Friday, 18 September 2015

A Faintly Amusing Aside on Schooling

The origins of my surname are in the French 'Joubert', which hundreds of years ago was anglicised to 'Jubert'. This makes my surname quite rare, and thus quite useful as a username, because no one else ever wants it.

However, there are other Juberts out there, and frequently they make the same assumption as I - that we are rare enough to have unique usernames - and this results in my receiving from time to time emails meant for some Jubert on the other side of the planet (they are mostly in Canada and China these days).

Today I received the following email:
Hi, this is Mrs.[Name Removed], Jason's teacher. I was wondering if there was a time that we could meet to discuss Jason's behavior? I know that you work so I wasn't sure what would fit into your schedule. Is there any day next week that you'd be available before or after school? 
Jason received another pink slip from the bus supervisor today. It is stapled into his planner. 
I feel that Jason is a smart boy and is not working up to his potential due to making poor choices. 
thanks for your time.
Mrs. [Name Removed]
Since I have no children, I have concluded this email was intended for some other Jubert. However, since it is my birthday today (thirty-one if you must know) I thought I would have some fun and send Mrs. [Name Removed] the advice I would have liked to give my teachers twenty years ago. I quite liked the writing, and so I figured I would reproduce it here for posterity. I don't pretend that this advice is easy to follow, nor that it isn't biased. Frankly it's just venting some steam. All the same, I believe in the core message. Kids get a really bum deal in school, and we can do a lot better. Enjoy!

Hi Cindy, 
Good to hear from you, and sorry to hear you're having difficulty with Jason. I agree Jason is probably a smart boy, and I have no doubt he is not living up to his scholastic potential. Without knowing the exact details of the pink slip it's hard for me to know what the appropriate action to take is. 
The best I can do is try to draw lessons from my own experience. I was a smart kid when I was Jason's age, and my teachers found my behaviour disruptive (which of course it was - but try explaining that to a kid!). In the end I was suspended multiple times and it was decided best I be sent to a school with a much less disciplinary culture, where I actually thrived. Today I am every bit as rebellious as ever I was - but now there is no one telling me what to do, and I am able to hold down a well-paid creative job. 
When you're young and smart, you're made distinctly aware by every facet of society that you are different: by your peers and by adults. Lessons move too slowly to be of any real interest, so you start acting up. Typical pass-times often feel mindless and mundane; but the more rewarding intellectual pursuits that keep me busy today such as philosophy, debate and political protest aren't made available to younger people. 
What I'm suggesting is that while Jason's behaviour is proving a problem in the context of school, he is simply reacting to the environment being forced onto him, and he maybe requires a different kind of treatment to other children. Discipline is never, ever, ever going to work, because Jason is probably smarter than you and me put together. In fact, authority in general is part of the problem - Jason needs to be free to explore who he is, and he will never accept the word of an authority figure as justification for anything. He needs to know for himself. 
In my experience, school tends to reward sheep-like behaviour. Learn your times tables, learn how to spell, learn how photosynthesis works; learn the rules, don't question the rules, follow the rules. For someone with some intelligence and independence this will only be a destructive force in their life. Children have all sorts of skills, passions and talents which often go completely ignored in favour of forcing them through traditional scholastic disciplines where they all have to think the same. I don't want this for Jason, nor for any child. 
I would be happy to meet with you to discuss this matter in more detail, however I think it would be most appropriate if you were to get directly in touch with Jason's parents or legal guardians, who will be better positioned to talk to Jason and yourself about the situation than I am, being as I am a stranger on the other side of the internet who happens to have a similar email address to whoever you actually wanted to talk to. 
Nonetheless I hope you will take my comments to heart, and I would be most grateful if you would also share them with Jason's guardians. Not everyone knows how to deal with a smart, rebellious kid - sometimes it takes one to know one. 
Best of luck in all your endeavours,
Tom Jubert 
PS To you they are poor choices, to grown-up me they are poor choices; but to young Jason they are the only choices he sees available to him. The trick is not to try to 'correct' his poor choices to be more in line with those of the children who unquestioningly do as they're told; the trick is to offer him better, fairer choices that cater to his particular needs.


  1. Similar experiences in school? Completely different ones?

    I think if teachers could all enjoy the same financial incentives, respect amongst the younger generation, and sheer passion and inventiveness shared by some of the wonderful people in video games we'd be heading in the right direction. Sadly the state thinks the best way to get good teachers is to cut funding, privatise the sector and encourage graduates with nothing better to do to accept the role as the only reliable route out debt.

  2. That was surprisingly relevant to my time in school as well; bravo, well written.