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Give and Take

Give and Take



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Published by: Suzanne McLain Rosenwasser on Sep 06, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Give and Take
September 5, 2010 BySuzanne Rosenwasser  2 Comments
.In the first weeks of the all-male class I team-teach with the high school principal and a counselor, thethree of us were on the receiving end of a host of lessons.An earlier class about living one’s life within the norms of society stressed the importance of knowing thepeople with whom one passes the day. Makingthe boys visible among the school staff had immediate results. We learned that some of our boys regularly taunted Special Education students in thehalls. Another report came back from a bus driver, who told us that Anel intimidated the smallest boys on
the bus, challenging them to fights. A class spent in the empty cafeteria, where we built and flew paper airplanes, led to the discovery by the cafeteria manager of three missing cartons of ice cream sundaes.And then, when we led a discussion about treating people equally, Eduardo said: “If you treat everyoneso equally at school, why don’t the free lunch kids get chicken fingers?”“What do you mean?” I asked innocently, unaware of what the free lunch kids ate.Answers came back at me fast from the boys who were part of the subsidy, as well as from those whowere not: “We only get grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly; if we want chicken fingers we have to payfor them.”“Everyone knows who the poor kids are because they don’t get to eat chicken fingers like the rich kids.”“Yeah, and the cheese sandwiches suck.”“They’re better than that nasty peanut butter. Mexicans don’t eat peanut butter.”“Just bring your lunch, man!”We talked about solutions, stressing that the school system doesn’t provide chicken fingers to anyone for free, and suggesting we take on a fundraising project that would ear n the class enough money to buywhatever lunch each boy wanted once a week. It all sounded good, and we decided to work on a plan toraise funds as a group.
We connected this discussion to a recent class in which we played “The Line Game,” and watched alesson about giving unfold. We knew from a survey we’d taken that only two of the boysread for leisure,and just three recalled being read to, outside of school, as children. So, we decided to prompt a lessonabout reciprocity with a reading of Shel Silverstein’s
The Giving Tree
.The principal pulled a stool up to the front of a semi-circle of desks where the boys sat, held up thefamiliar green book, and asked how many recognized its cover.“That’s a kid’s book,” Jonathan replied with his legs sprawled out in front of him and his head on his chin.It was a position that made clear that he couldn’t care less.“You’re right,” the principal said. “I read it to one of my kids last night and I realized it related to class, soI’m going to read it to you.”“What if we already read it when we were like six?” Estevan wanted to know.“Well, you never heard
read it, so just listen, okay? And we’re going to talk about giving and taking, sothink about that while I’m reading.”He began:
Once there was a tree….and she loved a little boy. And everyday the boy would comeand he would gather her leavesand make them into crownsand play king of the forest.
The principal read to the boys with a soft dignity, showing them the drawings and pausing dramaticallyhere and there. The boys were fidgety and began making whispered comments when the fictional boyaccepts the tree’s offer to sell its wood:“Now we’re talkin’… give it up, girl,” said one.“That guy’s cold,” another chimed in.And from Eduardo: “Way to kill the tree, man.”At last, the tree is only a stump upon which the now aged boy can rest; the story ends: “And the tree washappy.”“That boy was a taker!” Anel called out.“Why do you say that?” the principal asked.“He didn’t give nothin’ back to that tree for sure,” Anel replied.“And sometimes givin’ so much just makes you a fool, then people steal from you because you got somuch,” Estevan said.“Hey, the tree’s a sap, get it? A sap, right? What’s that called Mrs. R—you know that thing we learned in litclass?” The question came from Eduardo, and the connection startled me. Eduardo was a small Hispanicboy with an amazingly expressive face who either mumbled at me or squealed excitedly from time to time.Eduardo was born in the U.S. and spoke English with just a trace of an accent. He was one of the boyswho was read to as a child and who read independently now, according to the survey. I didn’t haveEduardo in Language Arts, but I knew he was failing it.I answered, “Way to go, Eduardo, that’s definitely a pun. Y’all hear that? How Eduardo played with theword sap about the tree? So, why do you think the tree was a sap?”“Because she just kept givin’ her junk away,” Eduardo replied, enjoying the laugh he got, “and that’s themetaphor thing, right?”“Exactly,” I said, shaking my head at how we sometimes arrived at these understandings, and wonderingagain why this boy was failing.

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BarbaraAlfaro added this note
I love this poem. And you and the high school principal are "the giving teachers." As always, your writing is crystal clear and honest.
Phantomimic added this note
Yes you have to be careful with some of these stories, children can come away with the wrong interpretation. The chicken finger issue doesn't feel right to me. These boys should be getting the same food as the others. Maybe you should start among your boys a letter writing campaign to the school district, and the PTA should get involved.
Steve U added this note
Love reading these stories!!! Told exquisitely!

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