are in the Isolated group now. Very cool.

8:55 - They've finally learned to delegate. Three people are writing pieces of the document. Sleeping Brain Trust Boy has gone to sleep again. Tempers flare.

8:57 - The bell rang early. I tell them they have the rest of the day to get me their document, but they only get to give me one for the whole class so they'd better agree on something.

9:20 - The boy who has been sleeping from minute one is in my homeroom. He tells me how much he liked the project because he got to get credit for doing nothing. I hope he gets conscripted into the class military service because it would make a nice point about the importance of participation in your government.

11:15 - One of the girls from the seceding country brings me her Constitution. If nobody else gives me one, I will count this one for everybody so they don't get zeroes. Let's hear it for the ambitious minority making all the rules.

11:30 - I run into Leader Boy at El Pollo Loco where I pretend I don't realize that he's off campus for lunch. He is both annoyed and impressed at this morning's project. "I did all the work," He says. "Those kids didn't even know the branches of government."

"I knew you would," I reply. "The most educated people will always be the ruling class."

He wags a wary finger at me. "Dammit. You did all that on purpose."

I just smile and walk away with my burrito.

2:00 - Fourth period gets the same assignment. They start out all open and letting the entire class in on the discussion. Everybody has a say.

2:35 - So much for voting. A group of 5 leaders forms itself and writes the whole thing while everybody else socializes. It's so very boring to watch. It's like teenage C-SPAN. A couple of people obviously want to be part of the ruling class but don't have the courage to speak up. Three students are playing around on the computer. One boy wanders aimlessly around the room checking out what other people are up to. Most of the class no longer cares what happens.

3:09 - The leadership group finally consults the class with a really important question: What is the name of our country? Silly suggestions are made like "Halo 3". All suggestions are ignored as the leaders give up and make up their own name. The proletariat doesn't care.

3:19 - Fourth period turns in their assignment. First period brings me a crappy piece of paper written in pencil. They are so lucky that one girl turned in a document already.


  1. Emily, brilliant exercise. Those kids are lucky. I almost did a teaching degree, but I got fed up with the psychology of it and the way it gets in the way of *teaching* kids, so I'm doubling in film and English instead. Maybe I'll look into Teach for America. : ) I look forward to seeing how this turns out - especially the girl who wrote the individual document.

    Amy (aka Evie from the Wordplayer forums)

  2. I LOVE this post! :-)


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