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Attack a Child Today (1 of 4)

November 2, 2015

Hey, why not? She’s a problem for you. You have a solution. Flip her backwards out of her chair, onto her head, pick her up, throw her cross the room (that’ll teach her). If there’s another child, who might tell people what you did, arrest that one.

Dear Reader, I’m late with a page about this, because frankly, it’s too sickening, it’s so outrageous, and this kind of thing has become such a commonplace, that I allowed myself to keep my feelings to myself. There shouldn’t be any place for this in America, or anywhere. Maybe there doesn’t have to be a place for it in my narration, I allowed myself to think.

But this is a novel about the psychopathologies of American democracy, the way we imagine the Good Life together, and how we enact that vision. I’ve focused on classism, sexism, and racism, as major sicknesses of our imaginings. This situation in a school illustrates another: the willingness of so many of our fellow citizens to tolerate, condone, encourage, facilitate, glorify, promote, participate in, or ignore, violence.

When I saw the film I felt like I was being attacked. That could have been one of my daughters. And I felt guilt for the fellow adult who was the attacker. Adults should know better. But furthermore, he wasn’t just some adult, he was a police officer, a public servant, and therefore I bear some responsibility for his actions; he’s a professional who represents me and substitutes for me when certain kinds of problems arise.

But not this kind of problem, a matter of pedagogy and the nurturing of children. We hire police to help us protect our children.

I’ve helped raise kids to adulthood. I’ve watched them and their friends in high school. I’ve given a lot of thought to my own teenage years. As a college teacher and administrator I knew well, or observed, thousands of kids in their late teens. I know the power dynamics in a classroom and in a school. I’m familiar with the findings of neurologists that the brains of teenagers, quite simply, are not sufficiently developed for them to exercise good judgment. Definitely that was true of my brain.

Teenagers in school are children. Every adult in the school, and especially the teacher in the classroom, should know that, and act accordingly. School is about, bottom line, protecting our children (how could we send them out of our home and into a school if it were otherwise?) while they are children, and nurturing them into adulthood. That includes setting a consistent example of good adult behavior, and presenting a healthy vision of the Good Life together.

When I saw that film I knew immediately that every adult in that school had failed. They had failed those children. Calling in the police was an admission of that failure. Even teen-agers—including the kids in that classroom—can see that. That was very wrong. The adults flipped out. *

But anybody who has been paying attention knows that when a police officer entered that room it could have been worse.

I remembered another recent cop film. The scene is a wintry park, in a city, in the late afternoon; there’s nobody out, except a kid playing with a toy rifle; a police car, moving fast from the right of the screen, pulls up beside the kid and before you can focus on what you are seeing, an officer in the car shoots the child.

And I remember a scene in a book that a lot of Americans have read. There’s a gathering of people who want to listen to a master teacher. What he is talking about is very serious and important, and he is a star attraction. At the edge of the group there are some children who want to see the master too; but the adults say, no no, get those kids out of here. This is adult stuff, and they might misbehave, they’ll be disruptive. But Jesus sees what is happening, and says, “Hey, c’mon, guys. Let those children come right up front. They’re a good example of what I’m talking about. And besides, I like children.” Luke: 18: 15-17

(Here’s an idealized filming of it, to emotionally salve the film linked at the beginning of this page. Contrasting image.)

Some people should reread that book, with less fear and loathing, and a bit more personal insight, even some empathetic imagination.

[*And btw, didn’t that officer’s brain put that girl’s body through exactly the configuration that his mind was going through: in its rage, it flipped upside down, crashed to the ground, and flew across the room. ? That film doesn’t have much storyline, but its psychological image is very powerful. It’s uncanny, really. In Freud’s sense (as I understand it): Something very familiar, something of oneself, is simultaneously revealed and reveiled—that’s Jung and Hillman on the mystery of symbol—by appearing in the guise of an unfamilar, indeed vaguely fearful, other; we’re looking at another being as if looking at an apparition of our own soul.  Indeed it may be such an apparition.  We are in ourselves and out of our selves, bodied, disembodied, and double-bodied. And all we can do is watch.]

[Page 2 of this episode]

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