Suspicious in Gate and Manner

Essays

One of my favorite students, lets call him “Josh”, from my time teaching at a little experimental public school, lets call it “Charter High”, just sent me a great email. Josh is barely 15 and a chronic liar, suspicious in gate and manner and and seemingly lives on Mountain Due and coffee with 20 sugars. He trusted me because I started things off by saying I that I’d trusted all my students implicitly until they proved to me this was a mistake. He would lie by instinct, but I would always ask him things a few times and look him right in the eye. He usually ended up telling the truth or saying he couldn’t say. Jose asked me several times a week if I smoked dope, hated my boss, every did this or that. I’d always say I would not answer him because it was not professionally appropriate, and that fascinated him I think because I wasn’t lying, or telling the truth, I just wasn’t saying.

Josh didn’t do much work and was angry, victimized, untrusting and constantly trying to work around the system and rules. His home life was shit, everybody except him diagnosed and medicated for something with both parents working full time. His father drunk in the garage after work, giving his kids money if they brought him beer. The land behind their house had a trailer and lots of woods where parties we’d hear of happened unsupervised and people often stayed for days. We heard rumors of lots of explosives and guns at the parties, with 4X4 mudding and all kinds of drugs and the occasional cat torturing. This is not uncommon in the more woodsy parts of America as far as I have seen.

His big brother was kicked out of Charter High earlier in the year and ended up crying like a baby on the way out the door. He had been stealing and causing trouble as a big tough guy. He is getting arrested more and more we hear.

Josh, the younger of the two, was kicked out this June. He cried a little too.

Both boys don’t know how to function in a trusting community at all. Both are smart.

Josh is a hardware and software whiz, script kiddy, and gamer. He can fix anything and when he did study, it was a breeze. He is a grade ahead without trying. He reads and writes very well. And to my endless surprise Josh has an amazing sense of people and social dynamics. He would often comment to me on some interaction I’d had with an adult and be spot on about what was really happening just form body language.

The day sent in my last end of year assessments I bumped into Josh. I’d just written up the narrative part of his assessment and been very harsh, he it is:

“Comments

Josh didn’t do much work this quarter at all despite starting lots of projects and appearing to work on them. He has the intelligence to graduate a year early without breaking a sweat, but he didn’t even get close to getting out of phase. This saddens me because I feel he has a rare combination of smarts. He is perceptive and aware of people in their social interactions, while also being naturally good with technology and computers. This combination is much valued in society. But he has yet to become aware of himself and where his self-destructive behavior comes from, so he is still doing his best to sabotage his future, engage in fruitless fights against systems that are trying to help him, and subverting those same systems in constant small ways. I will miss his perceptive remarks about the world around him and his computer help.”

So I’m walking home down the sunny summer main street of this small NH town after finishing my teaching contact and the last assessments when I see Josh and another of my former students sitting on bench in a side ally in that high school way – just sitting, not talking, and just sort of hanging out waiting as if for a super model to fall off her bike in front of them, or a bag of really good dope to fall from the sky.

I take a seat and we chat a little.

Josh asks me, “so did you ever smoke dope?”

“Oh yeah!” I say without skipping a beat, “I went through that phase,” the teacher in me adds.

Later on when Josh gets the end of year assessment he emails our director all pissed off. I respond that I stand by every word and didn’t want to hide my thoughts from him.

And he sends me this email written in IM slang (he could write clean when needed):

“Caleb,

thats cool that ur wokring somewhere u like n all charter high is a big fucking energy consumer. and hey im not pissed off or nething bout the essesment its cool, besides got to ask [the director] why shes always such a bitch lol…oh hey i finaally figured out why i was at charter, i was really stoned the otha night and was thinkin, and figured out some shit, for example i was at charter because at monadnock all of the stuff i learned was totally unimprotant to me and i didnt think it would help me at all in my future and at the time didnt give a fuck about it, so i went to charter as an alterative, but eventually figgured out most of the things there i didnt give a shit about and wouldnt help me, but i did learn more there that will help me in the future than i did at monadnock…it dont matter though im gonna go to monadnock for a while till i decide weather or not to graduate or what the hell to do, its cool though.

hey i g2g”

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