Invitation to Profiling?

I’ll admit it: I’m a slacker mom about many things, among them my son’s homework.

Well, considering his attention-deficit diagnosis, I’m not as much of a slacker as I’d like to be. I’m constantly having to remind him not only to do what he wrote down in his assignment book, but to stay in one place and do it. Bribes such as the eventual watching of MythBusters episodes, Angry Birds and Bad Piggies playing time, and dessert upon the completion of homework also enter the picture…but I’ve rarely been uneasy about the subjects he covers in school.

Rarely, I say…but not never. It has come up a couple of times. And I think we’ve been about due.

First of all, head here and check out pages 107-108. Take your time. Look it over.

Yes, you all read it right. It’s asking kids for a criminal description.

Okay. It doesn’t say what the crime is. It just says you caught someone doing something illegal and you need to write down a description of the perp for the police. In that imaginary vacuum where crime is a rare occurrence, this isn’t a big whoop, you just describe somebody.

However, New Orleans is anything but a vacuum crime-wise; in fact, this assignment could well be viewed as prep for when something happens. Much as I and many other parents I know do our best to protect our kids from it out there – whether it’s locking our house and car doors tight, making sure that no valuables (or anything that may look like it could hold valuables) are within view in either place, not doing too much alone after dark, or just not watching the local news – we still can’t keep our kids from hearing about it. Crime affects us all here in one way or another. Our neighbors have had things stolen out of their yard. I had a bicycle stolen right out of my foyer last year. Hearing gunshots is not an unusual occurrence, sadly. Trust in the police is a laughable concept. And that’s just addressing the likelihood that an assignment like this will become something more.

As to the actual description of a criminal: shouldn’t it be “alleged criminal,” first off, or does that point out how farcical “innocent until proven guilty” can be? Also, there’s a little something known as profiling that happens even with the best of us. My son chose not to do this assignment and got a zero on it (even after repeated reminders from my husband all through Thanksgiving week to do it), but when he did do it the second time around (which his teacher has him do as practice), he used this episode of one of his favorite shows as inspiration. Something makes me wonder if studies have been done on what types of people 9-to-10-year-olds describe as “criminals” and why. I’m sure if we could hold that mirror up to ourselves, we wouldn’t find it funny or charming…not even if the kids wrote beautiful descriptions of the teacher as a giggle.

I asked my son’s teacher about this assignment. Was she concerned about the content the kids would be writing in their criminal descriptions? Was the content discussed at all or were the mechanics of the essays the only focus? No, this wasn’t about my son’s grade – he didn’t do the assignment and suffered the consequences: a big fat zero (if the essay had involved describing airplanes or snakes, I’m sure the little guy would’ve been ON IT.).

Her answers?

No, she wasn’t concerned.

Yes, they did discuss the content some. The teacher felt that as long as a specific crime wasn’t described, the possibility of controversial content wasn’t an issue.

Apparently, I was the first parent out of all the students in all the 4th and 5th grade classes (this assignment was given to more students than just the ones in my son’s class – it’s prep for the state exam) to raise these questions. Which made me wonder if I was just being a busybody.

An opinion from another teacher? This assignment is inappropriate.

My opinion? The fact that I’ve been the only parent to bring this stuff up definitely says something. I just wish I knew what that something was…

…and why it makes me feel sad.

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