Working with at-risk students is a unique occupation. Their lack of filter and lack of awareness of their own precarious psychic state can manifest in some surreal behavior, projecting both fantasies and real experiences into the classroom in the form of drama that can simultaneously reach the level of the lowest comedy and high tragedy.

One day a group of young women came to give a talk on teen pregnancy. With them they brought one of these strange little dolls that simulates a human child at a very basic level. If you mishandle it, the thing emits a warbling, distorted cry that only faintly mimics that of a real human infant. It’s a horrible sound, which perhaps it’s intended to be. At one point the doll began to “cry” and was passed from the arms of one student after another who attempted to soothe it’s artificial agony. Suddenly, one of my students leapt from his seat, grabbed the doll by its arm, wrenching it from the lap of a hapless student.  He then proceeded, with a look of studied determination on his suddenly altered and older seeming  face, to whack it several times across the cheeks with his palm and the back of his hand. This caused the tiny chip that serves as the doll’s brain to come unstuck or become corrupted so that its cry then sounded like the strange gurgling of a dying baby seal . At this point, of course, the entire class broke into uproarious laughter and any serious intention brought to the event went right out the window.

But my point is not about the inability of this particular educational community to be effective in trying to help these students cope with life and the real world beyond the doors of this high school where they will very soon find themselves. That would be material for another, much longer conversation. What floored me was something caught between the violence of the act and the carefully studied manner in which he performed it. And this is why, when he came to my classroom later that day and had trouble staying in his seat and became agitated and jittery for no apparent reason as he so often does, I allowed him to be free to roam about the room, to try to relax those internal demons that appear to keep him from attaining any kind of stillness or from being at peace.

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