Friday, April 1, 2011

Boys to Men

"Okay fellas, we got trouble."

The culprits sat on a picnic bench facing me. Three fifth-grade boys.


"If I say to Mark, 'Hey, let's go over to that game store on Venice. They have tons of great games there. You talk to the come up with dumb questions and stuff...and I'll just snatch a couple of games and then we can share them, okay?' "

Eyes wide.

"Let's say we do that. Mark didn't steal, right?"

The boys shake their heads as one. Nope, Mark's good. He didn't do anything wrong.

"Okay, try this on for size: What if Dominick says mean things to a girl in Shakespeare Club? And Mark and Oliver laugh and egg him on, but it was really Dominick that was bad, right?"

Nods up and down from Mark and Oliver. Oddly, Dominick was still.

"Wrong. You all couldn't be more wrong. In this country, we have something called being an accessory to a crime. In this country, if you aid and abet, which means helped or encouraged, you're all wrong. So, when I go to jail, Mark's going to jail. When Dominick goes to prison, Mark and Oliver are in the next cell."

Mark's hand flies up.

"But, Ms. Ryane, I didn't—"

"Before you go any further, did you try to stop Dominick? Did either of you say, 'Hey man, not cool?' "

Not so much.

"A few years ago I had to fire a boy from the Shakespeare Club for bullying. He got three xs and he had to go. He cried. He begged. His teacher and I sat down with him and he cried some more. But you know what? That boy became a better boy. His schoolwork improved. He stopped bullying. He became his best self. So, as you see, I have a problem here, right?"

Sort of see, but not really. No, we really don't see that.

"I can find another Demetrius, another Theseus, another Oberon. Believe me, I have a long list of kids waiting to play those parts."

With furrowed brows they understood that.

"One of the jobs adults at school have is not just to make sure that you're good boys, but that you grow into good teenagers and become great men. If I kick you out today, there's a good chance that will happen. See what I mean? I have a problem."

Their worn sneakers suddenly became very interesting.

"I hear everything because everyone tells me everything and lots of people think you should be kicked out."


"I like you and I love you, but you have lost my respect."

We sat with that. A spring breeze riffled over us. A bird tweeted.

"You each have xs. You are each very close to the edge. I'm watching and listening. I want people to tell me the kind things you've done. I want to hear really good things about you. You need to get my respect back."

It's near impossible to get boys to sit still, but they were still that day.

We'll see.

If I was Queen during William Shakespeare's time I would invite him to my palace and let live there. He would get the second best room (I would get the best). He would get very nice clothes. He would also get good food. He would peform for me at my palace.
—Audrey, 3rd grade

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