They are always the same, the kids who get in trouble at school. They respond to a tease with a punch at their tormenter. They don’t go down the slide; they start at the bottom and climb up. Sometimes they get kicked in the face.
You stop them and explain the better way. You counsel them about the rules. And they nod and stare at their shoelaces and resume the behavior that carried them into trouble.
Kids will be kids, you tell yourself, but it’s not true. Most kids run and jump and play and do the right things with admirable correctness and consistency.
Then there are the kids who get in trouble&emdash;always the same kids&emdash;and you see them and wonder where they will go in life. How much havoc will they know?
I volunteer a couple of hours a week at my kid’s school in the Sacramento City Unified School District. I hang around the playground at lunch recess and try to maintain peace. I check essay questions in the classroom. The work is rewarding and I recommend it.
The playground is best. That’s where you see things&emdash;the future generation’s social foundations being poured. When I hear California education superintendent Jack O’Connell or Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talk about education, I wonder whether they have spent much&emdash;any&emdash;time watching elementary school kids at recess. Political double talk doesn’t exist among people who supervise playgrounds.
Recess supervisors cut to the chase. They reprimand a kid for playing too rough or swearing and send the child away. And they mutter something about the parents, the unseen void behind the trouble.
Playground supervisors aren’t much into embracing deep psychological explanations for bad behavior. Recess monitors believe kids reflect parents. He had to learn those words somewhere, playground supervisors say. It’s all about the home life.
I like the kids who always get in trouble. There’s something about them. In the eight years I’ve been hanging around the playground, I’ve tried different ways to bond with them. Nothing works, because I’m around them a short time every week. The best I’ve come up with is, Knock it off while I’m out here. You’re making me look bad. They enjoy having the power to make me look bad.
I didn’t get into much trouble when I was a kid. It was thanks to my father. He worked in the California prison system. He talked to me about prison and even took me to prisons when I was a kid.
For a couple of years, we lived at a prison, outside the double razor-wire fence and within view of gun towers. Our gardeners were inmates. Tear gas blew into our living room during riots. Those were formative years.
My dad believed when people get accustomed to prison, they enjoy it. It becomes home. That’s why so many ex-cons violate parole and go back. His goal for me was simple: Don’t get accustomed to trouble.
I hate to think any of the kids I watch at recess will end up in prison. But there are a few kids I wish I could take to prison, just to visit, so they could see the consequences of trouble.
Then I think about their parents and how trouble is defined at their homes. And I wonder whether anything I do on the playground matters.
R.E. Graswich co-hosts the afternoon news with Kitty O’Neal weekdays on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK AM radio and reports nightly for CBS 13