Electronic painting by Jeremy Grey
I Asked the Question, "Why Can't Children Read?"
Introduction: A Journey Begins. "The Fatal Mistake" or "The Face of the Child on the Courtroom Floor."
One Day After the "Battle."
I imagine how Paton felt standing on the battlefield, after the fight, looking out on a landscape filled with smoking war-tanks and leftover weapons. It is quiet now, six oclock in the morning as I sit in front of my keyboard at the LeBlancWorks, the LeBlancWorks which is now more of a classroom than ever. My journal here is a patchwork collection of my thoughs and efforts to understand one child and his relationship to the school, the community, and the world of which he is a part.
Reflecting back on my simple question: "Why can't children read?," a smile comes to my face at my naievity in thinking that the "study" was going to be simple. I was merely going to interview six teachers, write up their interviews and interpolate the results.
It was a simple plan; retire to a studio and make sculptures. I rented the studio, moved in months in advance of my retirement and set up. Then I began constructing sculptures and all was well. But, as retirement time loomed closer I began to feel that I needed something else, a little ballast perhaps, to give me some contact with the outside world, other than friends, of course.
So I registered for a program with Wesleyan's Graduate Liberal Studies Program. I would explore "education." Sure! What better way than to choose an area that I was already involved with and interested in. Yes, a good question would be: "Why can't children read?" That would be easy, just find a good advisor, interview six teachers in the area and write it up, a fine scholarly effort, keeping me busy and involved. I contacted the person who I thought would be the best resource in that area. Marjorie Rosenbaum, retired director of the Educational Studies Program agreed to "take me on" as an advisor.
Then I had another thought, "Well, perhaps I need a real student of my own to give me a practical sense of what "the lay of the land" was like in the local educational milieu. Ken Woodward from "The Connection" took care of this avenue, providing me with a twelve-year-old who needed something beyond the academic subjects, and I was in business.
Shortly after that I was invited to teach computer graphics at Central Ct. State Univ. This invitation was a surprise. I couldn't refuse, so I took on 25 students, teaching twice a week in New Britain.
Several months later I found myself drenched in sweat and fighting, at juvenile court, for the freedom and perhaps the very life of a 13-year-old and my retirement was forever changed. Looking back now I can see that a man who lost his wife and friend, over a quarter of a century ago and then, two decades after that, lost his only son and friend to AIDS is an easy "patsy" for the face of a sad looking kid. Hind sight is great, isn't it?
Yesterday was the culmination of a long battle with "Jeremy," and with his middle school. I found the answer or rather answers to why children can't read but it had little or nothing to do with their ability. And so I began:
The paper presented here began with the aim of understanding why some children can't read but, to me, it brought into question many more issues including: What is the responsibility of a community to one another and to its children? Why have we become such an anonymous society? How are we using our resources to make "our" children's lives worthwhile? What values are we giving them? What role models do we provide? Who cares? How do we make use of the resources of those who DO care? How are we, each segment of society, communicating the needs of the children to one another, for their well being? Is there a coordinated effort? Is there communication between agencies, organizations, individuals and how does that work? Does it work?
These are the questions for further exploration, not necessarily an academic one perhaps, but an area needing a crucial evaluation. I've seen the "face of the child on the courtroom floor" and I know "him" personally and I care what happens to his life. And so too do I care about his "friends" those faceless ones who knock on the door in the dark of night, inviting him to come out and play, and to join them in their games - "five finger discount" or "lets break up the neighborhood." I need to find a way to teach him -- the him that's been hurt, the him who desperately needs friends and acceptance by his peers and will accede to the wishes of "the gang" for a moment's acceptance. There has to be a way to give him confidence in himself so that he knows right from wrong and is enabled to say: "NO!"
Finding the right way to teach is not
an easy task. Rick Masten, teacher and poet provides a special insight
into how one teacher inspires his students:
"he said - eyes popping
by Rick Masten
Perhaps the true "method" then is to
live our lives with the realization that we "are" a model for children.
And so, looking down at the reflection in the dark wood at my feet I find
that the face on the courtroom floor is "US."
Like a scene from some crazy Pinter play we come tumbling into the world, dazed confused, practically blind and helpless on our birth day. From then on, through a process known as education, we try to make sense of the world we've been dropped into .
At the beginning of this journal I thought to explore something of this process of education-- (Frankly I was at a loss to understand how children could go through twelve years of schooling and still not know how to read) I wanted an answer for that question. Yet there was more to it than that. I was searching for a personal area in life to focus on, to pursue in this, the latter part of my life.
I felt that I couldn't understand the problem from the outside and had to get "inside." The inside work occurred when I was given the "task" of working with a youngster, Max, in a program run by a local organization, "The Connection." (The Connection works with children who are at a stage just before judicial intervention in their lives.)
I thought too that my own personal experiences in teaching at the college level would be useful too in one way or another.
Max the robot maker and sculptor
But first to put things into perspective: As I began this project there were numerous factors at work in my life: I was at the moment of retirement after thirty five years of work and teaching at Wesleyan University; my father had recently passed away; my mother was gradually succumbing with congestive heart failure; I received a part-time position at Central Connecticut University teaching computer graphics, and I accepted a commission from "The Connection" to work with a "problem" student (Max age 12), and his friend Jeremy. In addition, I began another phase of my life as a kinetic art sculptor with a studio on Main Street with a commission from the City of Middletown to complete a series of photographs, in book form, on the 350th Anniversary of the town.
I mention these factors because they all, to one degree or another, became elements of the paper. My mental frame of mind, my overview of life, and death, and my optimism for the next generation all were connected. I had hopes that "the paper" would allow me, by looking at education today, to focus my attention on the foundations of my own value system which was a compilation of the education I'd received, at home, in school, "on the street" and at church, since education doesn't stop when schooling ends but continues in various forms all throughout life.
Children killing children in our schools, mothers murdering their babies, a whole nation of people involved in the destruction of another race. We talk of "civilization" as a mandate which guarantees each of us protection from the fangs of wild beasts. Yet, it is apparent that the "beast" resides within each of us, sometimes tethered, often tamed, but lurking nevertheless. (Some of us have lived through an epoch where our favorite president was killed before our eyes.)
I have found that half a century of living provides some kind of perspective wherein social patterns become apparent; we see how children begin the destruction of their health early by smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, not from a physical need but in an attempt to act like their heroes and role models. Drugs are often used by these same children as a means to escape from a world they find confusing and frightening.
I see a process that begins somewhere in childhood wherein kids emulate adults. From watching the grownups in their lives kids take on the mannerisms that they feel make them look adult. Somehow, in many folks, the stereotype continues into their grownup lives, and so we end up with adults trying to act and think as they think adults should be. So the model is perpetuated from generation to generation. Trying to comprehend the complex web which makes up our society is, indeed, a very difficult task.
Remembrances of a childhood past:
My understanding of the process of education goes back to our first personal remembrances of being inducted into the social life of school. One can only look at that process from a personal view, whether it was a happy time or traumatic. In my case it was traumatic, a feeling of being controlled by others, of losing freedom and being in a "jail" of sorts. To some extent the culprit was the physical plant of the Catholic School at Saint Peters in New Haven.
There is no abstract process known as education with a purity of transmission of knowledge from the specialist in a subject to the blank mind of the student. Instead it is all a personal experience with a complex mix of personalities, often in a confined classroom, wherein all the dynamics of the personalities involved become kinetic parts of a competitive "dance" of knowledge.
The process itself then, the interaction of the students and teachers, and students and students, and everybody else for that matter, becomes the complex subject known as education. Education is not the accumulation of some vast body of specific knowledge of a given subject but the construction of our individual personalities through this integrative process via this dance of life. Every breath of life, every observation, every insight is part of that process. Our guides in this journey, often called teachers, are also fallible human beings with needs similar to our own.
My first question began as I reflected on the many periodical articles and books concerning young people graduating from high school who can not read. I thought about the vast amount of money spent on schooling and wondered why that was the case. What was wrong? Gradually as I began my exploration of the "problems" I realized that the story of public education in America today is a much more complex issue than I had imagined. So too it became clearer that my question on education was a "mask" of sorts for the bigger question of understanding the culture itself, the changes I'd seen, been subject to and watched others "suffer" beneath.
We make choices in life; we have values that shift with our perspective and our experiences throughout time. We accumulate these experiences in memory building up an interlocking data base from which to make new decisions.
I had been given a copy of John Gatto's A Different Kind of Teacher, which appeared to open up to me the structure of "the system." I wondered why I had not been able to see what the problems were, since, once explained by John Gatto in his book, everything seemed so clear, perhaps a testament to his great teaching skills. As I understand Gatto's thesis, the trouble is the system itself, the politics, the administration and indeed the original design of public schooling from its inception. As Professor Gatto points out, schools are designed to teach conformity, not to educate.
Gatto, in his book, appears to want to throw out the present day school system as a complete waste of time. But, considering myself as a product of the public education system I had to wonder how I managed to get through it and keep an open questioning mind? Today I work daily constructing sculptures, kinetic art, collages, expressing myself in various ways which make my life feel rich and full. How did that happen? I see a glimmer of an idea, I see the faces of special teachers, individuals who opened doors, or sometimes merely hinted that "doors" might exist. Those "special" teachers worked within the system that Gatto rejects-.
As a college professor I have had the opportunity to test some teaching methods and I have begun to explore new techniques in liberating the imagination of my students, exposing them to the work of others, giving them the opportunity to express their creative energy.
When I was teaching The AV Workshop at Wesleyan during my first few semesters I gave the students complete freedom of time and space. The end product was to be a "slide movie" expressing some area that each student was interested in. I found that at the end of the semester there was a "crash" effort on the part of almost all of the students to finish their projects. I realized then the need for structure and redesigned my course to include four projects, instead of one, with deadlines at specific dates in the course. At the end of that first semester all of the students had completed their work on time.
The question is not only in finding answers but more of acknowledging there are questions, though it may sound like a metaphysical problem, defining the meaning of existence; perhaps the question is not just "to be or not to be," but to be what?
In the course of my life, thinking back to the early days of elementary school I have had some fine individuals as teachers. Most of those folks provided me with the best instruction they were capable of. I realize now that those same teachers were hampered in their methods sometimes by the system itself, but they still found ways to achieve their ends.
It's too late, for me, to go back and interview most, perhaps all of these teachers, though I'll give that avenue a try. So, how does one make the system work in one's favor -- to work for one, instead of against. Perhaps that is the question.
I had though long enough on the subject of education and now it was important to speak with those teachers who actually worked in the system and to obtain their views on the problems of teaching children and to ask them, "Why can't children read?" I felt that by looking at a "worst case" scenario, the inner cityi school system I might see the "reading' problem at its most crucial point. So I began with Jim Fellows, a middle grade teacher in the Hartford school system.
"Experiences in teaching the children of the south end of Hartford."
The area in which I teach includes the whole Caribbean Island scene, including primarily Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Santo Domingo, Haiti, a bit of Saint Lucia, Trinidad, Tobago, and also, on the coast, Guiana particularly -- especially children of oriental background whose family migrated to Guiana and the U.S. And then there's a mixture of many other areas that have been settled by Catholic charities; you have Vietnamese, Cambodian, Somalia, a lot of Bosnian, and now Cosovar families, whatever people have been in refugee situations for the last twenty or thirty years who have gradually moved into the neighborhood. So with that particular segment of the population you have to be aware of the language issues but also of the cultural issues.
I know it sounds like a difficult mix but it's not that hard to work with them once you understand what works and doesn't. The problem is that most of the educational programs that you're forced to use make little note of any of those issues. They really only teach from a point of view of transfer of knowledge from a willing giver to a willing receiver. Whereas that's useful to know once the person is interested in learning, what you have to teach them, that's totally useless if the person is suspicious and if that student understands on some subliminal level that you're asking him to throw away their culture and adopt yours. That's what it basically comes down to when you're dealing with kids from uneducated families with agricultural jobs or basic laboring jobs or service jobs of some kind then you're asking them to adopt the educated middle class culture and throw away running barefooted in the fields and growing turnips.
That's a big problem especially if, like one of the kids you work with, if the father's in jail, and you're telling the child that he's likely to end up in jail if he doesn't get an education then its not such an obvious choice to such a child. You have to be very careful in what bait you use with a child since you might convince them to do the very opposite of what you want them to do.
The other thing is, once the child is interested there are definitely ways of teaching that are more successful than other ways but it really depends on the subject and the teacher and the teacher's interest in that particular program. The program that I use is from "Boys Town, Girls Town" which makes very simple basic lessons out of every basic skill from saying hello to someone to thanking somebody or accepting or giving a compliment, to asking a person a question, to getting somebody's attention, to sharing somebody's attention.
All these are numbered skills that you teach, step by step. They are all very specific in what they teach like, looking at someone when you speak to them, using a pleasant tone of voice. It might seem to a teacher that it's ridiculous and almost demeaning but its really quite important to the children because its exactly what they need. The kids are not going to practice something like that if you can't break it down, step by step, so they feel totally confident. You have to be very specific and give them instructions like, walk up to the person, put your right hand out, with the thumb up, take their right hand up to the thumb, shake it just firmly enough not to hurt them. That's how you shake somebody's hand and say "It's nice to meet you."
Once you've outlined the steps then they will practice it and most likely all week long they'll be coming up to you wanting to shake your hand, or to accept a compliment or give one or to help someone or to hold a door. It's very easy to get frustrated with these kids because it seems so obviously basic like to raise their hand and then wait for you to call on them when there are ten other kids and not to be shouting out your name for recognition. Most of them will do it the way you want once you've taught them. It just doesn't seem that it should be necessary to teach them, but it is. So you have to choose whether you want to be right and insist that they don't need to be taught these things, they're so basic or whether you want them to actually do what you want them to do in which case you have to teach them.
Even when it is part of the curriculum teachers tend to resist because they don't think that's their job. Many teachers are exceptional to this but teachers especially at middle and high school level have a very different approach than elementary school teachers. Elementary school teachers tend to go into the business because they want to help nurture and raise children. But middle and high school teachers frequently want nothing to do with that and are very offended and will come right out and tell you: "I'm not here to be somebody's parent," or "guidance counselor. I'm just here to teach them english, science, or math or social studies or other." Now, they don't always mean it, but they will say it. Often those same people will get quite attached to their students because they're the first ones to jump up and help, adopt a kid that needs to be adopted, and so . . .
I don't think there are many kids who can't read. But the problem is with kids who don't have much language though whether they can read or not, they're not going to understand what they read. One problem is vocabulary. There are very few words that they're familiar with. And, I mean, very very very few. More important than that is that they may understand what some of the words mean but they have no sense about any kind of variation in language except for very basic sentence structure.
So they won't understand what your saying if you read it out loud to them either. But if they can understand it when you read it out loud to them they can basically understand it when they read it to themselves. So its not really very often a reading problem. Now, are cases where kids don't read but I don't know much about that since I haven't run into too many kids like that.
What I find with inner city kids are lots of kids who have very little experience with language except for very basic English. And that's just a language acquisition issue it's not a reading issue. They may have parents who certainly don't speak English or not more than a few words so that they would even try to speak English. But they don't speak much other language either; they don't really have command of the Spanish language and if you try to speak to them in Spanish you would need to know a very particular dialect, and a very particular vocabulary that goes with that dialect. You'd have to limit your conversation to certain types of things that you could talk about. You could talk about food, you could talk about the weather; you might be able to talk about romance, you might be able to talk about typical life situations. But beyond that you would have difficulty in that particular language getting into any kind of academic subject.
I've seen the same thing in other countries too. I've seen it in Spain when I was working with some gypsies in the mountains of southern Spain who could not speak Romany, they certainly didn't speak much Spanish. How they really communicated with anybody in the world I really don't know. But it was very similar to kids that I work with here. They are essentially non-verbal.
If they have to phrase a question it's all but impossible. You have to guess what they're trying to ask you because they can't put it into words to ask you. They say, "You know that thing." And that's the question. "You know that thing?" And that means, "I have a question." That's about as much as they can tell you. Then you have to play a game of like Twenty Questions and rarely you'll find out exactly what it was they were trying to ask about. But some other children will understand them perfectly and will offer to interpret. They'll say, "I know what he means!"
Let's say you've just taught about division of fractions. They might say, "You know that thing where you do that thing?" Then I would say, "You mean where you change from division to multiplication and use the reciprocal?" This is after you've just defined all these words on the board and it still says "reciprocal" on the board and here's three halves and two thirds and they go, "No! I mean that thing where you do that thing." And another kid will say, "I know what he means." The kid will interpret and you still don't know what they other kid is saying but they say, yeah, they agree that that's what they are talking about.
So now you give the child a math book says, "To divide fractions change mixed numbers to improper fractions and then multiply the dividend by the divisor." You can go through the whole thing and explain it and its in the math book but that's just not the way their brains work.
If you take a word like reciprocal and associate that word with turning a number upside down that seems to be a foreign concept. You can ask them to write it down, the word reciprocal, and pronounce it, and have it in their book. They can pronounce it, they can read it just fine, and they will tell you that that's when you take a flat fraction and substitute the numerator for the denominator or the divisor for the dividend if you want to use that terminology. They can explain all that but then later in a sentence they can't use that or understand that as a term that they can grasp and use.
Now, I don't have a solution to the problem. What I do to teach reading is to get very interesting book, books that I think are interesting and that are also my experience tells me that children are interested in but you can't tell that right away because most children will not be interested in a book at first. But most children will be interested in whatever book a teacher is interested in eventually. That's just the psychology of children. So you have to see past that situation to see what books are interesting to children.
Children are never going to be interested in any book at first, but they'll always be interested in every book if you're persistent enough. So, to determine what they're actually interested in or that means something to them takes a little bit more time and perception and experience.
But once you've determined what books are interesting to children I find that books with certain emotional and social situations are the most interesting. Books where there is a definite emotional and life problem that needs to be dealt with. Common problems such as losing a parent, dealing with fear of new situations, whatever it is that's likely to be a real problem in the child's life or a fear that they might have; or something they might have to deal with in the future.
For instance, how to survive in the wilderness, that would be something that kids would generally be interested in or about. So you find a book that has an emotional situation and a solution. Also it is useful if it has some spiritual element to it where there is an appreciation of the world beyond the scientific; having to do with faith or karma or rebirth or good versus evil or being tested in difficult situations or having to grow through a challenge, you know, fairy tale kind of stuff. If you find something with that sort element and the story's interesting and provides information about children somehow like themselves but different enough to be interesting and safe to study.
For instance, a book that's most popular that I use is World War Two orphans in Japan living in a warehouse with no adults to feed or provide for them. The title is "My Brother, My Sister, and I" by Yoka Kowashima Watkins. That books is universally popular with children that I work with. First of all because the kids are worse off than they are in their own lives which gives them some comfort that children can survive circumstances much worse than their own. Then that there are children who are worse off than they are gives anybody hope that they are not at the bottom. So they can feel some compassion for somebody else. They can feel that they would be able to help that person.
The need to help others is an important reason for children who are poor. If you don't give them the feeling that you can help someone else then they feel that there is no point to their education. They wonder what they are going to do with it and they don't want it. So you have to immediately provide a situation where they are going to help somebody else with what they learn. Most poor kids are extremely altruistic and will be motivated, if nothing else, by just the thought that the education they acquire can be used to help another child, especially a younger brother or another kid on their street.
There are very few kids, if any, that I've met who wouldn't be motivated if they thought that what they learned could help somebody else. Whereas they have very little interest in learning for their own benefit. If you give them something, a book or something, they'll usually take it home and give it to a younger brother or sister. And if you give them a box of candy they'll take it out and share it with everybody in the hallway. They're not likely to keep anything for themselves. That's just a cultural difference in this group.
Teachers who've grown up in traditional American culture don't always understand the difference in cultures of kids from Caribbean or third world countries or non affluent societies where sharing amongst the village community is such an ingrained part of the way people deal with things. Kids from those cultures just aren't going to be motivated by acquiring things for themselves; it's distasteful or repugnant to try to think about acquiring knowledge and wealth or the ability to get a good job or a college education for themselves; so that seems rather unattractive to put out as a bit of bait for a child. But if the bait is the motivation that what they learn can help others and that they have the chance in the classroom to tutor other children who haven't yet mastered that problem then they'll learn it just so they can teach someone else.
So too, I began to recognize that my interest had begun to find a focus. It was already clear to me that my question about why children can't read would not be answered just by the process of interviewing teachers as the entire fabric of our society was part of that problem. Still, the interviewing I had begun was in itself a worthy effort.
I decided to try the question again but in a different social setting.
For contrast I interviewed Steven Ambrosini, instructor at East Haven High School, a fairly affluent community, asking Steven what he thought of the reading ability of his students.
Some of my intensive courses involve intensive reading and I don't see any problems there except for focusing on projects. Tutorials that I have in Visual Basic, C Plus Plus and CAD (Computer Aided Design) require the student to continually go through the "process" so that's one of the few courses that require real applied reading. That's just reading the course material for a report or a response to a teacher. You're reading it in order to get a real time response. It's one of the few courses that requires applied reading. My video courses do require the students to do some research but I found it very difficult for students to take a topic, go find out information and bring it back to be used in a video project.
Therefore I changed that course to "tell me something that you already know." I wasn't putting the course on that level where what the content was being created, this was strictly how well they learn to write down what they need to know, to be able to express themselves and then be able to apply video to it, bringing images on to it. So the whole technological process is graded and not necessarily the final output.
I have my students write term papers All my courses do term papers. One thing they were not ready for, I guess, was the fact that I wanted them to hand in drafts of their paper at least four times before I accepted the final one. For the most part kids would write a first draft and feel that it was perfect and done and that they would no longer have to do the project. They were taken back when I said, "Here's your paper back. Here are the corrections you should make. Here's where you should develop for a better paper. That seemed to be a big problem, writing and expressing themselves.
I find that some students have a very difficult time trying to express themselves. It kind of goes contrary to their argument, "well you never listen to me. " I say to them, Now I'll give you a chance to tell me something. Yet they can't seem to put it down on paper. So that might be linked to reading too, reading versus writing; the applied word on paper. They would then create some kind of a script for their production and they would actually read that script into the production line and that would be the sound track for the final product.
In terms of the term papers some of them are finally coming around to it; some of them have very good topics, some of them have shown real change. I think another part of "the problem" is that some of them don't seem to know that they "know." I have a few students who say, "I have nothing to write about. " I respond with the statement, "Well, tell me something you know." And two or three students were unable to say that they know "something,." or "anything." So there seems to be some kind of lack of confidence in there. I believe they do know something. I mean ten, eleven, twelve years of school must have taught them something. And yet they can't seem to be able to pull that back and spit it back out again.
So far the observation of these two teachers seemed to be that there really was no reading problem per se. Perhaps the problem wasn't in reading as a skill, as Jim Fellows mentioned, but more in how our society socializes its students. Steven Ambrosini seemed to be saying that students, left to their own devices didn't have the imagination to create something out of their own thoughts. I was beginning to feel that my specific area of interest concerned "imagination" and how society and the schools treated that entity; reading was only one part of it.
- Science workshop "air pressure" in Heric's garage -
The Theme of "Imagination"
Imagination is my theme, always has been. The remarks on my report cards talked about a boy who daydreamed too much, would not concentrate on the work presented, had excellent potential but would not concentrate . . . etc. . . . I was told by most, but not all, teachers to stop drawing in math class or to write about the assignment given, not write a fantasy. It seems to be as Gatto says, when the math bell rings we study math.
And in asking the question: "How does one develop the imagination?," I needed to refer back to that area called "Methods."
Physicist Heric explaining air pressure to "Wizards in Training"
Perhaps a major question needs to be stated: Why, indeed, should imagination be taught in school? One answer: In a time when the problems of the world are many and complex, answers are needed to everything from traffic control to weapons development; our civilization needs minds that can leap beyond conventional solutions to find ingenious answers. The imaginative mind, the non-conformist is able to find unique solutions to problems that others might not be able to see. We need to find ways to cultivate those minds, not shackle them. It is a matter of survival. Of course survival is an issue for teachers as well.
I thought that I might, in future studies, begin my interviews with teachers in the system with a series of questions:
1. How have you managed to survive as a teacher?
2. Are you able to teach the material that you believe is pertinent to your students?
3. How do you deal with the "muscle" of creativity, which often is seen as nonconformity?
4. And, rather whimsically, why don't we teach "daydreaming" in school?
Wizard in Training Jeremy at the LeBlancworks
Author/Teacher Mel Ash works on a project with son Ethan at the LeBlancWorks
The Landscape of Imagination:
There is a landscape populated by creatures who have never walked the earth. They stride across fields and streams whose dimensions are infinite in scope yet occupy only a few microns in the brain. The artist, the writer, the visionary know this territory well and build their images and create tales from their dreams.
Welcome to the human imagination, that area of our brain that deals in abstraction. We may share that talent with other creatures, our cats and dogs who seem to chase mice and rabbits in their sleep. Lord Dunsany describes one vision of this world in "The Shop on Go-by Street," as:
Yet the imagination is a double edged sword; it is not only a weapon of defense, but a spike in the heart as well.
As I sat with my invalid mother one day at a table in the day room of the convalescent hospital, another woman sitting at the table, looked at me and with curled lips said, "What are you getting paid for this?" I told her that I was the son of her companion, my mother, at the table. The woman turned away as if not believing me.
Last night as I visited mother, she was traveling some other pathway in her mind and my visit was short. As I walked down the hallway to fill mother's drinking cup and passed the room of this woman she yelled an obscenity at me, then as I came back with the full glass of ice water the same woman yelled, "Get the hell out of this house, old man." Her anger chilled me to the bone, even though I realized she was mistaking me for someone else. I wondered who she saw me as and I vowed to try and avoid this woman whenever possible.
But the incident showed me the other side of imagination, or what I call, "negative imagination," another landscape from the mind of Breugel wherein the damned of Hell populate that world. It is well to understand that the imagination is not merely a world populated by Harry Potter but does indeed have its share of witches, warlocks, and vampires, who are "real" in the minds of some. That moment with the angry woman illuminated the world of the insane imagination and made it clear that fantasy is not the exclusive property of precocious children; it is a part of us all and manifests its effects in many ways.
So, as a citizen of the land of imagination who was frequently chastised during childhood for his excursions, during class time, into the land of fantasy I now consider how one moves from the land of children's nightmares and the distorted visions of the mentally ill, and even "normal" psychotic incidents to the use of imagination as a tool in the classroom. It is the realm of "method."
As an instructor and guide I'm not a stranger to this "tool," called "imagination." Many years ago I formed a group in Middletown known as "The Children's Theater of Imagination." Our group was made up of kids ranging in age from 10 to 14 from both the Wesleyan community and the local town. There were about ten in the group and they practiced storytelling through words and images with the end result being multi-media slide movies. The whole group was involved in creating and acting out the roles while only a few were part of the "road crew" that took the show on the road to local libraries, convalescent homes and daycare centers.
Several years later I formed the troop again in Provincetown with children whose parents were members of the Pro Musica chamber musical group, and other kids who were children of artists and summer residents. This informal bunch was mostly created to build a sense of esprit de corps in the children who came from Boston, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts and who only knew each other through their summer contact. In writing a group story, "The Children of Gronicus" or "Toby on Mars," the children were connected to one another through the characters they portrayed in the story. The "Gronican" "adventure" continued each summer for four years, until the children became teenagers and found different interests.
Recently I heard from two of the "kids," (Now in their late 30's) Toby, still in Provincetown and the other major character, Amy, now a single mother of a 13 year old boy. Amy is an elementary school teacher in New Jersey; Amy and her son came to visit last summer and we had a wonderful afternoon reveling in remembered incidents from that past. One thing Amy said to me about the story, "Gronicus" was that as it was being written the children were actually living the fantasy. It helped to know this as I'd wondered over the years what effect the adventure had upon them.
Storytelling then becomes a primary tool in evolving the mechanism of exploring imagination in education. I say storytelling as opposed to writing since it covers both areas and allows those who are uncomfortable with writing to be on equal terms with those who are handy with a pencil.
In an area that is less familiar to me but should also be included here is that vast abstract land of mathematics which is another area wherein perhaps the word story has not been used very often. Yet a mathematical expression is indeed a story in itself with its own topography and features and tells its own tale. Spalter in "The Computer in the Visual Arts" speaks of ". . . the world is the space in which objects are created and moved about. The world is a 3D Cartesian coordinate system with three axes conventionally called x, y, and z. In most 3D programs, multiple views into the world can be opened on the screen simultaneously; 3D programs allow separately stored 3D objects to be brought into a world at any time. . . "
Technology has opened up for us a "separate reality" the world of virtually in which the "real" becomes an analog of itself, existing on "the electroplane" of consciousness, and the "imaginary" becomes real as measured on the surface of a computer screen or visual projection system. Whether we like it or not, the two planes of existence have come into conjunction, rather we have brought them into conjunction. Now it becomes a matter of how we use them. So too the area of artificial intelligence, whether biological or electronic are fields that have opened up and will grow steadily over the next few years.
Technology has become a tool which continually evolves, from pencil to typewriter to word processor and computer and presents a changing template for the artist and writer to choose from. It seems as if we need to find a "new type" of artist to master the complexities of multi-media. But, we've already seen this kind of individual in artists of the past, the Leonardo DaVincis, Jules Vernes and H.G. Wells. So perhaps we don't need "new types" but better training in the arts and "new sciences" for this and the next generations.
Jeremy learns how to solder an electronic circuit board
I began to consider how to use "Imagination" as a tool in education. The computer becomes one important device in this adventure in storytelling. The goals are simple, the development of storytelling skills, graphics, computer graphics and problem solving and the packaging of such material into "stories."
"Method" now becomes a necessary consideration.
1. In the public schools?
a. elementary schools?
b. high schools
2. In magnet schools?
3. In private schools?
4. In "special" educational milieus?
Mel Ash teaching at Central Ct. State Univ.
Searching For The Realm of the Imagination: An Interview with Mel Ash author of "Shaving the Inside of Your Skull"
I have heard the world imagination used countless times, both in the field of education, in advertising and in politics. Mostly the term is used improperly, apparently for effect but without much depth. The meaning of imagination is difficult to pin down; we all know it when we see it in movies such as "The Wizard of Oz," "Star Wars," and other films, and we feel it in many writings from Shakespeare to Hemingway. We "see" imagination in paintings by Breugel or Salvador Dali, or in a Brancusi or Mholy Gnagy sculpture or any of the works of the Bauhaus group of the 1930's.
Yet, in trying to develop a method to teach or explore "imagination" the word itself becomes elusive, elastic and difficult to pin down. I decided therefore to ask various individuals whose creativity I have experienced to define "imagination" for me or to describe some experience of their own involving imagination.
I began with Mel Ash, writer and artist, author of "Shaving the Inside of Your Skull."
"Mel, how would you define imagination? I mean, at what point did your writing begin to connect to some inner source? "
"Up to the age of 39 I'd been a professional graphics artist all my life; visually oriented, spatial, color, texture, and I read all the time, mostly the stuff I write about now. But I never considered writing as an option for my art. In meditation one day at the Zen Center something happened to me.
I went to one of the monks and he called it "falling into emptiness," which is a stage you go through, and he laughed. It was a letting go of all conceptual thought, of any attachment to life. It was very depressing and I went into a very deep depression for a while. It was kind of a free fall realizing that nothing really exists without my consciousness. When I'm dead it would all disappear. That was the essential truth of what I was being taught.
He said the solution was that Zen was to attach to form. I fell into emptiness now I detached to form which was to inhabit the world, claim it and forget about the other stuff. So I became really very sexually active after that, aggressively, very materialistic in some ways, enjoying the world, the form, just form and formlessness. During another meditation right after that I found that a part of my brain "lit up" that I'd never known before, some part of me. And I started writing, that day. I couldn't stop writing, and it was good. That writing became my first published book, "The Zen of Recovery."
It was automatic and it was good. It was like a dam had let go. So, something in that process of sitting there quietly just looking at my "shit" had led to this moment of opening. It was like a violence that was done to my consciousness. Then after I wrote that first book, I found that, I don't know if smart is the word for it, but my ability to assimilate information, to put paradoxical ideas together, to weave new concepts, increased exponentially. That happened subsequently. So, when I finished this new book I'm walking around now feeling that my consciousness has expanded in ways that I don't begin to understand. And its really hard to share that with other people.
I think most people arrive at a plateau when they're around 18. I said it in "Skull." They know what they like and the like what they know and they don't want to know anything else. I think that you have to aggressively pursue things that are going to challenge you, that are going to shake up your world, that are going to threaten you, even physically, and keep pushing out. But I don't know where its all going to end.
There was that story in the 60's; I worked in MR ( the field of mental retardation ) for a long time. The story was "Charlie," I believe, where this retarded guy all of a sudden becomes normal for a time, and then he becomes more than normal before he slips back to where he started; it was this big tragedy since his intelligence kept increasing but at the end of the story he went back to being retarded. In some ways its analogous to using your brain and . . .
The things I've done to do that are just to challenge myself; so now I'm reading stuff that I couldn't have read a couple of years ago, real academic stuff; I just blow through hundreds of pages of it. A year ago I probably would have struggled through it.
So the brain, I think, is a muscle and the physical to the machine is that you reprogram . . . almost at random, it will pick things at random, challenge me or pick information that will unsettle me, rather than confirm what I know. That's the closest I can get to it (the genesis of imagination) I believe part of the Zen initiated it.
It's almost like a computer looking at itself when you sit there in meditation for hours, you're looking inside at how your brain works, the thought patterns, and you look for the "I" in the thought -- where is "I" where is "me." And you discover soon enough, if you're good at it, that there is no "I" present, there is no "me" there. That the thoughts are in fact creating your consciousness. And that without this pattern of thought you're not there. Without the stimuli, you're not there.
So you start to walk around not being "there," not really believing in your ego anymore, acting as if. So, at that point anything is possible, because if there is no "me" you just need to restructure your thoughts to create a new conditional "you." I think that this is the borderline area where people lapse into psychosis or schizophrenia, but if you can stay in that zone, anything is possible. This is the "stuff" that I don't put into my books.
That's the dirty secret of Zen, you know, that there is no god, there is no life after death, no reincarnation, there's no "nothing." You're led down to the point where the self is destroyed, that is, your idea of yourself. But then nobody gives you any clue as to how to rebuild that, so you're walking around almost dead to the world. But, there is immense freedom in that, because you're dealing with everyone else who actually believes that they exist, that they can actually affect things, that what they do matters, or that the thoughts they are having are unique to them."
I found in the work and life of Mel Ash, a perspective in life that I could understand, though his path was considerably more dramatic than mine. Abandoned to the streets by his parents at age fourteen Mel fought his battle in his own way to define who he was and to find the path that was right for him. He abandoned public education and walked off into a world wide search for meaning. Eventually he "found" his teacher in India, in a culture far different from the one he grew up in.
Exploring the "Realm of the Imagination."
The LeBlancWorks came into being as a place where I could design and construct kinetic structures in the tradition of the Bauhaus movement. But, little by little, some friends began to bring their children up to the studio to look at the pieces and then to begin building sculptures of their own. One friend, Heric, a Wesleyan graduate student in physics, brought his two boys who were both artists in their own right. Mel Ash and his two sons were frequent visitors and son Ethan became a student of mine.
In October The LeBlancWorks in partnership with Heric of Wesleyan sponsored a day long workshop in art and science and in the construction of sculptures made from cast off children's toys. Jeremy and Max became the instructors for the sculpture portion of the workshop and Heric gave a talk and demonstration on the physics of air pressure.
Early in September I was offered a teaching position with a local university to teach computer graphics. Of course i went over to the school to explore the equipment and programs I was to use in the course. I expected to find standard graphics packages such as Adobe Photoshop as a basic tool. Instead I found a classroom that was dedicated to the use of business programs which had little to do with graphics other than charts. The graphics programs which were installed were practically useless for graphic art.
When I reported the "problem" to the department who reprograms the computers I was told that I should have requested the appropriate material last semester. I started to argue, to tell them that I'd just been hired and hadn't been there the previous semester, but then I realized the counter productivity of that remark and remained silent. I smiled inwardly, recognizing the signs of the "administrative beast," that completely unimaginative creature I'd dealt with for years that seemed to have little or no compassion.
Taking the situation to my department, the chairperson and her advisors I was met with sympathy but a similar frustration on their part in dealing with said administration. The chairwoman said that they were trying to put together a "lab" but were having problems in appropriating such a classroom. I was heartened by the fact that they were working on the problem too but were stymied by the same "the administrative beast."
Going back to the classroom I was assigned to I tried to explore the existent programs on the computers, but I realized almost immediately that this was not the right tack to try. I considered installing my own program disks on the machines but found that this avenue was locked out by internal safeguards, of course administered by "the beast."
My first class came up much too quickly and I decided on a policy of honesty. I expressed to my students the problems we were going to encounter and suggested that we cover material in classroom and that they work on individual projects at home, offering my own program disks to those who needed them for their home machines. I told them that we could not follow the direction of the class textbook, albeit that it was a very good book, and that they should use it as a reference.
From the start I told the students that they were going to have more artistic freedom in this class than they'd experienced in any course they'd ever had in the college. At the conclusion of the course they were going to be graded on the quality of their course portfolio which was to visually express "any" interest they might care to express. At first there was confusion and so I instituted a series of exercises to get them going.
Gradually, through a series of lectures I tried to show how much they were influenced by the conventions of society.
One example consisted of asking the students to visualize any painting they'd ever seen. "Do you have a picture in your mind?" I asked. "Yes," they answered. "Fine," I replied, "Now, what color is the frame that surrounds it?"
Students nodded and refocused on their internal image and each had a different reply. "Okay," I continued, "How many of you visualized the picture with no frame?" No hands were raised and they were a bit confused by my thought. "What I'm getting at," I replied is that most paintings are enclosed in a square or rectangle and very few artists have broken through this mold, they've all worked within the box."
Finally there were nods of agreement as they understood what I was trying to show them. Later, during another class when I asked them what they thought the purpose of the class was one student said, "You're trying to teach us to work outside the box."
During the mid semester review when I had each student give a lecture on his or her portfolio there was one student who brought in wire sculptures he'd constructed. The numerous pieces, representing various animals, turtles, salamanders and others were fine pieces of work but I wondered how they connected to the computer aspects of the class. I was about to bring this thought up when I realized that he'd begun working totally outside the box, so I held the comment. Later, at another class meeting I told him and the class of my reaction, that I'd reacted as a "typical" instructor and wanted to put him back into the box. I did suggest though, for the purpose of his portfolio that he photograph his work so that he could use them as representative of his work.
The student commented that he'd done considerable computer graphic work and that he appreciated his having this time to work in other areas which he'd always wanted to explore but never had the time. He thought he would photograph the images eventually and work with them, varying various parameters for different effects.
I was happy with all of the projects and portfolios submitted and realized that each of the students was doing what I'd hoped they'd do and that was to work independently on ideas that were dear to them. One young woman put together a family history of photographs, representing a very valuable gift to her family.
At the present time I'm working with several children, through "The Connection" and also independently with kids who are interested in technology and art. I found there too that I, as the "teacher" was pushing them in directions that I thought best, but then, when I found some of them resisting my advice I decided to listen to them, to see where they wanted to go. "We want to make a store, a computer business," said one young man. I nodded and sat down with him and his partner and made up a list of things that were important in starting said business. Now their motivation was at a high level and no further pushing was needed on my part to motivate them.
I decided quite early in this "research" to say, as honestly as I could, that my review of education is personal, that life and death are personal and that all I am trying to do is understand why many individuals, perhaps including myself, within our culture are not living life to the fullest. There is something missing? As Monica Viti says in Antonioni's film, Red Desert, "There's something wrong with the world and I don't know what it is." Many of us feel that there is a missing ingredient, what is it?
Somehow the perspective that comes with old age, the accumulation of experiential knowledge provides a vantage point to recognize patterns in our civilization;. Through our study of history which we eventually begin to realize is flawed we nevertheless gain an overview.
Yet that's all we have, flawed though it is, the writings of others which provide a vantage point to see more of the whole that we are able to see through our own eyes. Through education over time, though, we become no smarter than we were as children, but we do gain a sense of something called wisdom that provides a new perspective.
Time itself seems to be a major culprit in life. Everything we do revolves around it. How much time do I have? How much time do I have left? Who is in control of "my" time? The clock, that running chronometer seems to meter out our life, telling us when to eat, when to work, love, sleep.
And so it's obvious that they who manage the clock control our lives.
We make choices in life; we have values that shift with our perspective, our experiences throughout time and we accumulate these experiences in memory building up an interlocking data base from which to make new decisions.
Late yesterday afternoon I drove down to the Arden House in Hamden to visit my mother, convalescing from a recent bout with congestive heart failure. As I arrived an attendant was wheeling my mother into a lounge area and I walked along, then sat and tried to open a conversation with my mother. She sat there, apparently disinterested in almost everything. I asked if she'd like to look out the window and she nodded that she didn't care, but as I opened the curtain and a cool wind spread across her face she took a deep breath and I could see that she appreciated the fresh air.
Looking around the room I saw mostly old women, sitting in their wheelchairs or lounge chairs, each staring off in a direction of their own, few talking with each other. I asked mother if she'd talked with any of the people there and she responded that she didn't know them, and by inference wasn't interested in meeting them. She mentioned, in a weak voice, that she wasn't "an old lady" like them. I didn't reply that they were all approximately the same age, but merely smiled, seeming to agree.
I watched them all, as if they were on a stage like some abstract Pinter play, each waiting for something, rather someone to come for them to take them over the edge, to say as Ferlinghetti might, "You have reached your station, descend . . . "
Yet at one table there were visitors with one of the older woman; the visitors, a middle aged woman, perhaps an aunt or grandmother, and her charge, a young boy, maybe six years old. I watched as the boy, without prompting, poured a cup of tea for his great-grandmother "Gran" in the wheelchair, then talked with her and asked her if she wanted to go for a walk.
Gran nodded and the boy released the brakes from the chair and wheeled her off down a corridor. The middle aged woman followed behind them. In a short while they all came back and the youngster asked his "Gran" if she wanted a refill on the tea. She nodded and he did the honors. I noted the attention he paid to "Gran" and the concern he had for her and her comfort. I sensed the process of education going on here, a deep sense of loving commitment by loved ones to one they loved.
Then a tall woman, quite dignified in countenance, came hobbling into the room and settled first in one chair, then another, by the front window. Without asking my mother I told her that I was going to wheel her over to the window so that she could see what was going on at the busy street there. As we "parked" I said hello to the tall woman, introduced my mother and asked the "the tall one" her name and where she lived. I discovered that she had been brought up not far from the City Point neighborhood of my mother and I tried to get mother to begin a conversation, but Mother merely responded as needed and then went back to her quiet reverie.
At a chair nearby a woman, sleeping, carried on a conversation with two young men of her imagination. I watched her legs moving, as if she was walking and I realized that, in her mind she was living a life, perhaps a memory of bringing up children somewhere. Her world now was the landscape of yesterday's images . . .
As I looked around the room at the isolated old women sitting alone, their lives seemingly over, I thought again of the concept of "oneness" that we are all part of the same fabric of life, individual cells in the complex matrix of civilization. Our means of connectivity in the main seem crude; we talk and write, we touch, point, make "eye contact" yet the true meaning of our conversations is open to interpretation; each face is a mask, behind which many hide their true identity.
It would seem to me that our mechanisms of communication should be greater than they are, that we could have a means of talking with each other - mind to mind - directly, instead of through the innuendo of words and actions that we use. Yet, we seem not to have such a mechanism or perhaps may have lost that ability over time.
I said goodnight to my mother, but as I left the room I stopped to talk, for a moment, with the woman and child. I said, "Someone has done some wonderful training here with this child, a fine thing to do." The woman nodded and agreed with me. To the child I held out my hand and said to him, "You're a good man, doing good work." He shook my hand and we nodded as equal colleagues to one another.
On another occasion I sat, eating breakfast, at O'Roark's diner, watching the toddler of one of the waitresses as he waddled back and forth along the aisle. The door of the diner opened and an unkempt bearded- man straggled into the diner for coffee. I thought of how easy it would be to pickup the toddler and cuddle him, yet how repugnant, even the thought, to do the same with the unkempt man. Yet at one time, years ago, the man was a toddler like the one in front of us now, and who knows what the fate of the toddler will be in years to come, he or someone like him will certainly become the unkempt man.
This is all part of this process of education, learning to develop tolerance without resorting to indulgence.
Valuable input from my advisor, Marjorie Rosenbaum
On a relatively warm day in December I visited with my advisor, Marjorie Rosenbaum and we discussed the ideas that I'd put down on paper and specifically my major reference, John Gatto's "A Different Kind of Teacher." Mrs. Rosenbaum had many points including her observation that Mr. Gatto condems the entire education system of America but ignores the fact that he is also a product of that system.
Mrs. Rosenbaum compared Gatto's study to the work of Ayn Rand and I quickly saw the similarities. Marjorie pointed out that throughout Gatto's condemnation of the American system he made little effort to show any of the positive effects of the system. It is obvious that Gatto has a first class mind, yet this same mind is a product of the same education system that he condemns.
The comparison with Ian Rand's works was not lost on me and I remembered reading "The Fountainhead," "Atlas Shrugged," and other works in my youth. Yet as I grew older it became obvious that Rand's works had a juvenile perspective to them in that she saw the world as black and white with no shades of gray. This was true as well for Gatto's book. Yet, at the same time there was a value to Gatto's words in that it gave us pause to consider "the system" as a whole and to look for ways in which to improve it.
It was over a decade ago that my son Tony died of AIDS. I remember when he asked me to drive him down to New York to pickup "secret" tests he'd had done and the results were positive. I didn't understand then -- didn't know what AIDS was or how it was cured. Certainly every illness today had a solution and I thought this one would be the same, perhaps Penicillin was a cure.
Gradually I became "educated" to the disease that my son was to battle for the next seven years, a battle that he eventually lost, though he never gave up hope that he could win. Tony's words to me were that he was going to give me an education in life and death that would make me stronger than I ever realized I could be. He was right. That "education" was perhaps the most extensive and painful period in my life. At that time I gained insights into life: mine, Tony's and others that I consider invaluable, yet would trade them in without an eye blink to gain his life back again. Since that is not possible I will have to live with those painfully received "gifts."
Are there other ways of "reinventing" the system without trying to throw it out, which as Professor Gatto has also agreed is not the route to travel?
And I can not overlook my own insights. I was a product of the public education system. How did I manage to get through it and to keep an open, questioning mind? Today I work daily, constructing sculptures, kinetic art, collages, expressing myself in various ways which make my life seem rich and full. How did that happen? Yet, I see a glimmer of an idea, I see the faces of special teachers, individuals who opened doors, or sometimes merely hinted that they might exist. Those "special" teachers worked within the system yet they were not shackled by it. On the other hand, what heavy burden did the system bring to them as they struggled to release the shackles of conformity to their charges?
As a college professor I now have the opportunity to test some theories and I have begun to explore techniques in liberating the imagination of my students, exposing them to the work of writers including Gatto, and others, giving them the opportunity to express their creative energy. So how do they break through those barriers and begin to realize their own personal potential? What knowledge do I give them to show them the way out, and into creative space?
And, on another day, the question is still who and what are we and why do we do what we do?
Questions and more questions
The search therefore is for meaningful questions, specific questions in the area of personal interests. That particular quest which seems like a simple one is more complex than when looked at with a first glance. It becomes a matter of peeling back the layers of one's personality and as Mel Ash in his book "Shaving the Inside of your Skull," extolls, removing much of that material which is extraneous to my needs and desires.
I find that I'm interested in people, who they are, what they are, in the culture of the world and it all interconnects. And this, not from an academic point of view, but from a personal vantage point. Who are we? What are we? and Where are we? In effect reiterating the questions of so many writers like James Joyce in "A Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man" where the boy Steven places himself in time and space by listing his address in the universe.
Education itself, the process of gaining that information on who and where we are in space and time is one of my prime interests, perhaps the main one. I accept the fact that some schools who purported to provide me or "us" with that information were remiss in their methods. I feel that most of those early teachers were well meaning, caring people (teachers) who were often caught up in a system that hobbled their ability to educate and makes them often "baby-sitters" instead of educators.
So then, with that as a given (that schooling is flawed) it becomes a matter of trying to find the "answers" through other means. Again the question arises, "What is or what are the questions themselves?" And, since that becomes a personal matter for each individual then perhaps "method" becomes the prime objective.
Toward the end of this journal I visited with my advisor Marjorie Rosenbaum who presented me with what she feels are the goals and objectives of Connecticut education:
"A Brief Statement of Philosophy and Objectives
"Our aim in Connecticut is to provide in our schools an atmosphere in which we can help to develop complete human beings open, independent, informed who participate in the joy of learning so that they may function effectively in a world of rapid change and make a positive contribution to that world.
"In close partnership with parents and guardians, we must help our students to accept real responsibility for their own learning by their regular attendance and serious involvement in the daily work of the school.
"The education offered in our schools should enable their students to make wise decisions throughout their lives, as individuals, as members of a family, a community, the nation, and the world.
"In order that they may make such decisions, they must learn to think clearly and accurately, to draw valid conclusions from evidence, always appreciating, and building on an awareness and respect for themselves and others.
"Acknowledging that young people differ greatly in their capacities and rates of learning, and that the school must provide for those differences, we must still assist ALL students in the acquisition of necessary skills, knowledge, physical well-being, and self esteem toward the goal of a personally satisfying life."
Marjorie R.D. Rosenbaum
My questions for the teachers were going to revolve around discovering what methods they used to stimulate and provoke their students and to excite their imaginations. I realized that it would be necessary to look at education in both the public and the private sectors as well as alternative methods such as Upward Bound, Mentoring, Magnet Schools and other means of educating. I remember years ago hearing a study about Cuba which spoke of kids teaching younger kids how to read. At the time that sounded like a fine idea; where does it exist in our American culture?
Perhaps it's easy to motivate kids who come from responsive homes but how does one work with the damaged ones, those whose curiosity has been dulled by years of abuse both by parents, society and the schools themselves?
Troubleshooters are needed within the system itself (or maybe outside of it) to find the problems with individuals, locate the blockage and see what techniques might be needed to help the student move beyond them. I was doing exactly this with Jeremy and Max but I also realized how labor intensive this was all becoming. Both kids were now "calling" me daily wanting help with something or other.
Jeremy and Max exploring the landscapes of Africa and Egypt
I was becoming an important part of the lives of Jeremy and Max. All of the money I was being paid to work with Max was being plowed back into feeding and purchasing "craft" materials for both of them, but I was spending much more than the sum that came in. And one more thing; I liked these kids, what if I didn't? How strong would my motivation to help them be? Or should one not work with kids where there was not a common bond? I quickly realized that the most important factor in both of these kids lives was the support and love of their mothers. I would not be able to have any influence in their lives without that support both for the kids and for my work with them.
Of course I realized that the more questions I asked the more questions were going to be add to my list.
Methods then: What methods does one use to stimulate the imagination? Perhaps the "trick" is to find a common denominator, something that connects the individual to a personal interest.
Straight F's: that's their record. How do you turn that around? How do you capture the interest of two 13 year olds, in 7th grade, failing, wise guys, too "cool" to see themselves for what they are, failures, then now, and always? How to capture their imaginations, that's the question?
Hiking along the falls at Westfield
I began then with Max, assigned to me by "The Connection" to involve him in an after school program, his interest supposedly audio visual. Then Max's friend Jeremy joined us and we tried several different things including hiking and climbing. Jeremy became interested in the kinetic sculptures I was making and the studio and his interest sparked Max who then wanted to build a sculpture too. Before I knew it there were sculptures here and there around the studio. They wanted to build more but I said that it was time to go home and they could continue the next time.
I left them with the thought: "Take back your education. You own it. It's yours take it back."
With Jeremy's drive to know and delve into computers I knew I could use that as a prime motivator to bring him out of the "cull de sac" he was headed down. And since Max was following in his footsteps both of them could be helped in this manner. I worked with Jeremy to get his computer back on line and then to show him how he could use it to generate academic reports for school. He was interested and made an effort to put together a report based on a report that the three of us did together. I thought giving them a model was important and that was true. Yet, the motivation to concentrate on the academic subjects didn't change much.
We did another report together on Egypt (went to the Russell Library and took out some books) and I tried to show them the connection between the use of natural, local materials as building blocks in both Egypt and Middletown and both boys helped by taking pictures with the digital camera and putting them into a report. That was okay but still no motivation to do anything on their own.
I knew that I needed to "go deeper" into the technology of computers with Jeremy to break through that barrier that had been set up by years of neglect and "abuse." I talked with the boys about what we/they had learned from getting Jeremy's computer repaired by a supposed dealer in Middletown, the shoddy work done and the fact that we'd done this without exploring the "credentials" of the vendor. They agreed. "Now," I said, "We're going to try another route. I know a technician who does good work; he works as a designer for my friend Val.
Two days later when Max called me and I drove over to pick them up I said, "Tell your moms that we're going to New Haven." Both boys went inside and got permission and we headed south. I'd called Barry to see if a visit was in order and he told him what I had in mind which was the construction, for me, of a computer to do my sculpture show in the coming spring. I told him that I wanted the two boys, Max and Jeremy, involved in the construction of the unit and every phase of its operation. Barry agreed.
Jeremy admits his "love" for bunny rabbits
On the way down to East Haven, on impulse, I took a short detour to the home of my friend Jerry, of "Jerry's Pizza" a farm where he kept Emu's, Ostriches, llamas and other farm animals. The boys were excited to see the animals and wanted, like boys, to chase the llamas. I warned them against scaring the creatures and the boys obeyed my words. But when we got to the rabbits a change came over both boys and they wanted nothing but to pet the big fuzzy creatures. "I want a rabbit, like I once had," said Jeremy. "Me too, I want one too," added Max. When we went into the main store area where there were supplies and other material the boys were fascinated by the birds. We stayed for perhaps half an hour and then went on our way.
When we got there, one block from the sea, I stopped at the beach "Cozy Beach" to let the boys savor the sea breeze and the panorama, which to me was life itself. Then we went over to the "shop" which was a combined apartment shop, kitchen, computer center, etc. . . . What a mess.
Barry of Chrystems Computing explains computer basics
Barry began to show us what they had there and what they could do and both Max and Jeremy were mesmerized by his words. I told Barry and his partner Robert what I had in mind for a computer but that the project was contingent upon Max and Jeremy being involved in every phase of the effort and that was agreed upon.
Jeremy told them about his problems with his own computer and then went out to the car to get some spec. sheets he had for computer programming. The two factions had connected. Later, after the arrangement to build the computer had been agreed upon Robert and I talked while Barry showed the boys a new computer game that was a culture simulation, involving as much thought as chess. The kids were fascinated.
Jeremy putting a computer together
We stayed perhaps an hour, then it was time to leave, to stop for supper and let Barry and Robert have their meal too. We stopped at Colonel Sanders for chicken dinners and the kids talked about their visit while I nodded, trying to leave the experience as their own.
As we left the "shop" Jeremy said, "I like those guys. Maybe I could do that kind of work in a couple of years, when I grow up."
After dinner, on the drive back to Middletown from New Haven Jeremy and Max bantered about various kids and teachers at school. I listened but since I didn't know any of the people involved their conversation was almost meaningless to me. Then Max said, "You know, I'm going to do a report on the gods of Rome and Egypt."
"Good idea," I replied, "Some of the gods with animal heads are interesting." Max continued talking but I decided not to push the issue, just to leave it alone and see if he actually did do the report.
Later, out of the blue, Jeremy said, "I think I'll do my homework tonight."
"Good," I said, and left that alone.
Mostly on that drive I kept quiet, not trying to reinforce the visit or to make it into a lecture or anything. The trip spoke for itself and didn't need amplifying from me. But, I was beginning to see some progress . . .
I realized that my work here with these two was important from several standpoints; first was the welfare of the kids themselves; they were caught up in family situations which led only to dead ends; now, if they tried, they might open up some new possibilities for their lives. For my "research" this was an open laboratory where my success or failure would be dramatic. For the sake of the kids I hoped that it would be a beginning for each of them to sort out some of the problems of their lives but mostly it was a time for each of them to gain confidence in areas which they already had some expertise.
I am in the process of finishing up my first semester of teaching at Central Ct. State Univ. and have been asked to teach two additional courses next semester for which I have already agreed. I've asked Jeremy if he'd like to help me develop one of the courses on Web Page design and he's excited about the idea. I don't know if it would be possible to get him out of his school class for a couple of hours a week so that he could spend some time in the classroom at Central but it certainly is a possibility.
Much of my work with these two kids has been involved in rebuilding their images of themselves as valuable people. So far I've made sure that they know that they have become technicians, artists and teachers. Convincing them that they are scholars too is a bit more difficult but I'm working on it. In reality the kids haven't quite accepted any of the roles completely but I can see where they're trying the identities on to see if they fit. In the words of an old song, "If you get an outfit you can be a cowboy too . . . "
On Wednesday, after school, I took Jeremy and Max to the Russell Library to do some minor repair work on both boys' sculptures, then we went to Wesleyan to look at artifacts both African and Egyptian for school reports. We took pictures of Jeremy and Max against the wall-sized world pictures of each boy pointing at his section of interest. Then Jim Gutman opened the museum area and we looked for artifacts from Egypt and Africa, finding a few of them and each kid took pictures of the other with the artifact in the background.
Looking at the ancient world (photo by Jeremy)
Yet, as I was congratulating myself on my small successes with the boys the situation itself was unraveling. I was invited to lunch by the social worker who had assigned me to work with Max. During the meal Tom explained to me that the "contract" with Max was being terminated because he and Jeremy and several other boys had gotten into trouble by breaking the window of a shed in their neighborhood. Now, since the boys had been involved with the courts they were to be dropped, as policy, by The Connection.
"That's ridiculous," I argued. "Now that they're in trouble you want to drop them. Are you asking me to stop working with the kids, to just drop them."
Tom looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. I could see that he was embarrassed. "Yes," he said, "Perhaps you could do it over a period of time, but that's our policy."
"It's a lousy policy," I said.
"Well, maybe it is," said Tom, "but that is the policy. I only carry out the mandate."
"Look, I've invested a lot of time, money and effort into these kids and I'm not going to throw them out just because of some administrative policy."
"What else can you do?" asked Tom, "the funding has been stopped as of now."
"Then I'll find other funding, even if it comes from my own pocket. The LeBlancWorks may have to become a social agency as well as a sculpture studio."
"That's probably not a good idea. What about liability?"
"Do you have any other solutions."
"I don't know," replied Tom, "We could look around and try to find another program, maybe the local Mentoring program; that's a possibility."
"Fine, you look," I said, "In the meantime I'll continue to work with the kids."
We finished our meal, shook hands and went our separate ways. On saturday of that week I took the two boys down to Chrystems Computing Inc. in East Haven to spend the entire afternoon and evening working on computers. We returned home late that night and the boys were tired but well versed in the basic construction and installation of computer modules. Now both of them could put a computer together from basic modules.
If I thought that the boys would be eternally grateful for the "gift" of knowledge I was in for a disappointment. The next time that I met with them, one was quite listless and the other was quite hyper and out of sorts. They asked that instead of instruction at the studio that we have an evening of "fun." I thought that perhaps over a pool table I could get them back into gear but unfortunately the pool room that I knew of was now an exercise room.
So I returned the boys back home early that night. What I did discover from casual conversation with them that evening was that they were both on behavior modification medications, not Ridlin but other substances, both boys on different drugs. That was a surprise and I realized at that point that there were many more levels to this business of educating children than I knew.
I took Max and Jeremy with me to the supermarket and had them purchase the makings of our lunch, determining the amounts for the number of people to be fed, the cost, and then had them pay for the food, take it back to the studio and prepare lunch. I hoped that by doing practical things they would learn something of budgeting and management and some math.
On a Sunday afternoon with friend Mel and his children we had breakfast at the Polish/American club where I began an attempt to show Jeremy what his Polish roots were, what his Polish name meant in English. Jeremy had no idea that he or his name were Polish and so it was a revelation to him, but he didn't seem to want to pursue the subject any further and so I left that aspect alone and we just had breakfast. But the seed was planted and I hoped that someday he'd pursue the idea and find how he was connected in time and space much as I'd done years earlier.
If I thought in my naivety that I had "saved" Jeremy and Max from the "vicious system" then I was wrong. They were still children, and children from shattered homes with anger and frustration as part of their beings, and the thoughtlessness that can be part of childhood. With two other boys they threw rocks at a garage and broke some windows, were caught and put on probation. Jeremy because of his continued absences from school was put onto a lower, highly supervised, special group and his image of himself faltered even more. He can't imagine being promoted out of the seventh grade at this point and feels that no matter what he does in school he will be kept back.
I met with "The Connection's" representative and they told me that because of this infraction with the law they would be terminating Max's "contract" with them and that I should begin to reduce my contact with the boys and eventually terminate it.
I argued that this was the time when the "kids" needed support the most and that I wouldn't consider "dropping" them but would work harder to help them find their way back into the good graces of the system even if The Connection wouldn't support them or pay me for my services. The representative apologized for having to terminate the boys and agreed to help me find another way to work "legitimately" with the children, possibly with the mentoring program in town. .
Yet it seems that the more I struggle to help Jeremy and Max, the more they resist my efforts and seem almost doomed to settle into the mire of mediocrity. From a conversation between the two boys I learned that they are both on behavior modification drugs, not Ridlin, but other medications that I will have to research. Jeremy says that taking his medication dulls his appetite for food and so he skips the drug most of the time.
I've been with Jeremy in one of his "moods" and he is on "the edge." It is no wonder that in the company of other kids he can be easily led to acts of destruction. But at the same time this boy has a wonderful capacity for working with computers and is a wizard at programming. He looks forward to his computer classes at school and he is changing daily, growing, maturing, though he is still very much a little boy.
Max, on the other hand, is further along emotionally and has a girl friend and is trying hard for the first time in his life to get good grades and find his place in life. So it was a blow to him to be "forbidden" to attend a weekend dance at the school with his girlfriend, even though his attendance has improved and his attitude is on the upswing. .
For my part I I have gained a perspective on just how complex this process of education and socialization are, and that there are no easy solutions to the problems of obtaining and giving an education to students within the public schooling system today. Though I don't have any specific answers to the problems in education the journal has provided me with a focus, imagination and its treatment in both the classroom and in alternate education settings.
My mother continues to decline in health, spiraling toward the inevitable, my classes at Central have come to a conclusion and the student reviews of the class were good, I have worked out an arrangement with a small computer company to work with Jeremy, tutoring him in the field of microprocessor construction and programming, Max now has a computer too and will also be tutored along with Jeremy. I will be teaching two courses at Central next semester and need to prepare for them and my agent has arranged for a showing of my sculptures in Harlem in the spring.
Jeremy making signs at the "Computer Store"
Life goes on: Some random thoughts:
Jeremy, who claims he can't read, is working on a screenplay that he wants to videotape. I watched the boy scan his computer screen and his reading rate was faster than mine. At the present time he's writing a script on the computer. Something is "missing" here. Max has been asked to draw the story board.
Both boys spent a weekend building their computer "store" in the basement of the LeBlanc Studios.
Max working on stairs for the basement computer store
I'm trying to work out a storytelling project that can be used with local groups.
The individual still gets lost in our system of education as the resources necessary to track individuals and to work out their problems both personal and academic are too few to cope with individuals.
I wasn't sure just how to include the realization that both Jeremy and Max are now adolescent boys with the inherent changes in their physical selves and the underlying sexual drives that are coming to bear on their lives.
My experience with Max and Jeremy has been an education in itself. The boys might start out excited by an idea and then get started on it. If the "project" got finished at that time it was fine, but if it carried over they seemed to generally lose interest in the idea. I realized that they had a very short span of concentration. So, many projects were started but not finished. If I pulled them back to any of these projects it was usually done under their objections and their work on it was quite lackluster. Though I'm finding that they will eventually come back to ideas and projects we've discussed on their own if left to their own devices.
I could see how an instructor might easily be frustrated in trying to teach them anything in class and that the more time spent on a given subject the less efficient it would be. Now it became clear to me how a child could go to school for years and not learn how to read even with the instructors most ambitious intentions. I spoke with a local elementary school teacher, asking his advice on how much I should "interfere" with schoolwork. He suggested that I was following the right route by leading them into new territories but said that I should probably leave the actual school subjects to their teachers.
I think I needed to do this journal at this time as a reflection on life, looking back to see that over half a century has passed since my childhood and that the world has changed considerably in that period. There have been cultural, social, psychological and family values in the culture that have shifted which I have not been overly in touch with.
The world as I knew it is but a memory and now we live even beyond the fantasy of Orwell's "1984." As a 12 year old I rode the "New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad" by myself into New York City, to spend the day exploring subways, automats, planetariums and museums and the streets by myself, without fear of predators. In the city I rode on the El, searched for Coney Island, met artists in Greenwich Village at the fountain where I sat and listened to guitar players. I visited the Hayden Planetarium a lot and my love for astronomy, not the science, but the romance of the stars grew.
My reading habits moved from childhood "fairy stories" to the worlds of H.G. Wells, then Asimov and Clark, and Ian Rand, then Hemingway and my bookshelf grew from "Little Golden Books" to hundreds of volumes including Joseph Campbell, Gunter Grass, and many others.
The movies continued to be a "love" and an escape but now the works of Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, the Italian neorealists, and films like Bertolucci's "1900, " Volker Schlondorf's "The Tin Drum," and movies such as "The Horses Mouth," and "The King of Hearts," occupied the places once held by Lugosi's "Dracula" and Karloff's "Frankenstein."
I went back to New York armed with a camera and photographed the streets, the subways, found interesting textures in run down factories in the SoHo and listened to new poets in the village, then explored the galleries of the city in search of inspiration for my own work.
Even after after all of these experiences I realized that there was still much to learn, yet I found many inconsistencies in my perception of the world. One of these perceptions concerned the field of "education" and the feeling that I'd gained much of my "being" from absorption in the culture of the world. This misconception became visible as I looked at our system of schooling in this country and condemned it as being ineffective and wasteful of time. It's true that our system is far from perfect, yet it is not all that Gatto claims it to be. Gatto, of course, reinforced my original thoughts as to the inadequacies of American schooling and I fell easily into that trap.
I had chosen my advisor wisely and she was there to say, "Stop! Look at what Gatto's saying but also at what he's not saying." And so I rethought the man's ideas, but at the same time revisited my own education and came to the realization that I was the sum total of that education plus my life experiences. That schooling gave me the "tools" to analyze and to explore those other worlds.
I'll probably never forgive Mister R. for making fun of me or my book report in 8th grade but in truth he and a few others were the exceptions to that education. Most of the teachers, including Mister R., (for the most part) provided a firm guideline in the basics of my life, teaching me how to read and write, to do mathematics and to understand some of the mechanisms of the world, and yes, the universe.
I realize now just how complicated my original question was. "Why don't kids come out of school knowing how to read?" The factors are many and defy simple explanations. That Gatto saw part of the problem is true, but that he lost sight of the whole picture probably also true.
But asking my question and indeed going down a "false" trail, based on Gatto's book was also not a wasted effort. Indeed, by the question and the feedback from my advisor and subsequent reevaluation, I've been able to gain that perspective which I needed to move on with my own explorations. I now can also look back and thank the many teachers for their efforts and dedication to tasks, day in and day out, which is often a thankless tasks.
Portrait of "a culprit"
When disaster strikes
"The Lord of the Rings" opened on a Wednesday afternoon and my friend Michaeleen and I had tickets for the opening show. I sat through the previews and the movie began to roll when my cell phone rang. It was the "Juvenile Matters" board about Jeremy. I spoke with Ms. Maria Holzberg. supervisory assistant public defender, who told me that Jeremy was having his hearing at the juvenile court and she wanted to know how I was involved with the boy.
I told Ms. Holzberg. that I'd worked with both Jeremy and Max as their mentor through "The Connection" but that I'd been informed that my contract was no longer valid since the boys were now in the hands of the courts. Ms. Holzberg told me that she would like me to talk with the boy's parole officer and his public defender and so I did. This woman, his defender, said that she was going to recommend that Jeremy be enrolled in an offender program with other boys to meet three times a week. All this for a broken window and missed school days.
My blood ran cold at the thought of this kid, 13, (going on 10) being "incarcerated" with kids who were involved in more sinister, more worldly matters and I knew that by the end of this "training period" the boy would be harmed, possibly beyond redemption by kids who could teach him their "special" skills. I'd worked with Jeremy now for several months and I'd gotten to know him quite well. I'd spent time alone with him and seen the "little boy" side of him and I was frightened for that little kid. I'd watched the other side of Jeremy, the computer whiz who lived and breathed computers, who took them apart and put them back together again, who studied C Plus Plus out of curiosity and I respected him as a "technician" in the field.
I sat through three hours of "Lord of the Rings," not enjoying a single moment of it, wishing it were over, and feeling a heaviness in my stomach for this boy, possibly condemned by the system. So when the movie was over I sighed with relief as we headed toward the parking lot. As we entered the lobby, my cell phone rang again and it was once more Ms. Holzberg. We talked and I gave her my thoughts on the problem, and that I didn't think that the suggested program was right for Jeremy and that he was doing reasonably well at the present time. She told me he'd been absent two times during the last ten days and I knew that he'd been sick on one of them and had a court appearance on the other. So his absences, though suspicious in view of his many absences, were, in this case, genuine.
On the way to the juvenile center (photo by Jeremy)
I was invited to come in to the juvenile center and meet with the probation officer and others to discuss the problem. I said I'd be there in ten minutes. I found the building, parked, and found Jeremy in the parking lot. That was a surprise as I didn't know he was going to be there. His mother and little sister were there too and together we went into the building, past a metal detector, with two armed policemen. The small waiting room was filled with adults and juveniles, apparently waiting for a hearing of some sort. (I didn't know, at the time, that a courtroom was behind one of those doors)
We talked with Ms. Holzberg. and I told her what was happening with Jeremy and Max and that I thought that Jeremy would be harmed by the program that was suggested. She asked me to talk with the judge at Jeremy's hearing and I agreed to that. So we had to wait for the hearing to begin. We waited outside in the car and I had a chance to meet with Jeremy's public defender. She talked about the Juvenile Justice Center program that she was going to suggest, the three day program where Jeremy would be picked up at school and taken by bus to the program.
I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I visualized this gentle kid being put in with a bunch of thugs and the things he might learn over the next few months. And more too: Here was a kid who was a "free thinker." Certainly he was young and a bit on the wild side, but part of that was an unbridled spirit trying to free itself. He was more like a wild colt trying to run free in the wilds. He needed guidance, not controlling straps.
Jeremy in the midst of finishing his idea
"No," I objected, "That's not a good idea. I don't think such a program is good for the boy at this time. "He's showing results with the program we're working on now and we have plans to involve him in more computer oriented programs. I think the program you suggest may be a good one, but I don't think it fits Jeremy. He's too intelligent and I don't think this kind of program is going to challenge him, only confine and anger him further."
The "officer" argued her point a while longer and then compromised. "What if we stipulated in the court order that Jeremy would not be put into the program unless he violates his parole or is delinquent at school?"
"I could see that," I replied. " I'd like to see his 20 hours of community service done as a Web page designer for the Buttonwood Tree." Jeremy was standing next to us and I mentioned to the woman and to Jeremy that I wondered if Jeremy wasn't trying to emulate his father who'd just gotten out of prison.
Later, inside, Ms. Holzberg asked me what would happen when I stopped working with the boys. I said that I was willing to continue my connection with them for at least the rest of the year and probably longer, perhaps the next two years, if necessary, but that I thought they'd outgrow me sooner than that. (What I hoped was that I'd keep in touch with them for many years to come)
Half an hour later we were called in for the hearing in judge B's chambers and I was invited to sit with the boy and his mother and little sister. It was sad listening to the judge refer to the defendant and to talk about this boy as if he were a hardened criminal and again my stomach tightened. The charges were read off, the breaking of the window by the boys, his absences from school, and all the legal terms used in conjunction with the offense. We were no longer talking about a boy or even a human being but an offender.
Since this was my first time in court I could only listen while the judge asked the boy if the offenses were valid and did he wave his right to a trial and his rights to this and that and every other thing. I felt as if I were trapped in a nightmare world of Kafka, in a room with no doors or windows and there was no way out.
Jeremy was asked a series of questions designed to make him realize that he was at the mercy of the court, having given up his right to a trial, and all rights for that matter. Jeremy answered these questions quietly, almost professionally, using the word "Yes sir," at the end of each sentence. Finally the judge read the verdict of the court with Jeremy's parole of six months and the conditions agreed upon. He was told that he would have to submit to drug testing periodically and submit a urine sample upon the request of his parole officer. Jeremy was sitting directly in front of me and I kept seeing him in relationship to this court and visions of "To Kill a Mockingbird" flashed through my thoughts.
The judge agreed to the terms including the hold off on Jeremy's commitment to the group program with the proviso that he not violate his parole and do his 20 hours of service with the Buttonwood tree. He was also ordered by the judge to continue regularly with his regimen of behavior modification medication which Jeremy had said to his defender causes him to lose his appetite-- a "catch 22" situation. Also, if Jeremy were to be absent or suspended from school he was to consider himself under "house arrest" and was not to leave his place of residence. Curfew set by parent.
There were numerous places along the way that I wanted to raise my hand to interrupt the proceedings and to question the entire process that was going on, but I was a stranger here, more an observer than a participant, or so I felt, and I didn't want to make any errors here, to damage Jeremy or his situation any further than it was already damaged.
We left the courtroom, I with a lump in my stomach. I spoke with Ms. Holzberg. and asked if we could meet at another time to discuss things in general, meaning kids and the law.
We then went into an office with Jeremy's new parole officer, Rob, where the terms of the boy's parole were then clarified and a form made out with the terms of parole on it. I was given a copy of that form. At the end of the form there was a statement that read: "I have read and understand the above orders. If I fail to obey these orders, I can be placed in detention, convicted as delinquent and committed to the Department of Children and Families for out of home placement including Long Lane School." I shuddered at the thought of this "baby" at Long Lane School . . .
Jeremy went home with his mother and sister. I returned to my studio and met with a friend who was doing some cleaning for me. Twenty minutes later Jeremy called and I agreed to meet him and have supper, then visit the Buttonwood Tree and set up the twenty hours of community service. We ate, then drove out to visit Jennifer of the Buttonwood Tree and her husband and two boys. We sat at their computer screen while the nature of the Web site project was discussed. Later, after Jeremy had agreed to do the site, we had milk and cupcakes that Jennifer had made and I drove Jeremy home.
Finally I was able to drive home, passing up the opportunity to drive to New Haven and visit my ailing mother in favor of a few hours of quiet time at home before bedtime. I sat for a few moments in my living room chair and let my breathing get back to "normal" before making these few journal entries. I realized how important Ms. Holzberg had been in Jeremy's case. By calling me in to the hearing she had opened a window for Jeremy, giving him another, almost last chance, to be sure and I had a great deal of respect for this woman who was formerly our mayor.
So too the "new" parole officer, Rob, was a decent sort who I could see would be helpful in any problems that might come up regarding Jeremy. I was determined to contact him in the next few days to see how I might interface with the school and learn what was necessary for both boys to accomplish to pass into the next grade . . .
Where do I go from here? Who will listen? Who cares?
At that point I closed my eyes and slept for a few hours. When I awoke just beyond midnight I came back to the keyboard to add a few more words to this document and to reflect on the revulsion I felt for the way children are treated in this culture. It was all part of the material I needed to understand the culture, the confusion of the times, the lack of a sense of compassion. Yet I could see something of Mister Gatto's arguments about education in effect here. I had had the opportunity to look into the center of the courts, the lawyers, the vast, complex and expensive "machinery" that provided a living to many and was a basic cornerstone of this civilization.
I'd had my first foray into a new landscape, much like the fantasy of "The Lord of the Rings," and it had frightened me. Fortunately my nerve had held up and I think we'd managed to salvage Jeremy's skin, even though this whole adventure had created another, formal, "link" between the two of us. I wondered if the boy would be able to live up to the terms of his "parole." I smiled too at the thought of how "fate" pulls us in directions we'd never imagined as I wondered just how to set up a new project exploring the juvenile court system itself. My simple curiosity into why some children can't read was getting much more complicated than I'd ever imagined it could get. . .
So too I had to look deeper into this "relationship" with Jeremy to understand why I was willing to go beyond "the extra mile" in dealing with him. I had only to verbalize that question and I realized how much he reminded me of my son Tony who had died over a decade ago of AIDS. Yes, they were a lot alike the two, intelligent, curious, full of life but stymied by the culture they were "trapped" in. Rebellion was their answer. . . Yet too I was seeing Jeremy for who he was, and found much that resonated with the child that I'd once been. . . So much for clinical detachment.-
I had to ask myself the question, "What kind of teaching is this?" or mentoring. How far could a teacher go, even with good intentions, into the life of a student? What were the limits? What were the guidelines? How far should one follow one's heart? And I had to admit that I didn't know the answers here, but that the thought of trying to "fly" another's life by remote control was close to being terrifying.
I knew i'd "stuck my neck out" quite a way in taking Jeremy away from the group program and insisting that we could handle the boy's problems ourselves, even without the benefit of The Connection. I had to conclude that I was using a similar technique though, that of behavior modification by trying to give him a new identity, based on his computer skills. No, that's not quite accurate; I wasn't trying to "give" him a new identity but only to stimulate that person that already existed but needed further reinforcement. So too I realized the depth of this commitment, not easily made, not just for the duration of this project but for years to come. I sighed, realizing that I'd just "adopted" a child. . .
It all felt right, what we were doing, I just had to have the courage of my convictions and to keep a close eye on the school and personal habits of Jeremy. He was a smart kid and I knew that I didn't have to relecture him on what he was up against; much of it was up to him now. If there was a "suicidal" bent, if he were determined to follow his father into incarceration, then all was lost. I smiled then, visualizing Frodo looking down at that enchanted ring and realizing the depth of the journey he was about to continue.
I now had to feel some compassion for the courts for they too were caught in their own web, the system of which they were a component part. The folks in this legal world were holding the tail of the tiger. So they held on and hoped for the best. I know that I've looked at the justice system as if at some evil contraption seeking to shackle the spirit of mankind, yet at the same time I knew it was a necessary "evil" just as our military was necessary to deal with the demons such as Adolph Hitler, bin Lauden and the others who would use their power to unfair advantage over others. I knew too that all kids are not good, that some have become quite evil through the fortunes or misfortunes of life. My concern was for the Jeremis who are caught in the system, who don't belong there but still need help. One couldn't adopt all of them, or could one?
I stopped writing at this point and realized that here I was writing about this experience as if it were only part of an exploration, not the fate of an individual; the line between reality and fiction was beginning to get blurry . . .
Jeremy and Max with recently completed sculpture
These kids in our society who are getting into trouble are asking for help. They cry out in their own ways to gain attention and we answer their cry by putting them into jail, punishing them for their pain and suffering in life. We add to their agony as our way of giving aid. It's important to realize that the culprit is a victim who needs help. It's important to put a name and a face to that "culprit" to find the person inside and to help him or her locate that pain in their life and try to relieve it.
Breaking glass is a symbol, a need to excise anger, to throw it away, to smash a thing instead of another person. It is a means to release the anger built inside by years of frustration and disappointment. I remember the great satisfaction I used to have at my cousin's home with a bb gun, shooting bottles in the dump. Sometimes I looked forward to my visits with cousin Don and the thought of those exploding bottles. Perhaps we should set up a program at one of the recycling centers where kids can put on "safe clothes" and goggles and just throw rocks at glass that is to be recycled.
The walls are closing in, have been, in our society so that the rebel, the non- conformist, the Jeremys, the Maxs, have no room to explore the wild possibilities of their beings. Society is too closely packed, too observant to let pass the "wild cowboy" from other ages. Yet, at the same time, these same children must be taught that they have a responsibility to their parents and to the community.
We need more mentors, tons of them, maybe culled from the ranks of the unemployed, or the retired, or perhaps using older school children mentoring younger kids. So too we need to reach out to the parents of these children and get them more involved in their children's lives, "Each one teach one," is an old phrase, one that we need to give new meaning to.
I realized that I needed to go to Long Lane School and see if it were possible to set up a program in story telling for kids, to teach them how to tell their stories, to express what has bothered them during their lives. How many kids who were not "hard" criminals were put in with them to learn whatever was "learned" there?
What happened to the minds and bodies of kids who had gotten into trouble through delinquency, from simply breaking windows, or being absent from school? My whole body shivered at the thought of Jeremy or Max being incarcerated among these unfortunate kids who were locked up for more violent offenses.
At the present time Jeremy has begun his twenty hours of public service working with the Buttonwood Tree. He has met with the director, Jennifer, twice and begun work on their web page. I've noticed that Jeremy's moods have leveled off and he seems to be totally involved in his world of the computer, working on projects, talking with contacts on the Net, and speaking technical jargon with the folks at Chrystems Computing over the Net.
Jeremy laughs more now and that look of distrust and anger seems to have faded a bit into the background of his life. He is a pleasure to be with, and seems to be a happy kid at the present time. My question is: Was it merely the knowledge that someone cared about him and how he fared that made the difference? But indeed there has been a difference, which is as obvious as the smile on Jeremy's face. He says he can't read but I've watched him "speed read" a computer screen and his "time" is faster than mine.
In conclusion: My simple question of why children can't read was perhaps a pretext for the question, "What's wrong with our society." If it hadn't been for my involvement with the boy and the "judicial incident" with Jeremy and the necessity to go into "high gear" to get him out of harm's way, then my exploration would probably have gone off in another direction. As it is my eyes have been opened to the "mess" that our culture has gotten itself into. If I were to put a label on what I think the problem is I'd probably say it's our over concern with material goods. Cars, houses, clothes, computers and all the other things that make up our world have caused us to lose sight of our "humanity."
The culture itself has shifted from being a "reading" culture to a viewing culture wherein the tv screen and the computer have become the primary means of entertainment, "enlightenment" and occupation. It seems as if fewer people read today compared to the pre-tv age and I suspect that there are some children who have never read a book let alone finished one.
I'm sure that academicians reading this "journal" will look at my conclusions and not be thrilled by my answer. I know the situations were obvious, facing me straight on, but I'd gotten out of touch with society. Still, I have to put my own words on "the facts" as I see them. Our culture has run out of love and caring for one another. We have lost our identity, our culture, our nationality and America, which was supposed to become the "big melting pot," wherein all nationalities became American has not really worked very well. Perhaps in time this will change. Maybe because of the recent destruction of the two towers in New York a feeling of national patriotism has begun to emerge.
Standing now, on the porch of my studio, I look into the backyards of Middletown, seeing the houses like ghosts in the mist. I feel perhaps like Don Quixote as he readied his horse in preparation to attack the windmills of the world. . .
"Shaving the Inside of Your Skull" Mel
"At the Edge of the World" Lord Dunsany, Ballantine Books, 1970.
"The Computer in the Visual Arts" Ann Morgan Spalter, Addison-Wesley.
"The Bauhaus - Masters and Students by Themselves." Edited by Frank Whitford. Overlook Press.
Using some of the material supplied by my advisor and teacher Marjorie Rosenbaum I showed Jeremy and Max how to put together a basic report using photographs and quoting information from their sources. The result may seem unbalanced -- professional even in some ways, yet undernourished in others. Still it is a start and they have done additional reports after this one that I've not yet seen.
A School Report
Middletown and Egypt
with Jeremy and Max
There is a pyramid in my backyard at Middletown. Here's our pyramid on the Connecticut River. It seems like people like to live along the river. That was true in ancient Egypt. And it was the same in Connecticut.
If you look at a map of Egypt you'll see that all along the river there are cities and people. Memphis, Sakkara, El-Amarnn, Asyut, Naqada, Deir El-Medina, Thebes, Aswan, are all cities along the river. Along the river you also find gold mines and precious stone mines.
The buildings that we have today in Middletown in the older buildings were built out of Brownstone taken from the Portland Quarries. Today the quarries aren't used much anymore. Sometimes kids swim in them. The buildings in ancient Eqypt were made from stones found under the sand. Maybe their statues were built from the same stones or maybe they were brought there from someplace else. Today's artists work in many different materials including plastic that was not available in ancient Egypt.
digital photo taken by Max from The Ancient World: Egypt by Jane Shutter
digital photo taken by Michael from The Ancient World: Egypt by Jane Shutter
Jeremy exploring the Portland Brownstone Quarry
A Church in Middletown made out of Brownstone
Brownstone Quarry in Portland Connecticut - photo by Jeremy
Brownstone is changed by the weather.
Jeremy explains to younger kids how to use spray paint
Max shows students how he paints one of his sculptures
The boys add finishing touches to a plastic sculpture
Jeremy and Max have had their sculptures accepted at the Russell Library where the artwork will be on exhibit continuing over the Christmas Holidays. The sculptures can be found in the new Video Room of the Russell Library and are for sale. Money so earned will be used for the boys' continuing education.
The two boys, Jeremy and Max, having decided to undertake the founding of a business, "M & J Robotic & Computer Needs." They started out by making business cards on Jeremy's computer. The next phase consisted of creating a business "logo" and a web page to attract business. Jeremy has designed several web pages and is now the "Web master" of the Internet page of the Buttonwood Tree.
M & J Robotic & Computer Needs
Max at the controls
The "Office" of M & J Computer and Robotic Needs
What is it you need? Tell us your technical need and we'll supply the same, within reason, and for a price, of course.
A Conclusion, of Sorts: "Jeremy and Max: two lives."
Just how much effort does one put into restoring the life of children who have found themselves on the wrong track? I know that you can't give it back to them, their lives, unless you convince them that they want to change to something else, something more attractive? And, often, their image of themselves, who they are, is based on role models that are not very savory. But mostly there is anger, intense anger at what they've missed in life; the love, the security, the family who wants, needs and cares for them. That anger boils out in their need to protect themselves, to strike back, to hurt and destroy; that energy has to go somewhere.
There's no question about it. The maintenance cost is high. I work and spend a lot of time with these kids, in fact have become a part of their families, eating with them, baby-sitting for younger siblings with them, isolating both Jeremy and Max from disruptive elements in the neighborhood, in particular kids who have gotten them in trouble before and keep knocking on the door, inviting them out.
Jeremy says "the gang" wants him to join them in "ripping off" merchandise at local stores. He knows they understand how easy it would be to pull him down, to get him thrown into "juvenile lockup." So far he's rebuked their advances. At separate times, both Jeremy's mother and I have told the troublesome boys not to come back to the house, but they do manage to come back, like jackals, in the dark of night. They need help too, these boys who have adopted the roles of predators.
Last week I watched as Jeremy gave his mother, for her birthday, what money he had in his wallet. (money he'd earned with his computer design business, J & M Robotics and Computers) Yesterday I cosigned with him for a business account at The Federal Credit Union. He then spent the afternoon at the Buttonwood Tree doing his community service with Jennifer, working on the computer based Web page. Later he took an order from a new customer for some computer generated business cards.
Max went off to visit for the weekend with his grandmother while Jeremy and I went to a 13th birthday party for Mel Ash's son Ethan. Jeremy picked both the card and gift for Ethan, both appropriate and appreciated by the boy. They spent some time together talking computers and kids stuff. I liked the association as Mel's boy is a straight A student. Yet, Jeremy was teaching him something about computers.
In one sense its like being part of Alcoholics Anonymous, being available almost 24 hours a day in case of an emergency or crisis. I'm hoping that, as both boys settle into their new identities, this will change and a day will come when they go off and lead an independent life, free of my involvement. But at the moment my commitment to them is total.
I suspect that this is the nature of the involvement, a service where an individual becomes mentor and watch person in dealing with the kids, training them, conditioning them, until old habits are broken and new ones are established. I intend to see both kids through this "period of adjustment" no matter what the commitment in time, effort and money, but I can see that this technique is not very reasonable on a larger scale.
WOW! as Masten has said in his poem.
It's been quite a semester, powerful, emotional, draining but exhilarating at the same time.
As to my own quest into the realms of reading and using imagination in teaching I realized how the events of recent months split my efforts into multiple directions. My involvement with "the boys" and the juvenile court system took an enormous amount of energy from me, forced me to use that energy into accelerating the directions of the boys, forcing them out of the habits which had caused them to come into contact with the legal system in the first place. By involving them in projects at the LeBlancWorks and then displaying their works at The Russell Library and other places around the town I was trying to show them another way, the way of imagination. I introduced them to as many creative people as I could, hoping that these folks would become new models for them to shape their lives from.
Part Two: (Next Project?) --Preliminary Draft: in Progress --
Alternative Methods in the Resuscitation of a Life
A look into our system of dealing with the problems of childhood
by Robert White (dit LeBlanc) and Justin Siwik
The question is: "How does society and social agencies deal with its children, and the problems of its children?"
Childhood is a landscape over which everyone has travelled; some remember it well, others have forgotten much of that which is good or bad from that period of time. To some folks the landscape of youth is rich with gentle memories of picnics and happy family gatherings in the warmth of a summer afternoon. To others that day is filled with storm clouds and pain.
Our culture with its many material advantages is perhaps not so wealthy in its spiritual values. Once our nation was a "village" of families with intimate relationships among those family members. Time is change and our culture has moved on to become a "city" where few know their neighbors, and fewer even care to know them.
The child of the neighborhood, once known by all and watched over by that neighborhood, is often neglected and must work through that alienation by him or herself. Anger is usually the result of this neglect or alienation. In self defense our system of legal jurisprudence has constructed institutions to insulate these "kids" who are considered a danger to society. Of course the net result is often a multiplication of anger, since the "abused" so often become the "abusers" as retribution for their own pain.
In this project I would like to look at the "case histories" of numerous children who either are in "the system" or have gone through "the system" to see if there is any way to improve on the techniques of "resuscitating the life of a child."
Also I want to explore, by direct observation, the many alternative sources of education, both in school, after school, extracurricular, judicial, and community resources to understand how they benefit us -- the community of Middlesex.
In addition we would like to explore the relationships between the "advocate" agencies. How to they communicate with each other? Is there any one person or agency who knows the "story" of each child? How does one maintain touch with the "child" within the confines of the information restrictions of our society?
I can envision a system of mentoring in which college students mentor high school students who then mentor those younger than themselves and on down the line to grammar school. There might be a pool of students available so that personality conflicts are avoided, though a one to one matching, where suitable, would be ideal. There would have to be a social service agency available for counseling and troubleshooting where the mentor felt that such a service was needed. This same agency might act as a coordinating facility between the schools, social agencies, the court system, parents and the community. In this way the proper, matching solution, might be found which best fits the needs of the individual child.
I have asked Justin Siwik, a fellow writer and artist to be my associate in this study, since he has immediate and personal experience in the area of childhood trauma.
Rj. White - Jan. 24, 2001
"There is a war going on in the mind of the damaged child; the enemy, once outside him, over time, becomes himself."
FORWARD: I guess that's the way it is with adventures, you don't ask for one; on an ordinary day it just steps into your life, something like Tolkien's story of Bilbo Baggins. But unlike that Hobbit my adventure didn't start with one wizard but two and they were named Max and Jeremy. I never planned on becoming a child advocate but there came a time, later on in the adventure, when I found myself knocking upon a door in the dead of night and when the residents came to the door I said, "Hello, my name is Rob White, I'm your neighborhood child advocate; may I come in?"
The immediate goal of this paper is to obtain help for one young lad (Jeremy, no longer a little boy but now a teenager) who has been lost within the "system" for most of his childhood. This study deals with him, his history, and the landscape he now travels. I have changed many of the names here for obvious reasons. I was appalled that Jeremy, a seventh grader of exceptional ability, put into a special classroom for "discipline problems" was not being treated for emotional damage which, to me, became immediately obvious. Indeed, here was an individual doing advanced computer work who had straight F's for the half-year and who was absent for over forty days since the start of this years classes. .
The longer range goal of this paper is to focus attention on the children within "the system" who have "slipped through the cracks" and remain in a Limbo of sorts. There is a desire to see if it is possible to build a system of tracking that will not infringe on individual rights but through humane insight and intervention help the individual find a good quality of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I don't know what the answer or answers are to this complex problem but I do feel that there is an immediate need to "study" the situation of "the lost child," to find ways to track him or her through better communication. A network may be needed between all agencies of the community to help the troubled individual through individual counseling, mentoring, tutoring or whatever services are needed before that child find himself in expensive legal trouble.
We (his parents and friends and his mentor) hope to have this boy PPT tested through the school system and, in concert with his therapist to arrive at a valid medical analysis of the troubles that ail him and to have him admitted to the COPRA school at Middlesex Memorial Hospital so that he might find help for his "condition," and difficulty in coping with a standard classroom.
This question, which seemed simple at first, led me into landscapes the likes of which I had not ventured into for years (middle school) and also into territories brand new to me. (the juvenile courts) I see no "villains" here, only a society which has grown "Topsy-like" into a very complex mechanism wherein individuals are often lost by lack of a system to "track" them and their problems. Mostly it has to do with too many problems and not enough help.
Later, Susan Allison had an answer of sorts as to the reason folks have been so uncooperative: "They're tired," she said, "Teachers, parents, administrators, policefolk, they're all tired. That's the problem you're running into."
'You're tired too," said Jennifer. "You should back off a little and give everyone including "the kid" a break. You, they all need it.
A Journal is born:
So I backed off for several days, then the day after my mother's funeral I woke that morning and realized that we were living in a war zone where children and others were struggling for survival on a daily basis. Jeremy's story was only one "tale" of a boy in a living hell, in a land of plenty. The streets of the world are filled with all the others. I thought: What if there was a journal with their pictures and their stories, would that make a difference? Would it help them? It wouldn't help everyone of course, Would it give them hope as they tried to escape the doom of their life? Would it not focus our attention on those individuals who are "falling through the cracks?" Could we advocates and storytellers not go into the streets and talk with the victims of "life" and ask them to tell their stories? Certainly we could, but would it do any good or might it do more harm? I don't have the answer to that question, but I thought, one has to try. . .
The Journal Begins
I have been working with two children (Jeremy and Max) over the past semester as a "journal" study with the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Wesleyan University, and as part of "The Connection" program. Through observation I have found extensive problems in the manner in which one of those children has been handled by various agencies through out his life. The study has led me to present several possibilities for consideration by the town and or various social agencies already in existence to troubleshoot said problems and correct any inadvertent oversights.
What is needed:
A/ The establishment of a "child advocacy" program to look into the specific problems of the children of our town. Not only would the advocate be available to and for students to contact if in need, but the advocate or advocates would actively search the communities to find children in trouble and would make suggestions as to the various agencies or individuals who would provide that "help."
B/ I suggest that a study be made of all agencies serving children in the town and an attempt be made to understand the interaction and communication between the agencies and what steps might be taken to prevent children from "falling through the cracks."
C/ A mentoring program (academic mentoring) should be set in place so that all children would have the availability of students who are senior to them to assist in their academic progress. Perhaps students in colleges such as Middlesex and Wesleyan might mentor high school juniors and seniors and those students in turn might mentor those in the immediate grades below them.
Freshmen and Sophomores would then be required to be available to assist children in the middle school and middle school responsible for elementary school. Obviously a considerable amount of study and planning would have to be done to give such a plan any chance of success. With a mentoring program there would have to be an infrastructure so that mentors could pass on problems encountered by their students beyond the academic areas. In addition the mentors might also need academic advisors to handle academic problems which are beyond their expertise.
Over the course of my study I've met many talented people in the community who are doing their best to serve the children in this town in a responsible way. At the same time I've encountered numerous children who have serious problems that have been (inadvertently) overlooked by the community.
During the coming semester I will be taking additional courses which I consider a prelude to a Ph. D. in Education through Wesleyan University's Graduate Liberal Studies Program. The aforementioned points, A through C will be prime considerations in my exploration of the town and its relationship to the children of this community. I will be working with Bob Steele of the Wesleyan Psychology program who will be my advisor in this endeavor.
My motives in this study are a direct outgrowth of the previous observations and the feeling that any child in pain is a candidate for assistance by the community. Toward the objective of studying such inherent problems and searching out a solution to this social condition I would dedicate the major portion of my energies for the coming semester.
Jeremy alias "Knuckles" at six
Jeremy: A Boy Under Siege
A Journal: Some thoughts by Robert White: Jan. 22, 02
An acquaintance told me that the town police had followed up a complaint by a neighbor alleging that 13 year old Jeremy and Max had broken into a backyard shed and the neighbors had filed a charge against the boys. The gentleman who gave me the information said that Max and Jeremy had spent the late afternoon frolicking in the snow after the recent storm and then had traveled through the yard on their way to main street, taking a shortcut through the neighbor's yard.
The neighbor had turned Jeremy and Max in to the police for breaking into the shed in his backyard. Snow tracks had led directly into and through their backyard. It was assumed that they were the guilty party by implication. (even though other children in the neighborhood also used the shortcut.
Furious about the situation itself, I called Jeremy's mother, knowing that the boy was visiting his father and sisters in New Britain over the weekend (after the alleged incident) and told her that I'd drive over to New Britain and pick the boy up. I was extremely worried since this could be constituted as a parole violation since both boys had been involved in the accidental breaking of a shed window back in November.
The tenement in New Britain was dark as I walked up the steps to the sister's apartment and knocked. When the door opened I went inside to find Jeremy at the controls of that family's computer, showing the boyfriend of his sister how to download programs from the net.
Though my anger was seething beneath my skin the drive over had given me control. I sat and talked with the "boyfriend" and then told Jeremy that I was there to pick him up. He said his father was taking him home and I told him to get in touch with his father. Jeremy phoned his dad who was living with his sister and we drove over to their house, several blocks away.
We stopped at the first floor tenement and I had the opportunity to meet his father. My thoughts on that observation will not be entered on paper at this time. I could see that the man cared for his son and we chatted with him and Jeremy's sister. (Afterwards I found out that it wasn't Jeremy's sister but Jeremy's father's first wife) I asked the ladies if they could find some information on Jeremy's grandparents for a genealogy that I was constructing to provide the boy with more of a sense of identity.
Jeremy said goodnight to his father and we started home, but Jeremy had forgotten his camera and so I turned the car around and went back so that we could retrieve it. His father was waiting for him at the door with the unit.
At home Jeremy was supposed to baby-sit for his four year old sister. His mother put the child to bed and stayed with her until she was asleep. I asked Jeremy about the incident and he said that they were using the backyard as a shortcut and did walk past the shed where they'd been chased by two boys who they didn't recognize. (I asked about this, why they didn't recognize the boys, and they said that the boys had hooded winter coats) I don't know what the "real' story is but fortunately nothing had been taken from the shed, though the neighbor insisted on pressing charges. That would mean a court session, probably considered a violation of the boy's parole and the potential for serious consequences.
I decided to take my "journal" notes and go to the neighbors to find out what could be done. Without consulting the boys I went next door and found an irate neighbor who told me many stories of "atrocities" that the boys had committed, including foul language, destruction of property and other petty "crimes." I showed the man my journal and explained how I was working with the boys and asked for his cooperation. The young man explained that he had no respect for the boys at all and half an hour of conversation with the young man at least brought down his level of animosity until he agreed to be as tolerant as he could but was still skeptical that anything good could come from the boys.
Leaving the house I realized that I might have made a mistake and talked with the "wrong" neighbor and so went back and asked Jeremy to point out the house. Indeed it was the wrong house so I picked up my journal and went off to meet the neighbors. I knocked at the door, explained my mission, that I was an advocate of the boys and asked to come in and explain my mission. I was warmly received and taken in to the living room where we sat and I explained the history of my involvement with the boys, showing photos to illustrate the work I was doing.
The couple took a few moments to put their young children to bed and then we began again to go over their grievances against the boys, including the fact that the police had followed a "snow trail" right back to the kids house. (The police jumped to the immediate conclusion that it was Jeremy and Max who'd opened the shed even though the driveway was a shortcut from St. Sebastian's school to the main road)
Fortunately nothing had been stolen from the shed. I learned a great deal of history about Jeremy and Max and could only shake my head at the tale of neighborhood frustration at the two families who were seemingly out of control. I continued with my explanation of my role in both families, my plans for the two kids, both in school and at home.
I explained that I'd only been working with Jeremy and Max for a few months but that I'd seen much progress though I couldn't transform them completely overnight. I was trying to connect each of them to a new identity and I needed time, but agreed that time was a resource the boys were running out of. We agreed that the indiscretions of the boys were mostly minor though a genuine irritant to the neighborhood. I guaranteed that both boys were making great efforts to accomplish that "change," and that already they were "different" albeit not perfect kids, but both of the boys were doing their best to change their attitudes.
The man and woman listened respectfully to my presentation and agreed not to press the charges against the boys and would call the police station in the morning and confirm that fact. Then we talked about the entire neighborhood, the lack of trust and the fear there. I heard that Jeremy had broken the finger, a while back, of their son, now thirteen and living with his mother out of town. (not because of that incident)
I told them that I intended to explore the neighborhood, at least on paper, as a means of understanding the nature of the culture and that I'd not only share my results with the family but would would include them and their thoughts on the subject. More was said but when I left the house I was confident that I'd met an ally. I promised to bring the boys over at a later time to apologize for trespassing on their land and to show some respect for the family and their rights to privacy.
My cell phone rang and it was Max asking where I was. I told him I was visiting a neighbor and would return soon and that he and Jeremy should wait for me. When I returned to Jeremy's home both boys were waiting for me. I vented my anger, yelled at them for creating the incident, then asked for their version. They repeated what they'd said about using the yard as a shortcut and encountering the others who they didn't recognize in the dark. That was a moot point and I realized that it would be hard to ascertain the validity of their refutation of the incident.
I took the opportunity to make a "hard sell" of the incident, that it was time for them to grow up, to stop being babies and to act their age. I told them that I was angry that the situation had occurred but that I was fully behind them even though I was angry that the problem had happened in the first place. I told them that these neighbors weren't their enemy but wanted to trust them and to be their friend.
I said that the folks I'd just visited were good people but that they, like the rest of the neighborhood, had had enough of the rowdiness from the boy's home. It was time for a change. The boys were silent during all of this. I reiterated that I felt as if I was part of the family of both boys and I hoped that they felt they were part of mine.
I told Jeremy that he had to come around, to begin studying at school and even had to take part in Physical Education. I told him that, at his age, I too had felt intimidated at being naked during showers in front of the "gang" of boys who were my schoolmates but that I'd been clever enough to avoid the situation during those years. (I never did shower with them)
As I left the house I saw several boys, one taller with a skull cap walking a dog and two children. They moved around the school and then headed back, through the driveway next to the boy's house, using "the" shortcut, passing the shed, on their way to the main street.
On my way out I stopped by a parked police vehicle, introduced myself, and told officer Richard Davis what I was doing and of my work with the boys. I asked him to make a note of the fact that other kids in the neighborhood were also using the area under question as a shortcut and that their footprints also went into the boy's yard. Officer Davis was surprised that there was a "child advocate" working in the neighborhood and said that he'd be happy to assist me in any way that he could. I thanked him and went on my way.
No matter. The incident gave me an excellent opportunity to make contact with the neighbors, to explain who I was and what my mission was and to talk to Max and jeremy about their lives and what needed to happen to bring about the necessary changes in their world to keep them out of trouble. I yelled at the boys, telling them that they needed to "protect" themselves, that they couldn't continue to get into trouble. I couldn't see that the incident had greatly affected Jeremy, indeed his very calm should have showed me that he'd added another layer of protection to his "shell." Unfortunately the trauma that the police incident had caused him didn't really sink in to me at the moment.
Jan. 23, 01
Morning came. I called Jeremy's home to tell his mother to get him up. When I got there he was still fully clothed, from the previous evening and stretched out on the couch. "Get up," I said. "No," he said, "I'm sick." "I don't care," I replied, "You have to get to school, now get up."
I shook the boy and pulled him from the couch. He jumped up angrily, yelled at me and ran into the bathroom, slamming and locking the door behind him. His mother and I coaxed him to come out but he was crying and told me that he hated me, over and over. I tried to reason with him through the door but had no luck. Finally I said, "Jeremy. Remember, I told you that if you really wanted to get rid of me all you had to say was, "Bob. Go away and don't bother me." There was silence from behind the door.
I sat in the living room and waited, realizing that the arrest the previous evening had traumatized him more than I'd realized and that my actions in trying to force him to school had created the chaos I was now dealing with. Finally Jeremy came out, grabbed some clothes and went back in the bathroom and I heard the shower, then he locked himself in again. After a while I asked him if he'd come out and cook me some eggs since I was such a lousy cook and eventually the door opened and he did. I had a class to teach at Central Ct. and time had already run out for him to go to school, but I wouldn't leave him alone.
Realizing that school for Jeremy was no longer a possibility I called his school to tell them that he was sick. They transferred me to his teacher and she proceeded to tell me that the boy was manipulating me as he'd done with others over the years. I decided to remain silent and not to tell her that I knew this, as I felt that she was not even receptive to my thought. I knew that I was being manipulated but the question that she wasn't asking was "Why was he manipulating?" And beyond that Jeremy's every action, thought rebellious on the outside, were cries for help. I couldn't understand why his actions were not being interpreted in that light.
There was hurt and damage deep down inside him and his external reaction to the world was the result of that damage and nothing, almost nothing that is, was going to work with him until that damage had been accessed and worked on. I felt sorry for his teacher, who seemed to be a dedicated person, as I could see that she had reached some limit. But my "mission" was Jeremy himself, one boy, who needed help desperately and I had to find that help someway, from someone.
I called on my associate Terry at Wesleyan to ask if he could baby-sit Jeremy for me but he had an important meeting and so he agreed to "loan" me his assistant Heric. I called Heric and he came over and so I went off and taught class, two classes, back to back, while Heric "baby-sat." Later Heric called me and asked if it would be okay to take the boy up to Wesleyan to which I agreed.
Later I came back and picked Jeremy up, thanked Eric and took the boy out for a late lunch, then to his home where he immediately got into bed, pulled the family cat up close and snuggled with it and fell asleep. Before he drifted off I asked him if he'd go to school in the morning and he said that he would. Feeling that he was now safe, and that his mother would be home soon, I went over to the juvenile court to try and work something out about the recent arrest. I spoke with Maria Holzberger and she said she try to see what she could do about the situation.
I called Bob Steele of the Wesleyan Psychology Department and asked him what resources might be available to work with "damaged" adolescents. Later Bob Steele called me and gave me Susan Schoonover's number.
Afterwards I drove over to the school and talked with the guidance counselor, Myrtle Turner. We both agreed that Jeremy was a damaged child and needed help as soon as possible. I deferred to Myrtle and she called the number of the counseling agency and then explained the problem to Susan and who gave us the phone number to arrange for an introductory session with the staff.
I drove to Jeremy's home and went over the details with the boy's mother and she called to make the arrangements for that appointment. I looked in on Jeremy and he was still sound asleep (in the late afternoon) and was still sleeping soundly when I left.
Later in the evening I met with Susan and Jennifer of the Buttonwood Tree and told them about my day. I spoke of my need for credentials since I was acting the part of a child advocate it would be useful, though not essential to have paperwork to show this. (Since our society has become so paperwork conscious) As we spoke a youth passed by us and Susan said that he was another who needed an advocate. (Rejected by his parents) I nodded in sympathy but knew that I had to "hold focus" on Jeremy's problems exclusively at this time.
I called a friend and asked for help, to baby-sit with Jeremy while I went off to teach my first class at the semester. My friendship with that family, which I hold dear, came close to the breaking point when I found that they couldn't understand my level of sympathy with Jeremy. I needed their help, at least their sympathy. My friend, in a crisis of his own at the very moment over his car, needed for transportation to work, had a background similar to Jeremy's. He couldn't or wouldn't help.
I realized over the course of the day that my friend was, perhaps, reliving something of the tragedy of his own life and couldn't deal with the boy. (he'd been "thrown out" of his house by his father at age fifteen) And especially, since he had been a "damaged child" himself needed understanding, not rejection. Perhaps our friendship, after this, will be stronger because of the incident.
I thought of all the systems that were clamoring for Jeremy's "scalp" and felt sick that none of them were looking into the depth of the boy's problem, his troubled past. Here was a child that was injured to his very core and it was amazing that he was functioning at all. And he'd committed no "major" crimes, only petty mischief and insubordination.
Through a mammoth effort his mother and I had managed to get him to school for four days straight, a beginning I thought, but the school was now demanding that he sit in a chair and perform like a "normal" child. I wanted to cry, and inside, I was. This was not a normal child, this was a DAMAGED kid and needed repair. He at least needed someone to acknowledge that he was damaged and to begin a process to effect that repair. One thing he didn't need was more discipline, more control, more condemnation. He'd been told and shown that he was a failure over his entire life. What he needed now was help to show him that he could succeed, that he was loved and valued for himself. But before that could happen he needed professional help to analyze the depth of his wounds and some method of healing.
I sat for a moment and indeed I did cry at the thought of all the others. The amount of "man-hours" that I was putting into Jeremy's life was large but how about all the other children who were not being helped by anyone. I thought of Pascal in Trauffaut's "Four Hundred Blows." I remembered the final scene which ends when the boy runs to the sea and finds that there is nowhere else to go, just a vast expanse of emptiness and so I cried again for Pascal and Jeremy and all the others. Well, I needed that.
Then it was time to put the tears away and get to work. There is much to do here. At the moment Jeremy is in need of help. That's the first order of business. Tonight, as a member of the Mayor's panel I'm going to met at the Youth Center and table a request that the panel begin a "study" of the youth of the town and make suggestions as to programs and actions to assist those needs. Later on in the week I'm going to meet with Ken of The Connection to see if we can come up with a program to deal with children who "fall through the crack." It will be a start and then we'll see . . .
I think that every child in trouble needs an advocate, a mentor, or at least a friend. One wonders that with all the people in our country who are retired why can't some of them help here. Perhaps those folks need to be asked. I think I will ask them . . . But, for the moment, Jeremy is the primary concern. Can we help one child? Can we find someone who will help him to learn to help himself?
Rj White -- Jan. 24, 02
There is always the next day: After and I drove over to Jeremy's home, tried to get him out of bed but he refused no matter what I said or did. He lay there covered by a blanket and I apologized for my actions of the previous day. "Look," I said, "I didn't know your story really, didn't know all the abuse but your mother cleared that up for me. I thought you needed a little pushing but that was wrong. It was the same type of abuse that put you where you are now. It won't happen again. " I told him that my anger, though directed at him and his friend Max, was really anger at the way the world treats kids. Yes, I was angry at them too, but only for putting themselves into jeopardy. My anger was also my fear for them. The boy seemed to respond and we talked some more about those two personalities of his, the protector and the protected. He nodded and I knew he was finally "getting it."
I said to the boy. "Jeremy! You and me, we're technicians. We fix things. We make things work. That's who you are, a technician." This was the second time that I'd mentioned to Jeremy that he, like I, was a technician.
Eventually he got up, cleaned up and I knew that school was out of the question. I needed to drive down to my appointment with the therapist clinic to give them basic information on Jeremy.
I talked Jeremy into going out to breakfast with me since I wanted to get him out of the house, if only for a short while. So I invited him and his mother to breakfast at Denny's. At first he didn't want to go, wanted to eat at home, but eventually he gave in. We went out, had a good breakfast and the boy began to "lighten" up and talk some. Then we went back home and his mother got ready for work. I felt that it was important to stay and be with him.
I called his social worker Myrtle at school and explained the situation, how he'd been so traumatized by the arrest over the weekend that he'd gone further back into his "safe world," and that it was difficult getting him out. She talked with Jeremy on the phone. At first he refused to pickup the phone but then he did and listened and I heard a long string of "Yeses" from him but they were given in a monotone voice and so I wondered if they were "real."
When he put the phone down I asked him if he was ready to go back to school, as Myrtle had suggested and he gave me a panic stricken look. "I didn't mean now, today," he said. "Well," I replied, "That's what you agreed to." "No!" he said, "I didn't mean now, maybe tomorrow, maybe."
I could see that the wall had been strengthened. At this time Jeremy immediately began to clean and straighten his room. I asked him if he'd come with me, later when I drove down to the therapist office in Middlebury and he said maybe. Then he said, "but only when my room is clean." "Can I help?" I asked. "If you want," he replied. So, together we worked to clean his room.
It was a good opportunity for me to talk more about him and his "protector." I told him for the nth time that his protector (the abrasive side of him) was a good guy, a friend, who had been taking care of him for a long time and that we "loved" this guy too and had to make that second self feel wanted, needed and loved, that they were both parts of him and needed to come together as one to help each other, to help him.
Jeremy got out the family photo album and we looked through it. I asked him if I could copy some of the pictures and he said it was okay, but not the picture of him in his underwear. (He wouldn't even let me look at that picture)
I thought: And they want him to take off his clothes and take PE with others. No way.
I agreed and took the album with me and reshot some photos as he continued to clean his room. "What page do you want me to avoid," I said, "the picture you don't want me to look at, where is it?"
"It's okay," he said, "You can look."
I found a picture, one of a little boy, Jeremy, crying and being held by his mother. "Jeremy," I said, "I want you to look at this picture. Here. Look at this hurt little boy. That's you, that's the reason that you are as you are. Look at the pain in this little boy's face. He's hurt, that's you, that's why."
Jeremy glanced at the picture and quickly turned away. I could see that he'd seen what I wanted him to see.
A while later I told him it was time to go. He said okay and put on his coat and we got into the car and headed toward the highway. Jeremy wanted to know how long it would take and I told him I thought it might take half an hour. "It's too far," he said, "I don't know . . . "
"It's okay," I said, "We'll stop and get something to eat when we get there. You okay?"
"Sure!" he said.
As we drove down the highway Jeremy said. "I want to write a book about my life."
"When?" I asked.
"Now," he replied.
"Okay," I said, "Let's try the tape recorder."
We put on the tape recorder and tried to dictate into it but the motor noise of my car was too loud, so I pulled over and got out a pen. As he told me his story I wrote it down, then when we stopped I handed his transcript to him.
We found the clinic early, parked, went in and met David, the therapist and told him we'd be back in an hour for our two o'clock appointment. Then we went across the street to order sandwiches and to talk. On the way back we had a snowball fight and he was laughing.
Jeremy said that he wanted to work on his story while I was in with David and so I found a notebook in my car and gave it to him. He sat down on the couch while David and I went into his office and I explained the situation and what we needed from him.
When we were through we went out into the reception office and Jeremy was hard at work on his "book." I said to David that I just might take a seat and wait until Jeremy finished his writing. A short while later Jeremy was finished and we went out to the car. "You have to read this," said Jeremy, handing me the notebook. I looked at the work and knew that the boy had made his first breakthrough. I turned to him and said, "This is fine work. Thank you."
We drove back toward Middleton. This was a different boy now, lighter, brighter, and he was laughing and talking. The defender came out too, a bit caustic and I said to him. "Hi Davey (that's what I called his other persona) You're welcome here. "We" love you too."
We talked about other things, computers and things as we headed home. Once back home Jeremy wanted to work on his "book" to put the information into the computer. He asked me if I still had "that" picture, the one of him, the little boy, crying and I handed it to him. "I want this for my book," he said. Since his mother was home I said my good-bye and went off to meet with the Youth Committee of which I was a member.
Later in the evening there was a call from Jeremy. "Can you come over for a while?" he asked. "Of course," I replied, putting my shoes back on. When I got to his house Jeremy showed me the book which he'd typed into the computer, along with the photo of the sad little boy. "Thanks," I said, "Can I have a copy of this."
Jeremy took a floppy disk, mounted it in the computer and spun me off a copy.
I asked Jeremy if he would consider taking his medication for a while, just to ease the pressure from "the system" on him to do so and he agreed to do that, especially since his mother had been constantly after him to do so. He'd been telling her that he was taking the "meds" but not using them. He agreed to try them from now on.
I include Jeremy's story here:
My Story by Jeremy Grey
"I was born in New Britain general hospital on November 13th 1988. My parents are Daniel and Harriet. We lived many places in New Britain when I was little. I remember that I had a rough childhood when I was little and it still is rough. My mom and dad were doing all kinds of drugs so my two sisters Lannie and Jennie kind of took care of me and raised me a lot of my childhood. After my mom and dad got divorced and my dad stopped doing drugs I moved to chestnut St. in new Britain with my dad and one of his friends. When I was like 9 or ten years old the house was raided for drugs my dad thought it was a joke at first but it really wasn't .
Jeremy's world collapses when his father is taken from him
"My one sister Jennie was visiting at the time so my sister dad and his friend got sent to jail my sister was out the next day she went to the house to do work and I was sent to foster care for a month she called me when she found out where I was and my dad was out shortly as my sister told me he called me and said I will need to go live with my mom for the time being and I said I wanted to live with him still but he said that cant happen and then I said I want u and mom to get back together and he said that wont happen either. So after the month was up I moved form new Britain to Middleton with my mom she was in classes to stop drinking and doing drugs I moved with her when I was in third grade it wasn't so bad living with my mom I just wish they would get back together.
"After 3rd grade I moved to Eagleseye Ave. in Middleton for 4th grade and I loved it I met some great friends and I still have one of those friends that lives right by me his name is Max he has been my best friend since 4th grade and we still are good friends today after 4th grade I went into fifth I started to get suspended a lot and that made me miss a lot of school then I went into 6th grade and I was suspended many more times then in 5th grade and I was also arrested once In 6th grade I passed barely and after I that I was in 7th grade in October I met this guy from Max his name was Robert j white and he has changed my life ever since I met him and there will always be a space in my heart for him because of how much he changed my life.
"In seventh grade I skipped a lot of school and was arrested many times I was put on probation and I started to go to school then I got off probation and I was going to school then I was sent down to alternative ed. in my school because of how many days I have missed of school alternative ed. was no better I was skipping school wasn't doing any work and I got arrested again and was put back on probation so I started to go to school so I wouldn't violate probation but then I started to get careless and start skipping school and that's where we end.
Jeremy Grey -- Jan. 2002
That was yesterday. Today we, his mother and sister, Jeremy and I will drive back to the therapist's office and began a process to help the boy continue to unlock his "demons," find himself and reconnect with the world. . .
Note: When I left Jeremy last night he handed me an electric car of his that had a broken switch on it. "Can you fix this for me?" he asked. "Sure," I said and took the vehicle. This morning I thought about that vehicle. Was this his way of testing me again and I thought of my words to him. "We're technicians Jeremy, we fix things."
I got out my soldering iron, solder and a switch and repaired his car. When I see him today I'm going to hand him the back the car, fixed and working fine. That's what we technicians do, we fix things.
Jan. 27, 02
I drove over to Jeremy's house and tried to get him to go to school but he was adamantly against it. We were due to meet his mother at 1:30 for their appointment with the therapists office. It was early in the morning 9:30am or so and I invited Jeremy, his mother and sister out for breakfast at Andreij restaurant. Afterwards, we went home and rather than leave the boy there I asked his mother if he could come with me to Central Ct. State College where he would be under my supervision.
At Central we went up to the classroom and waited until the class arrived. I introduced Jeremy as my assistant for the day and he took the computer console and brought up images to illustrate my lecture. There was a half hour break after the class and so we went down to the cafeteria in the building next door and bought some lunch. Then it was time for the second class. I'd intended to go over the procedures for Power Point but with all the things going on in my life I didn't get to that and realized that I'd forgotten many of the instructions. Turning to Jeremy I said, "You know Power Point, how would you like to teach this class?"
"Fine," said the boy, "But you have to give the talk."
"That's a deal," I said and gave the introduction, then turned to Jeremy and asked him to take them through the instructions. Jeremy took over the class and ran it smoothly, going through all the necessary instructions, then stopping when a student raised his or her hand with a problem. He got up from his console and moved to the student's computer and in seconds straightened out the difficulty, then he went back to the console and continued, stopping once again, to answer questions or provide examples where necessary. Students would come up to the desk and at first ask me the question which I'd defer to Jeremy, then, after a while, they'd go straight to the boy and he'd go over their difficulty and show them what the problem was.
Within the span of the classroom session the students quickly gained a mastery of the basic principles of Power Point and were constructing their own sequences of images and words. When the class was over Jeremy turned to me and said, "Since I taught the class today, do I get paid?"
I laughed, "Yes, i said, you did well." I wrote him a check for the amount that I thought was deserved and he was satisfied with the amount. Later we deposited the money at a bank account at the local Credit Union which we'd recently established.
We went back to Jeremy's home, met with his mother and drove over to the therapists office in South -------- . I spoke with one young woman while Jeremy's mother visited with the other and then it was Jeremy's turn. Jeremy's mother talked with the receptionist afterwards to try and have the sessions paid for by the State since Jeremy had a card and number, but the state only acknowledged that he was under the care of Doctor Weiss in Middleton and should have gone to him in the first place. They said they would only pay for one therapist at a time and so she had to choose between them. Since our goal was to get Jeremy placed with a program of education and therapy at Middlesex Hospital it was felt that we needed to keep with the school and Doctor Weiss. We paid for the day's session in cash.
The next day Jeremy said he felt ill and didn't go to school but both his mother and I kept checking on him throughout the day. The boy stayed home and was in bed much of the day. His mother tried to contact Mrs. Reale at the school to set up the emergency PPT session as soon as possible. For a while they played "telephone tag" but finally both Jeremy's mother and I drove out to the school to meet with Mrs. Reale who informed us that she couldn't or wouldn't set up a meeting until February 6. We told her that we were dealing with a traumatized boy who needed help sooner but she wouldn't or couldn't budge on the issue. We asked her what Jeremy was supposed to do in the meantime and she said that he was supposed to attend classes as usual.
When we expressed our concern that Jeremy was having trouble adjusting to the classroom setting she was adamant in her mandate that there was no other choice. A visit to the principal's office brought the same response and a continued shaking of his head from side to side in a NO! NO! NO! manner. Once again we emphasized that we felt we were dealing with a traumatized child and that this was an "emergency" but he repeatedly told us that this was a behavior pattern on the boy's part and was merely a stubborn refusal to obey authority.
We asked him to look beneath this "pattern of conduct" for the root cause, the trauma in the boy's life, his recent "arrest" for mischief which would be a violation of his parole, if taken that way by the courts and the realization that his refusal to study in class was all part of the same trauma. Still the principal shook his head: No! No! No! . . .
We left then and went back to Jeremy's house where I had a talk with the boy and explained that we were trying to get him some professional help but that he might have to return to the classroom for the period of time that it took to set up the PPT testing. Jeremy said that he would try.
"Come in," said the man.
I could see right away that this was a good home, children in their pjs, recently bathed, sitting on the couch watching tv with each other. The man and woman ushered me into their dining room and we sat. I could see that my "story" and Jeremy's was going to be heard by receptive ears.
Story -- that was the right word, story. I had a story to tell because I was not only a child advocate as of that moment, but I was a storyteller from way back. My distant ancestor was a character in Longfellow's Evangeline and he, Rene LeBlanc, the village notary of the small village in Nova Scotia (then old Acadia) told stories of the Loup a Garu (wolf) in the wilderness and of the magical spirits that came from the land.
Now I was at a turning point in my life where it seemed as if the goal was to reach out and "teach" children how to tell their story. Certainly Jeremy had made a strong beginning with his piece, "My Story."
Saturday afternoon: My friend Terry called to say that he wanted to treat me to lunch. I hadn't heard from Jeremy and concluded that he may have gone to New Britain for the weekend. Terry and I had Sushi for lunch and then I'd promised Melisa, Jeremy's sister, some clay so we went to Amatos Toy Store when the phone rang. When I told Jeremy that I was buying clay for his sister he asked if I'd pick some up for him (I'll pay you for it, he said)
I said good evening to my friend Terry and drove over to Jeremy's house. His mother was trying to get a babysitter for the kids for the evening and I volunteered to sit for them until she came home. We had sandwiches and made clay figures, animals and people, then I took them out for ice cream. While we were out Jeremy said, almost to himself, but loud enough so that I could hear it. "God! I have to go to school on Monday. I don't know how I'm gonna do that!"
I made no comment, just nodded my head. Later, on the way home, after ice-cream Jeremy said to me, "Maybe when I grow up, you know about 16 or so, you could take my sister, when you're done with me."
I smiled and nodded, "Maybe so," I said, "Maybe so." With that statement came the realization that he had accepted the fact that, perhaps, for the first time in his life he had a permanent figure who he was not going to lose. When we got back to their home, Marisa went to bed, I snoozed on the couch and Jeremy worked on his computer in the other room. Sometime toward midnight, as the children's mother returned, both kids were asleep and I took my leave of the slumbering household.
- My Life by Jeremy Grey - continued -
"In seventh grade I skipped a lot of school and was arrested many times. I was put on probation and I started to go to school. Then I got off probation and I was going to school. I was sent down to alternative ed. in my school because of how many days I have missed. In school alternative ed. was no better. I was skipping school and wasn’t doing any work and I got arrested again and was put back on probation. So I started to go to school so I wouldn’t violate probation but then I started to get careless and start skipping school again.
"I was in between switching schools and stuff and one day I went with Robert to ccsu [Central Connecticut State University] in New Britain. In the first class I just sat back and worked on my website and showed some websites off as told by rob. Then we went to have lunch and we brought our food back up to the class to finish it. When he was about to teach Powerpoint in his second class, he realized he didn't remember Powerpoint so he asked me if I can do it. So I said yeah sure if you can talk for me. So we made that deal and these college kids would ask me how to do this and that and I though it was a lot of fun to teach a class on my own and I hope to do it again sometime. . . "
Now I'm still in between changing schools. I'm on medicine so I can concertrate in class. I have to go back to alternitive ed so I hope it goes better this time I only have to be there for 2 weeks then I'm switching schools and I hope the new school will be better. I'm not sure if it will but I'll just hope for the best in alt. ed in my school. Right now I walk into class and I face to face one of my teachers that gives me a dirty look everyday when I walk into the door and thats what sets me off to get an attitude with her. Thats part of why I dont do work in school the other part is because I dont like to do school work or be in school but who does like junior high?
"I think that junior high is the worse grades to go through. I'm hoping that I am able to go to home school because the new school I will be at for 2 weeks is only temperory for 2 months so after that is up I'm hoping for home school and if I don't get that I will have to go to alt ed again. I just can't wait till I get out of school then I could be free once again to do whatever I want. I decided to make my own computer business since I know a little bit more then the normal user and I think thats enough to know to make a business with. I had a few orders already taken care of so I hope that makes money for me right now so I can buy so more toys!
"Today I sat in court for 3 hours to find out that the damn case was continued. I felt like telling the judge to screw off but I couldn't do that or anything else so I held it in and when I got in the car with Rob I said I can't believe that fucken judge -- he made us sit in that little tight ass fucken room for 3 hours to tell us to come back. Rob said "oh well! What are you gonna do he got a lot of power. Just let it go and let your anger out in a private place. Don't shout it out in the public and I said I know, I held it in while we were in the court room.
"After court my dad invited me and Rob to the CCSU basketball game so Rob drove me to New Britain to see my dad. We read the paper when we got there then we went off to the game. Rob was glad we invited him there and my dad and Rob got to know each other a little better. I thought it was fun to spend a little time with them together specially with my dad. CCSU won that game 77-66. We were glad that CCSU won and we hope they maintain their first place standing."
In an effort to put a perspective on the "adventure" which was Jeremy's life I tried to visualize it as a movie script and to write the script as it happened:
SCRIPT: The Life of Jeremy Grey (A work in progress)
Fade in Titles:
Scene One-- Six: (excerpt) (work in progress)
Scene Six (excerpt)
It is a weekday morning and Bob drives to Jeremy's home to wake him and take him to school. But the boy will not get up and pulls a sheet over his face, pulls himself into a fetal position. Bob tries to break through by slapping the boy, one time, on his posterior and shaking him. 13 year old Jeremy leaps up, angered at being pulled roughly out of bed by his mentor and races to the bathroom, then locks it behind him.
Jeremy: "Get out of here I hate you! I hate you!"
Bob: "Jeremy. Remember what I said to you a while back. When you want me to go away for real all you have to say is "Bob, I don't want or need you any more." That's the power you have. And I'll leave.
There is silence from behind the door. Bob smiles and decides to wait the crisis out. Later he goes back to the bathroom door.
Bob: "Jeremy. If I'm going to go home for the day, then at least come on out and cook me some eggs. I'm hungry."
A few moments go by and then surly Jeremy walks across the floor, and begins to pull eggs and butter from the refrigerator, after which he scrambles two eggs, makes some toast, and hands the plate to his mentor.
It is obvious to Bob that Jeremy has been traumatized by being arrested again by the police for an incident which he claims he was innocent of. This trauma is visible as the boy hides beneath the bed sheets, won't wake up, won't come out from beneath the covers.
Bob: "Jeremy. Listen. I apologize for slapping you the other day. All I was trying to do is break through to you. I will never use that way again. Your mother told me all about your early childhood. I didn't know that you'd been so abused. I'm sorry for that and I'm sorry for my adding to it. You can bet I won't make the same mistake ever again. Do you forgive me?"
Jeremy: (soft voice) "Yes . . ."
Bob: "Will you go to school then?"
Bob: "Why not."
Jeremy: "I don't know, I just can't."
Bob tries again over the next two hours but the boy remains huddled beneath the sheet. He stays through the day but goes home when the boy's mother arrives.
Bob: "See you tomorrow. Maybe you'll go back then."
Jeremy: (whispers) "Maybe!"
Bob walks into Jeremy's house and the boy is still in bed, still hiding beneath the sheet.
Bob: "Good morning kid. How about getting ready for school today."
Jeremy: (mumbles something)
Time goes by and the boy's mother comes into the room and says that she has to drop her daughter off at the daycare and then go to work. She tells Jeremy that she loves him.
Bob: "Come on, how about getting up and having something to eat anyway?"
Jeremy remains under the cover but finally gets up, wrapped in a blanket to hide the fact that he's only dressed in his boxer shorts and trundles to the bathroom. Bob hears the shower and in a short while the boy comes out and they make some breakfast together. Bob keeps looking at the clock and sees the window of opportunity for school slipping away. He is also concerned as he is supposed to teach class at Central Ct. at eleven am that morning, his first class of the semester. He keeps looking up at the clock while meanwhile talking to Jeremy, trying to convince him to go to school
Finally is is late and Bob has three quarters of an hour to get to his classes. He calls his friend Terry and asks for help in sitting for the boy while he's away at class. Terry can't get away but volunteers one of his students, Heric, who is a graduate student.
Bob goes off to class. He arrives with five minutes to spare. When all are present he begins:
Bob: "Let me tell you about my day."
After having picked Jeremy up in New Britain at the home of Jeremy's sister he returns the boy home and settles him down, then says:
"I'm going out for a while. I'll be back in a while."
Bob walks down to the neighbor's house who issued the complaint against Jeremy and Max. He stands before the door, the knocks. The door is opened by a young man. In the background, on a couch sit two small children watching tv. The home looks quite cozy and pleasant. As the door opens Bob says:
Bob: "Hello my name is Bob and I'm a child advocate. May I come in and speak to you about the problems you've been having with the neighborhood kids. "
"Come in," says the man.
Bob has just finished lunch with his friend Terry and gets a phone call from Jeremy. "What are you doing?" asks Jeremy.
Bob: "We're headed to Amatos to find some clay for your sister. I told her I'd get her some more."
Jeremy: "Oh, would you get me some too, I'll pay you when you get here."
When Bob arrives at Jeremy's home he finds a dent in the door where there wasn't one the day before. He enters the apartment and asks Jeremy.
Bob: "What's that?"
Jeremy: "Oh, my mother's boyfriend started horsing around with me. He hurt me and I got pissed and started yelling and stuff."
Bob: "Did he hurt you?"
Jeremy: "No, not really. He's just stupid, that's all."
Bob: "You gotta look him like the big kid he is. He doesn't mean anything by it."
Jeremy: "Yeah, I know. I don't hate him. He just doesn't know when to leave me alone."
Eventually Alphonse goes home and there is a momentary truce in the family.
Bob comes over and Mother asks if he
will baby-sit for the evening while she goes out. Bob agrees and he and
Marisa make clay figures on the table top. Jeremy joins them and makes
two figures and for a while they all work on clay figures. Then they go
out for ice cream on Main Street.
Bob is baby-sitting for Jeremy and his sister Marisa and they go out for ice cream downtown. As they sit on the park bench in front of the ice-cream store Jeremy says:
Jeremy: "Bob, when you're finished with me, you know when I'm sixteen or so, maybe you can take my little sister on."
Bob: "That's a possibility Jeremy, a good possibility."
Bob sits and reflects on this small event, a monumental event in the life of the boy. He thinks: He trusts me finally and knows that I'm not going to leave him until he wants me to. What a breakthrough for him.
At Jeremy's home. Jeremy walks by Bob and says something out loud, as if talking to himself.
Jeremy: "School tomorrow. I don't know how I'm going to do it."
Bob and Jeremy drive to Central and go into the classroom. During the first class Bob teaches and Jeremy sits at the av. console and brings up examples to illustrate what Bob is teaching. After class, during the half hour break until the next class they have lunch. During the second class Bob is about to teach a lesson in Power Point but realizes that he has been so busy with the boy that he hasn't prepared for the subject. He turns to Jeremy:
Bob: "Jeremy. How well do you know Power Point?"
Jeremy: "Pretty good, I think."
Bob: "Good, then you can teach the class."
Jeremy: "Well, okay, but you have to do the talking."
Bob: "Okay, you're on."
Bob gives the introduction and then stands back and lets the boy gradually take the class over, bringing the students, step by step through the introductory steps, then intermediate, then advanced. At first students call Bob over when they have a problem. Bob looks at the problem then calls Jeremy over. Jeremy does a quick diagnosis and shows the student how to solve the situation. Gradually students call Jeremy by name and he goes over to them as Bob stands back and watches.
At the end of the class, students stop by the teachers station and thank Jeremy for his help. When they have gone Jeremy turns to Bob:
Jeremy: "Well, since I taught the class do I get paid for it?"
Bob: "You bet. And based on my calculation here's what you get."
Bob writes out a check for one hundred dollars and hands it to the boy.
Jeremy: "That's too much."
Bob: "That's what its worth to me. You did a fine job of teaching those folks. You taught them, not me. Thanks."
Jeremy looks at the check and smiles.
-- FADE SCENE --
Scene Fifteen (excerpt): It is Sunday morning and Bob's phone rings.
Bob: "Mornin Jeremy! How's it goin?"
Jeremy: "Okay," I guess.
Bob hears stress in the boy's voice and says:
Bob: "How about some breakfast."
Jeremy: "Okay, I guess so."
Bob drives over to the boy's house. The telephone rings and Jeremy picks up. He goes looking for his mother.
Jeremy: "Here, it's for you. It's the asshole Alphonse."
Jeremy's Mother: "Don't call him that! You have no right!"
Jeremy: "Oh no! He threatened to hurt me. He threatened to break me in two. Fuck him! I won't stand for his shit!"
Jeremy's Mother: "Alphonse didn't mean to. He was only joking with you. You didn't have to "go off" and smash the door. Now I have to replace it. It's gonna cost me a hundred dollars. And my refrigerator tray. I have to fix that two."
Bob sits listening as the both sides start to argue back and forth, each one egging on the other, getting fiercer, angrier, neither side backing down. It looks like a full-scale war. For a while he lets the mother rage, feeling that she needs to "vent" her anger. Finally he's had enough and tries to moderate the "event."
Bob: "Let's stop this. It's getting nowhere. One of you has got to backOFF. Please, this is not going to work. I asked Alphonse not to "push the boy's buttons." He should know better than to tease him in any way at this point. We're not dealing with a "normal" child here but one who has been damaged and needs special treatment.
Scene Sixteen (excerpt): In the car driving toward Andrej's Restaurant, they pass a man, a caricature of a man, and Bob laughs, and Jeremy laughs too. Life is a comedy, sometimes. Bob thinks, laughter, what a medicine, Ray Bradbury had it right in his, A Medicine for Melancholy.
Bob realizes that he has to do something
drastic to pull Jeremy from his melancholy and "puts on his comedy hat"
and tries to emulate Murray in A Thousand Clowns to bring laughter into
the boys lives. His ribald humor seems to turn the situation around in
in a short while both boys are laughing and joking, so much so, that when
they get to school the boys almost forget him as they hike off toward the
school doors. Bob lets out a sigh of relief as he turns the pickup in the
direction of New Britain where he is to teach his class in a few hours.
It is Monday morning and Bob picks up Jeremy and Max. Jeremy is up, his hair wet from a shower and looking dragged out but obviously getting ready for school. Bob is nervous and hoping that the boy won't renege on his promise to go to school. Max comes down with is backpack and books and they all go out to the car. They drive to Andrej's and have breakfast then head for school. Jeremy and Max both argue that it's too early to get there and so they drive around and stop by the paintball course. The boys scamper about picking up leftover paintballs. Bob promises to bring them back after school to get more. He also promises to call Curt at the Computer Factory in New Haven and bring the boys down to have their computers repaired later in the day.
"Can we come back and get more paintballs?" asks Jeremy.
"Sure. I'll speak to the owner and ask his permission."
They drive back to school and Bob lets the boys out and promises to pick them up after school is done.
After school Bob does pick them up, drives them to the paintballs field, where he has already gotten permission for the boys to scavenge for paintballs. The two kids have fun finding unbroken balls and have a small battle, throwing the balls at one an other and at Bob. Then he takes them back home where he has a meeting with one of the juvenile court representatives and the neighbor who put in the complaint. At first the neighbor, who promised to rescind the charge seems like he might change his mind but they talk to him and he finally signs his name but insists on the boys giving him an apology. Both Bob and the court rep agree and that term is added to the paperwork.
As they step out of the house Bob can see Jeremy, his mother and her daughter and the boyfriend, Alphonse, sitting on the steps of their place. Bob and the court rep drive around the block to the house where the woman rep talks to Jeremy and explains that he still may have to go to court since the case is on the docket.
Bob takes Jeremy and Max in his car, they load in the computers for repair and head to New Haven, stopping to eat on the way. Bob drops the boys off and asks if they mind if he visits his sister in North Haven for an hour to go over plans for his mother's funeral this coming weekend. When he returns an hour later the computers are still being worked on and time goes by. By the time they leave both boys are yawning and Bob is upset that the repairs took so long. He's worried about the boys being overtired. When they get to the house Bob insists that Jeremy take his medication. He then leaves.
Scene One (Exerpt)
Bob drives to Jeremy's house, expecting to pickup the boy and take him to breakfast and then school. Jeremy is still wrapped in blankets on the couch. Jeremy's mother calls him for school, tells him he has to get up.
Bob: "Come on Jeremy, time for school."
Jeremy squirms and tries to hide beneath the sheets.
Jeremy: "No. I'm sick. I got sick after I took my medicine last night."
Bob turns to the boy's mother and affirms that he came in to her bedroom after midnight with severe chest pains perhaps 5 to 10 minutes after he took the prescribed medicine.
Bob: "Get up and I'll take you
into the emergency room."
Jeremy will not get up and rolls over and hides beneath the blankets. Max comes downstairs, ready for school.
Bob: "Max, I'm sorry but you'll have to take the schoolbus and you'd better grab breakfast upstairs."
Max nods his head and goes back upstairs.
Bob: "Come on Jeremy, you gotta at least put in an appearance at school. Got to make out that paperwork."
Jeremy is quiet and squirms but doesn't get up. Bob goes to the computer.
Bob: Jeremy, I need your help. Can you pull up Power Point on the screen? I need to practice some for my class at eleven."
Jeremy groans and gets out of bed, goes to the computer and locates the program. Bob asks him to show him how the repeat function works and Jeremy sits at the console and does the routine.
Bob: "Now that you're up, want to get me some breakfast?"
Jeremy goes to the kitchen and gets out the pancake mix.
Jeremy: "We don't have any eggs. I'll make you pancakes."
Bob: "No, that's okay. I'm really not hungry anyway. How about going to school with me and going to the nurse."
Jeremy: "No that won't help. She'll just tell me to put ice on it."
Bob: "Do you still have pains?"
Jeremy: "Yes, but not so bad."
Bob: "Don't take that medicine again until you see the doctor and get his opinion, probably a change of medicine too."
Jeremy nods his head.
Bob: "Jeremy, you gotta help me to help you. I can't do it by myself, without your help. Watching you is like a man watching his young son who is caught in the stream and headed for the falls. He yells out to the boy to use his arms, to swim, to help himself but the boy seems helpless to help himself. The man can only watch in horror and sorrow.
Bob: "Think that you're on a cliff and the cliff is going to crumble if you don't do something quick. You don't have much time, what do you do?"
Jeremy shrugs, "I don't know."
Bob: "Then you're dead."
Bob: "Do you have a deck of cards?"
Jeremy: "Yes, should I get them?"
Bob: "No, just imagine there's a deck in my hand. Here I spread them out. Pick a card. Okay. Now, it's your move."
Jeremy nods his head.
Bob: "There's not much more I can do for you son without your help. I'm fighting a losing battle and I'm losing you and there's nothing much that I can do. You need to do something. You need to help yourself."
Bob puts on his coat.
Bob: "There's nothing much more I can do here. I'm going to get ready for work. Call me."
Bob: "Anytime. Five minutes from now, ten minutes, an hour, whenever."
Bob closes the door and gets into his car. He sits there for a few moments then drives off to prepare to teach his classes. Half an hour later he has a thought, needs to check to see that Jeremy is okay and calls him.
Bob: "Jeremy, I need some help with Power Point. How do I activate the recycle mode."
Jeremy explains how to do that function and Bob thanks him and hangs up. Half an hour later Jeremy calls.
Jeremy: "I put some music on your website, for your students. Here's the site address."
Bob: "Thanks, I'll tell them. Good luck today. I hope you make some decisions."
Jeremy: "Is it okay if I call you later?"
Bob: "Of course."
Bob goes off to teach his class. As usual he gives the class an update on the Jeremy situation and thanks them for being a friend to the boy when he taught them Power Point last week. He shows them the document he's working on and tells the class that there is power in words and that they, through their projects can make a change in the way of the world."
Later, after supper with his friend Steve, he drives to Jeremy's house and returns Jeremy's camera which the boy left in the glove compartment of his car. The boy has a "new" haircut and Bob laughs and tells him that he looks funny. Jeremy smiles as he sits at his console with Max's older brother, both talking. Bob goes in and reaffirms the court hearing the next morning and says that he'll be there. Alphonse is working on a bookshelf for the little sister in her room. Bob remarks to the man that he does excellent carpenttry. As he's leaving he tells Jeremy that he'll see him in the morning. Later he and Steve go to the movie, "Blackhawk Down." Toward the end of the film the phone rings. and it's Jeremy.
Jeremy: "I just wanted to let you know that my court hearing is tomorrow. Did you know?"
Bob: "Yes I did and I'll be there. Ask your mom if she'd like to go out for breakfast first. I'll pick you up at about eight thirty."
FADE - END OF SCENE -
I realize that "Jeremy" is still testing me and my limits. I need to sit down with the boy and have him read over the scenes with me and make adjustments in the dialog, the action and the character's voices.
In the parking lot behind the "ClockTowers" I met Joan Miller and talked with her. I explained the advocacy work that I was doing and she said that, according to surveys, for every year the child is "abused" he will need two years of therapy to overcome the results. "But Jeremy has been manhandled for six years and I've only been working with him for four month, almost."
Joan nodded: "You see what you're up against," she said.
I'm not sure how long it will take to get Jeremy through the "valley of scars" that litter his life, but I hope to be part of the voyage for however long it takes. I do believe that the path is one of developing, over time, trust and faith which have to be earned one day at a time on both sides. And, on both sides, there is bound to be pain as well . . .
-- to be continued --
Today, Saturday, was my mother, Catherine White's funeral service. Jeremy called and said that he'd like to come with me and so I picked him up and we drove down to North Haven, stopping for breakfast on the way. We brought along Jeremy's computer too as it was infected with a virus and we planned to drop the "sick machine" off in New Haven later on.
We arrived at St. Theresa's church just on time and met my friend Clementine at the door. I stood there with Jeremy and "Clem" and met relatives as they arrived, introducing Jeremy as "my grandson" for indeed that's how I saw him now. The service was well attended, practically full of relatives, friends and neighbors with eulogys read by my brother in law Steve and his children, Paul and Mark. After the service we went back to my sister's house where there was a reception and I introduced Jeremy to others, recounting the story of his teaching "Power Point" to my class at Central Ct.
"Now you have two families," I said to Jeremy. He nodded and replied, "I know."
Susan Allison had the answer, or at least one answer. I was getting ready for Jeremy and Max's court appearance for trespassing on a neighbor's property and for his going into a shed without permission. (3rd degree burgalry) I called Susan on the phone late last night to tell her that I'd left a copy of my proposal to the mayor on her front steps.
I don't understand, I said, "It seems like I'm getting snowballed by the courts, the school, the social services agencies and all, but mostly the school is uncooperative and won't work with us. It's very frustrating."
"They're tired," said Susan, "They're all tired. That's what it's all about."
I thought about that for a moment and realized that she was right. "Hmmm!" I replied, "I think I see what you're getting at."
As I slept on that thought, overnight, it became clear the following morning. Sure enough, Jeremy is tired from fighting the "system" his mother is tired of fighting for him, the teachers are tired of dealing with overloads of problems, and usually working two or more jobs to make ends meet.
The administrators are tired of dealing with mounting problems, costs, rules and regulation, recalcitrant students. The neighbors are tired of kids breaking windows, or breaking into sheds or walking on their property or fighting with the neighbors kids or defending their kids, or arguing with their own kids. The police were tired of chasing cars down highways which have led to several deaths among their ranks.
This is a tired, worn out culture. It makes sense. Then even small transgressions become major ones and anger is often the result. That anger removes the scale and proportion out of everything, makes the smallest infractions into mountains, and when the infractions are repeated and repeated it leads to a blowup.
I stopped by the Buttonwood Tree looking for either Susan or Jennifer but no one was there. Just as I was about to leave Jennifer walked up to the door and so I got out of the car. We went inside and I told her about my frustration in trying to work with the social agencies, how they didn't seem to work together and weren't really giving us any breaks.
"You're working too hard with Jeremy," she said. "It's time for you to slow down, back off and give him a little air. Let him be. He'll do the right thing eventually. I know he will. He's a smart kid. You just have to trust him. He'll come through for you and for himself. All he needs is to stay in school for another week or so until things get straightened out. Just tell them that. Keep it simple, don't make it complicated with all that psychology stuff. Just let him know that he won'd have the same teacher forever. . . "
So I backed off for several days, then the day after my mother's funeral I woke that morning and realized that we were living in a war zone where children and others were struggling for survival on a daily basis. Jeremy's story was only one "tale" of a boy in a living hell. The streets of the world are filled with all the others. I thought: What if there was a journal with their pictures and their stories, would that make a difference? Would it help them? It wouldn't help everyone of course, Would it give them hope as they tried to escape the doom of their life? Would it not focus our attention on those individuals who are "falling through the cracks?" Could we advocates and storytellers not go into the streets and talk with the victims of "life" and ask them to tell their stories? Certainly we could, but would it do any good or might it do more harm? I don't have the answer to that question, but I thought, one has to try. . .
ESCAPING MOUNT DOOM
Child Advocacy in the Twenty-First Century: Our Stories
Featuring: My Story by Jeremy Grey
"I was born in New Britain general hospital on November 13th 1988. My parents are Daniel and Harriet. We lived many places in New Britain when I was little. I remember that I had a rough childhood when I was little and it still is rough. My mom and dad were doing all kinds of drugs so my two sisters Lannie and Jennie kind of took care of me and raised me a lot of my childhood. After my mom and dad got divorced and my dad stopped doing drugs I moved to chestnut St. in new Britain with my dad and one of his friends. When I was like 9 or ten years old the house was raided for drugs my dad thought it was a joke at first but it really wasn't .
(The story continues . . . )
Now silently weep in your heart,
Your heart shall be filled with joy,
And your mind shall find peace.
The city is crying,
Antone Pimental (Rhode Island - 1968)
I don't remember exactly where the thought of homeschooling came from but suddenly that was a solution to an almost impossible solution and a possible salvation for the boy. I went up on the Internet and retrieved what information I could find and it seemed remarkably easy to begin this process. I searched for and found the process and even forms needed to begin the process and took them to Jeremy's mother. She agreed with me that it might be a possible solution to our conundrum.
Once the paperwork was completed I went to various instructors who I knew and asked if they would serve as Jeremy's teachers:
NAME OF STUDENT: Jeremy Grey DATE OF BIRTH: 11-11-88
ADDRESS: 121 Eagle Lane
|NAMES OF TEACHERS:
Robert White (MALS), Clementina Valentino (Ph.D. Education), Heric Flores (BS), Gail Bishop, Marina Melendez, Mel Ash, Terry Sofrin, Donald Albert, Suzanne O'Connell, , Brian O'Connell, Steven Ambrosini, Chris Gallagher, Chris Bartolotta, Maria M. Holzberg, Tom Hickman, Aquin Valentino, Dennis Siwik.
Robert White (MALS & CAS. Professor at Central Ct. State Univ.) 426 Main St., Middletown Ct. 685-1435
|Maria Madsen Holzberg (Attorney at Law) 344-2986 -- Ext, 328|
|Clementina Valentino (Ph.D. Education) New Haven, Ct. 467-3520|
|Heric Flores (MC, Physics Candidate Ph.D.) Middletown, Ct. 685-6829|
|Gail Bishop, 121 Birdsey Ave, Middletown, Ct. 343-0731|
|Marina Melendez (MALS - Graduate Studies Office at Wesleyan Univ.) Middlefield, Ct. 6852000|
|Mel Ash, (Published Author) Grand St. Middletown, Ct. 347-6343|
|Terry Sofrin, Newington, Ct. (BA. Mec. Dir. Multi-media at Wesleyan Univ.) 301-4799|
|Steven Ambrosini, Wethersfield. (Teacher East Haven High School) 214-1547|
|Don Schattan, North Haven. (Electronic Services) 203-239-3628|
|Aquin Valentino, (Townsend Technical Associates) East Haven, 203-466-7004|
|Chris Gallagher, East Haven, (Founder Chryistems Computing Inc.) 203-468-0585|
|Chris Bartolotta (Food Preparation and Service) Middletown, 343-0731|
|Tom Hickman, (Family Video Productions) Middletown, 635-1578|
|Brendan Murphy (Global Currency Channel: Chief Exec. Officer) Main St. Middletown. 860-346-3586|
|Dennis Siwik (Construction and Plumbing Techniques) New Britain.|
|THE SUBJECTS TO BE TAUGHT ARE:
|TOTAL NUMBER OF DAYS SCHEDULED FOR INSTRUCTION: 180 DAYS|
|TEACHER'S METHODS OF ASSESSMENT OF STUDENT PROGRESS: A MIX OF TESTS, WRITTEN REVIEWS, AND OTHER EXAMINATIONS INCLUDING A REVIEW OF A DAILY JOURNAL|
|AN ANNUAL PORTFOLIO REVIEW WILL BE HELD ON OR ABOUT: JUNE 1, 2002|
Robert J. White: (Professor of computer science at Central Ct. State Univ.)
February 4, 2002
7:30am The previous evening I had asked my student, Jeremy X, to design and produce six "electronic paintings" using the graphics program Paint Shop Pro. When I arrived at Jeremy's home in the morning, our first order of business was to make sure that he had something to eat immediately. (orange juice and a pastry) Then we reviewed his homework assignment, the graphics, which I evaluated and graded with an (A).
8:00am: Jeremy cooked us a breakfast of scrambled eggs after which we drove down to Durham Ct. to observe the Monday morning "Flea Market." Jeremy's assignment was to talk with some of the vendors and obtain an overview of this ongoing process and then to begin a history of the Durham market, interviewing vendors, learning something about each individual and gradually writing a story about this venture. (This project is an ongoing event and this first visit was primarily a data gathering excursion.)
*(I purchased some wood picture frames while we were there and as I hadn't brought any cash along the vendor gave me credit until the following week. We also purchased a selection of paperback books to begin Jeremy's Library including, Huckelberry Finn, and a dozen other books whose titles will be listed in succeding pages.
8:45am: We visited Wadsworth Falls where Jeremy photographed the falls themselves, the ice buildup at the base of the falls and the enormous erosion caused by the continued erosion of the rock base over millions of years. Jeremy was to develop questions to accompany his images for later discussion with Professor Suzanne O'Connell of Trinity College.
9:00am: Visit with Maria Madsen Holzberg at the Juvenile Court. Maria agreed to become one of Jeremy's instructors dealing with the court system as part of Citizenship category. We also met for a short while with Jeremy's probation officer, Robert Bibbiani, and provided him with the "Notice of Intent to Homeschool."
9:30am: Trip to Wesleyan University's media center to meet with instructors Professor Terry Sofrin and Heric Flores to obtain "feedback" on Jeremy's artwork assignment. Professor Sofrin reviewed the images and gave Jeremy an (A grade)
10:00am: Met with Graduate Student Heric
Flores to discuss outline for Jeremy's work in the area of science.
Professor Flores suggested that Jeremy join his physics class at 1:00 pm.
10:30am: I received a telephone call from Woodrow Wilson Middle School inquiring into Jeremy's whereabouts and I informed them that Jeremy's mother had decided to go the route of "homeschooling" with myself and others as his instructors. I told the school that I would deliver the notice of intent to the Board of Education sometime during the day. We agreed to continue with plans for the Wednesday meeting (PPT) at Woodrow Wilson on Wednesday of this week.
11:00am: Returned Jeremy home to get a short rest and have some lunch while I needed to visit the Board of Education with the petition for homeschooling for Jeremy X and also to visit the Curriculum Office to obtain an understanding of the material which would be needed for Jeremy's program of study and eventual evaluation.
1:00pm: Arrived at Wesleyan's physics department and to 73 Science Center where Jeremy joined Professor Flores class which was studying calculus through a series of experiments to calculate the volume of charge on an electronic capacitor. At first Jeremy seemed ill at ease with the new situation but gradually he became part of a "team" of two other Wesleyan students in exploring and timing the effects of charge and resistence on capacitance charge and discharge. After half an hour I observed that Jeremy had adjusted to the new surroundings and was an active part of the team.
3:00pm: When the physics class was over I met with Jeremy and informed him that his classday was over and that time was now his own. I took him home and he visited with his mother and sister, then invited his neighbor Max down and I took the two of them up to the Wesleyan soccer fields for an hour of soccer practice and exercise, running, etc.
Jeremy's mother informed us that she had purchased two Harry Potter books for Jeremy and she gave them to him when we arrived "home."
Jeremy and Michael fed the rabbits which we'd recently purchased at Jeremy's request. I thought his idea was a great one since it would give him something to care for and it would help him to develop responsibility since he'd have to feed, water, and clean the cage every day. Jeremy decided to share his rabbits with his friend Michael and his five year old sister Marissa.
5:00pm: We met with teacher Steven Ambrosini for pizza at Jerry's pizza. Jeremy brought his Visual Basic textbook and he and Steve went over some problems that Jeremy was having with the program. Mr. Ambrosini suggested some possible solutions to the problem and Jeremy agreed to try them out. Later Mr. Ambrosini laid out the work in the textbook that he expected Jeremy to do overnight. (Chapters One and Two)
6:00pm: We went over to Radio Shack to purchase some equipment for Wesleyan University's AV Center at the request of Professor T. Sofrin. Also surveyed the stock of electronic cameras and compared features, then purchased a camera for use by my "Webpage Design" class at Central Ct. State Univ.
6:30pm: We stopped at Staples and compared digital cameras there. Jeremy and Max looked into communications devices and decided to pool their resources to purchase a pair of two-way communicators.
7:00pm: I left the boys at their home and told Jeremy that I would come by at 8:30am the following morning but would leave him at home to do his homework in Visual Basic while I attended a meeting at the United Way. After the meeting I would pick Jeremy up and take him with me to Central Ct. State Univ. to assist with both the Computer Basics Course and the Webpage Design Course. (Prior to this Jeremy has taught the class in a presentation of Power Point)
9:00pm: I was at The LeBlancWorks, working on a kinetic sculpture, when Jeremy called to inform me that one of the communicators he and Max had purchased at Staples did not work and we made plans to return the unit for replacement the following day.
Pickup the New York Times and have Jeremy scan the paper, taking notes and making reference to International, National and local news to gain an overview, then looking for articles which are of particular interest to him. Cut out articles or scan into the computer and file for reference and to build up a "morgue."
7:14am: I called Jeremy's home to confer with Jeremy's mother and we agreed to let Jeremy sleep until 8:30am when he will get up, eat and begin his homework in Visual Basic. Then off to visit Suzanne O'Connell and get her approval to use her as an instructor, same thing with Donald Albert. On to the Science Tower to do some printouts and give them the tape recorder (ordered by Terry Sofrin) for use today at Wesleyan.
8:30am: I went to a meeting at the United Way, while Jeremy worked with his computer on the Visual Basic assignment that Steve Ambrosini gave him.
10:30am: Picked Jeremy up and took him with me to Central Ct. where he worked with students in the Webpage design class and in the Intro to computers course. Jeremy gave a demonstration of his website and how to use Hyper-Text Marking Language. We took a half hour break between classes for lunch. At 2pm we were finished and headed back toward Middletown.
2:30pm. We toured the Oddfellows Playhouse and looked at some of the programs that were being offered. Jeremy was lukewarm at the moment but we discussed his taking photos of some of the plays and he thought that might be a possibility. At Wesleyan I picked up a copy of the New York Times and gave Jeremy instructions on how I wanted him to research the newspaper, first looking at the headlines and International news, then national, then local and finally looking for subjects, usually technical, that were of interest to him.
3:00pm. We met with Ranganathan to work on the website for the Buttonwood Tree. I drove Jeremy over to the young man's house and then I sat and read while the two worked for over two hours editing the material. Then it was time for supper and home. I told Jeremy that we were going to New Haven in the morning, after the PPT meeting and would visit the Peabody Museum where he could begin work on his "Timeline."
Several interesting events occurred during the day. The first was my observation of how quickly Jeremy's mood changed, seemingly within minutes during the afternoon. I surmised that he needed a quick intake of food and so drove over to Neon Deli where he had some chili and beef and a power drink. His mood quickly revived which seemed to lend credibility to the theory. Later, when I mentioned the occurrence to his mother she said that she often experienced the same phenomenon during the afternoon and she was surprised that I didn't know the experience.
At Ranganathan's home that evening as I was waiting for the two to work on the Buttonwood tree homepage I looked though the young man's mother's book collection and found the title: Using A Reality Therapy by Robert E. Wubbolding to be intriguing and read the book while the two were working. I was amazed to find that the techniques I'd been following were practically step by step identical to the technique of Reality Therapy proposed by Wubbolding.
Home schooling Goals for the Education of Jeremy Grey:
In concert with Jeremy's mother we discussed his needs and came to the conclusion that he needed tutoring on a one-to-one level. Then, having made the decision to homeschool Jeremy it was a matter of putting the event into motion. I went onto the Internet and located the necessary papers and procedures to begin the action. It looked remarkably simple, just fill out the form, have it signed by his mother and submit the document to the board of education.
We filled out the document, then put together a list of individuals who we wanted to have him work and study with. Then it was a matter of contacting each of these individuals and gaining their approval. Out of ten there was only one on the list who declined. Jeremy's mother signed the document and we brought it to the board of education who looked over the form and said it was good but that they would like us to use their form and have it signed. That was done the following day and then we returned it. I spoke with the superintendent of education who was a very pleasant and intelligent gentleman who seemed quite receptive to my plan and offered to assist us in any way that he could.
In the meantime I asked for and was granted permission to use the syllabus library at the Board of Education to began to put together a program of study for Jeremy based on the fact that we had only five months to cover a year's worth of information. I realized that I'd have to find some short cuts here, probably through the use of graduate students both at Wesleyan and at Central.
My overall design was to look at Jeremy's textbooks and come up with an outline of the material to be covered. I felt that it would be important to involve Jeremy in this process. In fact, Jeremy should be the one who would do the outline with my assistance. Then it might be a matter of connecting him to the appropriate tutors and finding ways to illustrate the principals involved in an attractive fashion that would engage his attention.
During my talk with the superintendent of education we discussed the "whole" Jeremy and the fact that below his now calm exterior there might be scabs developing over festering wounds of damage caused by the trauma of early childhood. That damage which occurred at that time, in my opinion, caused him to create a "split personality." I call those individuals Jeremy and Davey with Davy as the caustic defender and JJeremy as the defended.
Over the last two months I have spoken directly with Jeremy about his condition and about the "dual personalities" and suggested that he needed to bring the two of them together. "We love Davy too," I said, "Don't ever let him forget that, but Davy needs to understand that he's hurting Jeremy and so he should "pull his punches" and not get both of you in trouble. Over time you need to bring the two of your selves together into one person, both of them working for your good and not your harm."
Jeremy heard me and when I showed him a photograph of his "hurt" self, he wouldn't look at it for a while. In fact he took a quick look, then turned his head away. Half an hour later, Jeremy asked for the picture and scanned it into his computer. A day later, on our way to visit therapist friends and driving toward Waterbury, he said that he wanted to write the story of his life. The aforementioned photo was included as the center of his story.
We have begun his studies starting with a two hour course at Wesleyan in calculus at the Physics Department under the tutelage of Professor Heric Flores. In addition Jeremy has become an accepted regular in both of my computer "design" courses at Central Ct. State Univ. and freely circulates among the students troubleshooting their problems in Webpage design and other computer related areas in which he has become somewhat of an authority.
We intend, through a series of field trips, to introduce him to areas such as museums at Yale Univerity and then the Museum of Natural History in New York and Boston's Museum of Science. By constructing a "time line" in history to the development of science and philosophy we hope to give him an overview of civilization; then to "plug in" the specifics of individual disciplines such as math, science, English, history and the numerous other academic studies. We will be consulting with authorities in their respected fields as to the most efficient way to approach each subject and to find "age appropriate" material for him to assimilate.
Each morning I will obtain a copy of the New York Times and I have instructed Jeremy that he needs to scan the newspaper, looking first at world news, then national news for an overview of what's going on in the world and in our country and to enter said references in his journal. Jeremy volunteered, "Can I cut things out and make a collage of them?"
"Yes," I replied that would be excellent, "Good idea."
Yesterday I tried to open a path for him at the Oddfellows Playhouse which he has been quite cool too. Now I will have to show him how not to fear that part of his development, expressing himself, his emotions and feelings to others. This part, I'm afraid, will be difficult. I did obtain from him an agreement that he might consider working with the group as their photographer, taking pictures of events, plays, process and the likes as documentation for the Playhouse itself. This is an area in which we will have to tread very softly for his emotional state is at the heart of his problems. If he decides, after having become part of the process of watching others express their feelings, that this route is right for him then it will be his choice and his timing that pervades.
We have begun a path that I hope, with the help and goodwill of others, will bring hope and light and a good education to this boy who has felt more than his share of pain in the few years that he has spent in this civilization. In addition, I have spoken to Jeremy too about his obligation to others, to help them and that I hope, one day, to see him standing behind the teacher's desk as the primary instructor of a classroom. Time and God willing we will achieve that goal if that is the boy's choice or, perhaps, he will choose another direction and that will be fine too.
Rob White dit LeBlanc: 6:11am on Wednesday, February 6, 2002
I went to the office and was told that the meeting would be held in the guiidance office so went there and asked where the meeting was to occur. No one there knew that answer but one individual said he'd go to the office and find out. Later he came back and told me that we would meet in the main office. I went there and found Jeremy's mother waiting. We sat and talked, then met the guidance counselor who informed me that I was to be an observer and not to say anything at the meeting.
Finally the vice principal came over and told us that the meeting would take place in the guidance office and so we returned to that place. The conference area we were to meet in had a long table but was also filled with skiboards and knapsacks. We wedged ourselves into the space and the guidance counselor reminded me that I was to listen only but not to speak. I told her that I was Jeremy's homschool teacher and she said that the school hadn't given permission for that. . I told her that we didn't need the school's permission and that we had already begun. the meeting started as people filtered in.
Jeremy's teacher was called to give her impression of the situation and she expressed what we already knew about his reluctance to patricipate in the schoolroom activities. Then the guidance counselor gave her impressions and finally Jeremy's mother was asked for her view on the subject. When she had finished I turned to the guidance counselor and said, "I'd like to give a short presentation, with your permission." The guidance counselor said, "That' up to our chairperson," and pointed to the woman in charge.
"Certainly," she said, "If its pertinent to the boy."
I began my talk by showing a sketchbook that I'd borrowed from Jeremy that morning with colored pictures of houses, cars, motorcycles and the picture in bright colors of his mother. Then I showd them pictures of the "disabled" Jeremy as a small child and went thorough the various stages of my work with the boy. Gradually the frowns around the table disappeared and were replaced by smiles as they began to get the drift of what had been done here.
At the conclusion of the meeting the chairperson and all of the folks involved were in agreement that my homeschooling for Jeremy was the most appropriate method to deal with the "problem" at this time.
With the meeting at an end, I drove back to Jeremy's home to pick him up. He was rather comatose when I arrived and I could see that he needed much more sleep, for whatever reason. So I told him to close his eyes and that I'd pick him up later. I drove to Wesleyan to check mail and visit with some folks, then returned an hour later. Jeremy was up and at his computer. I had him drink some orange juice and he was already eating cereal and we headed down to New Haven.
We explored The Peabody Museum, visiting the dinosaurs, mummy's tombs and animal scenes. Jeremy used his digital camera to take pictures of almost everything. Then we sat down where I talked about time lines. "Here's the first line," I said, "It goes from the beginning of time to the end of time."
"That's not possible," said Jeremy.
"I know," I replied, "but just imagine that it does. It's a measuring device."
"Now, here's where you come in, let's say right about here. Now, let's draw another time line, shorter this time, say a million years. Okay. Now another maybe a thousand years, then another for a hundred years, another for ten, another for one, another for one year, then one day, then one hour, then one minute, then one second."
"And then a millisecond," said Jeremy.
"Right, you've got it," I replied, "You can use these time lines with your birthdate as a reference for anything that has ever happened or that ever will on the Earth, in the solar system, the universe and the many worlds of IF."
After the museum we had lunch on State Street, visited a bookstore, and drove down to City Point where I showed Jeremy the beaches where I had grown up. We walked along the shoreline and I asked Jeremy if he wanted to take pictures. "No," he said, "not now." He asked me if I'd put together a schedule for him so that he'd know what to expect each day. I said that I would but that it would take me a little time and maybe he could help put it together with me. He nodded that that was okay.
We had a phone call from Steve Ambrosini at East Haven Highschool and he drove down to City Point to meet us. Then we walked over to my relatives place and visited for a short while with Uncle Red and Aunt Marilyn. Steve said that he'd like to spend some time with Jeremy going over the boy's assignment in Visual Basic and so we drove back to Middleton. Jeremy was very tired and napped on the way back. I left Jeremy with his mother and Steve, going over Visual Basic while I drove to Wesleyan, then back to the LeBlancworks for a short nap before supper.
Later I had a call from Jeremy, telling me that he was doing his Visual Basic and asked if I'd finished duping a videotape he'd wanted. I said i would and then drove it over to him on my way out to supper. At Jeremy's I found him at the computer terminal working out a problem in Visual Basic. I sat with him and talked with Max who was visiting from upstairs.
"You've had enough for one day," I said to Jeremy. "How about putting things away and getting some sleep?"
"All righ," said Jeremy, putting a bookmark at his place in the Visual Basic book, then closing it and turning off the computer. "I really am tired," he said, "but I've got to feed the bunnies first."
I watched Jeremy lift the rabbit hatch cover and put food and water into the enclosure. He yawned and I waved goodnight as I closed the door on the end of the day.
At home I opened my mail and found out that my teacher had given me a B+ for the course. I laughed. "She wants blood," I thought, "I guess I chose the right teacher then, but I've still got some blood left in the end."
Then, with some time of my own I relaxed and reflected on the day. I felt a bit sad as I thought of all the bright minds, perhaps even geniuses who may have been lost because we wouldn't give them "special handling" but insisted on forcing them to our so called normal standards. I thought, "Well, we can't change the world, much, but let's see just what we can do . . . "
-- END OF STUDY -- (Then again, maybe its only the beginning)
As an assignment I asked Jeremy to "construct" some pictures for me with computer graphics. The following morning he handed me the following images that he had collaged:
WELCOME TO: JEREMY GREY'S GALLERY
Thanks to teachers: Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Nutile, Mrs. Doody, Mrs. Cram and even that rascal Mister R., who taught me, through adversity, to defend myself against the system (and himself) . . .
Thanks also to:
Mel Ash, Sarah, Aren and Ethan
Jennifer Hawkins and Marc Italia and their two children William and Daniel.
Ms. Maria Madsen Holzberg
My mother, Catherine White (dit LeBlanc)
Susan and Steven Allison
Arthur "Jerry" Wensinger
John Sease and family
Justin & Michael
and others . . .