Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Story That You Should Really Take the Time to Read

Below is a story written by a smalltown Texas school teacher about what went on in her classroom one day last week (true story).
Growing Americans

You know, teachers get a bad wrap. We are thought to be liberal, left wing radicals who all “preach the truth” to our students—the liberal, left wing, spun “truth”, that is. The thing is, though, is that not all teachers are like this—not by a long shot. It’s just that this type of teacher is the only one who ever gets media coverage, or stories written about them, or talked about after the PTA meetings.

However, I’d like to share a little something that I did in my class last week. It was political, yes (and allowed as part of our Government Unit); but without the typical left-wing, liberal spin, or even a right-wing, conservative spin. You see, my job as a teacher is not to teach my students WHAT to think when it comes to opinions. It’s just to teach them to THINK! I don’t praise them more if they agree with my specific political views, in fact one of the students that earned most of my praise in this social experiment shares quite the opposite view from mine. She thought, she decided, and she stood her ground—even when just about the whole class was “against” her. She never got nasty; she just shared her opinion, and backed it up with action. For this, she earned my respect as an informed citizen in my class.

So, I’m sure, at this point, you’re wanting to know exactly what I did with my students. So it’s time to share this “social experiment.”

Things you should know before going on to read about the experience:

o I work with third graders. There are 23 in my class.

o In my class, the students earn tickets. They earn tickets for good behavior choices, as well as good grades. They are “paid” every 6 weeks on report card day—15 for an A, 10 for a B, 5 for a C, 2 for a D and 1 for an F.

o Tickets are used to purchase items in my class store on the Friday after report cards go out. In the store are various items—from stickers and pencils (5 tickets each) to fancy folders (25-50 tickets), to donated calendars, pens, t-shirts and lanyards (75-100 tickets each)—and even copies of the book I wrote (750 tickets). They work hard to earn each ticket they get, and choose their purchases carefully.

o If a student misbehaves, they are “fined” according to the misbehavior—from 1 to 25 tickets.

o The students are responsible for keeping track of their own tickets; I do not keep track of where they are, or how many each student has. If someone forgets tickets at home or lose the tickets on/before a shopping day, there’s no shopping on credit—“cash” only.

So here we go:

After the typical morning of math warm-ups, I asked the students to count their tickets. About eight of the kids had less than 100 tickets, and the rest had more—ranging up to 900, depending on how much they had earned throughout the year so far, and how much they’d spent at the class store. When we had all counted tickets, that’s when I asked them the question:

“Would you say, as good third grade citizens, we all need a take-home folder?”

Of course, they all agreed, and when I asked them why, they responded with something to the effect of “we need a way to get important papers home and back to school.” So, then came my next question:

“So, would you say, that as good third grade citizens, the take-home folders we have, need to be GOOD take home folders?”

“Of course!” they responded—it was silly to have a crumpled, useless one with torn pockets—it would defeat the purpose, right?

“Well, I’m so glad you agree,” I said, “because today, I’ve decided, as the leader of your class, that we all need new take-home folders. I’m selling these folders,” I held up a group of plain, navy blue paper folders, “for 100 tickets each.”

GASP! 100 tickets! You would have thought I had asked the impossible!

The students readily reminded me that not everyone had 100 tickets, and some people had perfectly good take-home folders already, that they didn’t want to throw away. They said, “We don’t need to buy new ones, we have perfectly good ones already.”

“Oh, well, if you have a take-home folder already, I’ll have to look at it. If it passes my inspection, I’ll let you keep it, and if not, you’ll have to buy one from me. If you choose not to buy one from me, you’ll be fined 75 tickets per week until you do.”

Immediately the take home folders came out, begging for inspections. For each one that passed through my hands, I had SOME excuse for why it didn’t qualify. This one’s too plain. This one’s too fancy. I don’t like the color of this one. For the ones that weren’t “good enough,” I said they had to buy a new one from me. For the “too fancy” folders, I told them, “I’ll take this one across the hall, sell it for more than 100 tickets, use 100 tickets to buy you a folder, and then we can use the leftovers to help someone else who doesn’t have enough tickets to buy one.”

Every time a student said something to me about how what I was telling them to do was not right, I just said, “But I asked you at the beginning of class—and you agreed that as good third grade citizens, we all need a GOOD take home folder. I’m just providing a way for everyone to get a GOOD take home folder. Nothing torn up, nothing too fancy—just a good one for everyone. I’m just giving you what you want—what you agreed upon.”

After about 20 minutes or so of my refusal to budge from my “my way only” attitude, the most amazing thing happened. Honestly—I could not have scripted anything more patriotic to happen: the students started a protest.

A PROTEST! They made signs, taped them to rulers, and began to chant, “Don’t waste your tickets; don’t waste your tickets!”

Freedom of speech—ah, yes! I allowed it—both sides. In fact, while the students were chanting, I sold 3 folders—100 tickets each. One girl bought a folder for herself, and then helped 2 others buy folders, who didn’t have enough tickets to buy one themselves.

When I asked them to explain their views, they did.

“I work hard for my tickets. You shouldn’t be able to tell me how to spend them. This is a free country and I have a choice in what I do with myself.”

“If I really needed a new folder, I would have gone to the store and gotten one that I chose—not the one you like.”

“Why do we have to replace perfectly good take home folders with the flimsy paper ones you have?”

“I think it’s a great idea. By having all the same folder, we’ll look more like a class, more like a community. We’ll have a set way to take things home that can work for everyone.”

“If someone has an old, raggedy folder, and it works for them, I don’t care. I want the one that I chose. I chose it because I like it and it works for me. Why should you be able to choose what works for me? You’re not me.”

“If someone else needs a folder, I’ll be happy to give one of my extras. Just don’t make everyone buy new ones if not everyone needs them.”

“I have this one, and it’s falling apart. I don’t care. I like it. I shouldn’t have to replace it unless I want to replace it. It’s not your business. It’s my property. It works for me.”

There were many more comments shared, but that’s the gist of them all. Some students thought one way when we started, and then upon listening to others’ opinions, changed their minds.

Listening, thinking, deciding. That “freedom of speech” bit in the Constitution allowed it to happen—allowed the information and different ways of thinking about an issue to be heard. WOW!

However, there were also a few students who were seemingly “along for the ride”, saying they agreed with one student or another, but when I asked them why they thought the way they did, there was no explanation besides, “well, he’s my friend.”

Then, at some miraculous point in the morning (at this point, I had lost track of time, I was so wrapped up in the process), I heard it:

“Let’s vote: your way or our way!”

Okay—so I was all right with that. It’s the American way, right? The leaders don’t make the decisions without the constituents’ voice, right?

So we voted.

The choices were:

A) You must have an approved take-home folder, or buy one from the teacher for 100 tickets. If you don’t, you’ll be fined 75 tickets per week until you purchase an approved folder.

B) You may have the take-home folder of your choice, or no take home folder at all, with no mandatory purchase or fines from the teacher.

I handed the students a piece of paper. I told them, you must write your choice at the top of the page, and then, if you would like to share your thoughts with me as their teacher so that I can better understand your view, write comments on the bottom half of the page (hey—I need to get some writing in somehow!). The ballots will need to be turned in to my hands, when I say, or they will not count. (I also had to get that regulated voting in there somehow, too!)

The results were: A) 3 votes B) 18 votes

I was AMAZED at first that I had 2 students not vote, but after thinking, there were those who didn’t make a choice of their own during the “protest” phase. I imagine they’re always in a crowd, aren’t they?

After I announced the winner, there was a great cheer, and the “B” voters were quite relieved that I did not have the authority to tell them what to do with their tickets. Since this was such a closed experiment, I knew who had voted “A,” so I interviewed them. One of the votes came from the girl who voted this way all along. She still believed that having a uniform take home folder for everyone was the best thing. The other 2 students who voted for “A” were the two girls who the first girl helped purchase for them. They all sit at the same table, and were busy decorating their new folders.

When I asked one of them why they voted “A,” she said, “It’s important to have a take home folder, and I didn’t have one. My friend helped me, and so now I have a new one.”

“So, you’re saying that the rule should say everyone has to buy a folder from me, because you needed one?”

That was enough to change her mind.

The other one, not so much. She was convinced that the rule was a good one, and that everyone should be made to buy a new folder. I asked, “Even though you didn’t buy your folder yourself? Your friend helped you buy it.”

“Well, I got one. That’s what counts, right?” The vote remained with “A.”

So, we came together again on the rug, to discuss what I had presented to them that morning. I had them think—why would I do this? Why did I set things up the way I did?

They got it—they understood (albeit after the fact) that in order for them to understand the reasoning behind the way our government is constructed, I had to make it real for them. I asked them if it was right for me to do what I did, as their leader—to tell them that they had to do something with their earnings. Still, there was the “A” girl—convinced that people will not do the right thing, unless there is some authority telling them to do it. (It’s funny, too—because she makes great behavior choices, regardless of the situation, even when she’s not told how to behave.) Others said it was good for me to make rules to protect others from being hurt, like our class rules, but not to tell people what to do if it only affects them personally. The idea of “freedom” was discussed in great length—as were our rights of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” When our pursuit of happiness infringes upon another’s, that’s where our rights stop…and the most important: MY definition of “pursuit of happiness” is not necessarily anyone else’s definition.

I also told them about the current events happening that day, March 23, 2010: President Obama was signing the health insurance bill into law. I told them that part of this law was a mandate for everyone to have health insurance, and that health insurance had to be approved by the government. (I know it’s much more extensive than that, but while I work with a bright bunch of kids, they’re still 3rd graders, so I “bare bones” it, as I did with the take-home folders.)

Their reaction to this health insurance bill/law was amazing. They asked if the government had ever told people what to do with their money (besides taxes) before. (Yes, they understand that taxes are what we pay to the government to support public programs.) They compared this law to something King George of England might have done—and then reminded me that we got away from King George and formed a government that would not tell people what to do without their agreement. They made the connection, saying that a government who could tell its citizens they had to buy insurance could also tell them to buy other things, and do other things, including tell them what church to go to—just like the English government that we fought to get away from all those years ago.

So I asked, “Why do you think that as your leader, I listened to you?”

“We talked a lot.”

“Yes, you talked a lot, but you always answered my questions, and you never got violent.”

“The most violent we got was protesting.”

Good point! So we talked about protesting—how true protesting is not violent; no one got hurt, no one threatened me, I didn’t have to call the office for help in controlling them. They compared it to our studies of Gandhi—how the people of India did not get violent to get the freedom from England. (“What is it with the English government?” They asked me, “Haven’t they learned yet?” HA!) We went on to discuss that when people get hurt, and things get destroyed, the protest is not a protest, it’s a riot.

They remembered seeing protestors on the news, and I had one student who had just come back from Washington, D.C., and shared her observations about the protestors there. “You’re right. No one was hurting anyone. They were just sharing their opinions. They were loud, but they just wanted to be heard.”

Oh, my! Out of the mouths of babes, right?

So, we once again discussed the importance of listening, knowing what’s going on, thinking about it all, and staying involved. People who do not know what’s happening will allow even the most ridiculous things to happen—like the 100-ticket take home folder.

Now, the absolutely most amazing part of this whole social experiment could be that it was amazingly patriotic, or that it was like a slice of America right there in my 3rd grade classroom, but it’s not. The most amazing part of this whole social experiment was that my teacher buddy across the hall, who also teaches Social Studies, did the same experiment, with virtually the SAME results.

1. Leader tells citizens about the new rule.

2. Opinions are shared; some citizens get upset, while others agree with new rule. Similar ways of thinking begin to bond together.

3. Voices are heard: opposing citizens protest, while supporting citizens speak for the rule. No violence ensues.

4. Citizens ask for a vote.

5. Leader listens to citizens.

6. A decision is made according to the vote.

7. Majority of citizens are happy with results. If not happy, then able to live with their choice and its consequences as it complies with the new rule.

Pretty amazing, don’t you think? Seven steps to decide the best for the people—by the people. Little people, yes, but people nonetheless.

They are the future leaders of our country. They are true Americans.

And the coolest thing about this teacher? I'm married to her...


  1. Perfect! And it actually helped me, so many years past 3rd grade it's not even funny, understand the whole regretable situation a lot better.
    Too bad all teachers aren't like her.

  2. And another great thing about this teacher? She is not just a teaching partner, but a great friend too!!!