Aug 11, 2011

Joy to the World the Teacher's Dead


image source: colonial school games
Inside the inner circle of school-talk lies an entire world closed off – for the most part – to the outside, adult world. In elementary school, we used to say that if we could find the person who invented school, “we’d kill ‘em.”  At recess, huddled in our peer circles, after gossiping, the banter became indictment of school in all of its ugly designs.  That’s what we thought.  Partly because that is the way school children are supposed to think about school, at least amongst themselves. Adults were horrified when they caught us singing the maladaptation of the Christmas carol "Joy to the World."


Joy to the world!
The teacher's dead!
We bar-b-que'd her head.


What happened to her body?
We flushed it down the potty!


Heaven and nature sing!
Heaven and nature sing!


Adults were horrified that we would fantasize about magistricide.


Now that I am a teacher myself I understand the latent aggression towards teachers (and how it sometimes flare up and becomes less than latent).


Students respond to their teachers as figures of authorities. As a student there is a low level of power; at every level there is someone in a higher position, a pecking order. Teachers represent the upper echelon of the order (even though we don't get paid much).


To fantasize about killing your teacher is a fantasy about control.


We sang the song because we wanted to hold onto some sense of control. In middle school a child is at the mercy of bigger kids, janitors with mops, nasty lunch ladies, assistant principles, bullies, school food, bus drivers: there is seldom a moment of absolute freedom from authority.


Except at recess. And that is where we sang our lilting dirge.


Joy to the world the teacher's dead.


I don't think we meant that literally. If our teacher did, in fact die, I am sure we would have felt guilty. Just like the little kid who wishes privately his parents were dead -- and they do in fact die -- has to go through a lot of therapy afterward.


Perhaps what underlies all of this is the education of power. Is growing up the education of using and balancing power?


Even as middle-schoolers we understood power structures even though we had never picked up Michel Foucault's book Discipline and Punish.


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