Table manners

13.4.10

A student will receive first and foremost a social education, even in college, heck what am I saying, especially in college. As a teacher it is no different. You are receiving a social education through your students, faculty, parents, community, etc. But you’re also supposed to be a leader or role model in this social education.

Life is essentially a series of social experiments, cultural experiences and studies of relationships. School is not only a direct reflection of a society’s beliefs, it’s a social cesspool, universe, playground and beehive. It is where children learn how to behave in a group. It is where we learn how to conduct ourselves around other human beings.

Unfortunately this doesn’t necessarily happen in the home. If you’re raised by buffoons there’s a strong chance that buffoonery will be part of your social programming.

One of my children had the fascinating habit of eating with his mouth open. I know. Gross, weird, how did the parents miss this one, right? But I was also surprised by how many children did not sit down when they ate. I had to train some of the children to do so. In fact I was surprised by how many children had bad manners. How much of this is due to generational differences, I don’t know.


Anyway we ate our snacks and lunch together as a class, sometimes I would read, sometimes we would play the game “no talking during lunch or no recess” but most of the time the children were allowed to sit with friends and be social little creatures but they had to earn this.

Inevitably the children noticed that #8 ate with his mouth open so we could all enjoy the sight of his oat cakes and other macrobiotic friendly snacks. Well, the children would have none of this. I think I started to notice #8’s eating habits around the same time most of the class did but I felt the need to keep my mouth shut and watch how this would play out. Peer to peer learning is a powerful thing.

A couple of my girls approached me, “Miss Cox, #8 chews with his mouth open.” The look on their faces was precious. Total disgust.

“Yes, we’ll have to say something, won’t we?”

“#8 please chew your food with your mouth close.”

I might as well have told him that pineapples grew on the moon because like the golden pineapple my words floated off into space. But the beauty of this situation was the children would say, “#8 please close your mouth when you’re eating. It’s gross.”

How I loved catching the look on the other children’s face as they turned away from #8’s lack of self-awareness, smacking away. It was hard not to laugh out loud. But he learned. He learned to close this mouth – at least in the classroom. He had no choice. Oh, and I told his parents. Uncomfortable conversation but a necessary one.

***

During my second year faculty members stopped coming by to watch me teach or give advice. Things started to settle down and I started to feel like I was given space to just be with my class and enjoy the process. But then the Core Group decided it would be best if I had an assistant and it seemed silly to refuse the extra help.

Most of my class knew Mrs. Raccoon as a kindergarten assistant, although she had been moved this year and was currently assisting in Mr. Wolf’s first grade class. Because of this, her presence in my classroom was resented. My children didn’t want to be seen as babies. They were second graders. Had the adults gone mad?

Mrs. Raccoon’s assistance turned out to be her standing disapprovingly at the back of the room. It was infuriating to look up and see her shaking her head. I felt like my freedom and sanctuary that I had tucked away in my room was being violated. Not unlike when a parent goes through its teenage child’s bedroom or journal. My class probably picked up on this. They probably picked up on Mrs. Raccoon’s prying eyes too. Those were sad days. She was like a breath of stale air we couldn’t let out.

One morning as the children were working in their main lesson books, Mrs. Raccoon took a black crayon away from #8. “You can’t use this color.” She admonished. Well, #8 would have none of this and asked, “Why? Why?” then burst into angry tears.

Immediately I was at his side patting his back and trying to quiet and soothe him. Then I grabbed the black crayon out of her hand and put it back on #8’s desk. I practically slammed it down. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a few of my students smiling at the justice restored.

I pulled the older woman aside, “Why did you do that?”

“The children shouldn’t be using black.”

“Why not, who says so?”

“Steiner.”

“No he did not. Show me where he says that. You will never ever do that again. This is my classroom and if you feel as though I’m doing something wrong talk to me first.”

“Mr. Wolf doesn’t let his class use black.”

“I don’t care. This is my classroom.”

She shook her head and stepped aside.

I stared at her. Just because she was a grandma didn’t mean she could question my authority in front of my own class. She was not Waldorf trained and so she compensated by reading many books by Steiner. Unfortunately all that reading went straight to her head.

As soon as I was able, I told the faculty what happened. “I want her out of my class. Whatever you perceive to be wrong with my teaching abilities is made ten times worst by her presence. The children ask me every day when she’s leaving. It’s like the joy has been sucked out of my room.”

Mrs. Raccoon spoke up, “Black is not an appropriate color for the younger ones to be using.”

I wanted to say, “It’s evil – is that it? The color of the devil? Well, I believe in doing the devil’s work by letting these young minds explore with the devil’s color.” But instead I said, “Look, we use the color for hair color. Like mine. And yours,” I pointed to Mrs. Bluejay, “It is not some bad color. When I’m introducing the saints, I want to use real colors, okay? Not all of my saints are pink skinned with blond hair.”

The Waldorf community is known for being protective of children and while I agree children need to be shielded, I also think this can be taken too far. I was beginning to recognize how Aramaic or Apollonian influences were restricting their thoughts. Too much form, not enough freedom, where was the balance?

By the end of the meeting, I had convinced Mrs. Bluejay. Mrs. Raccoon would leave my class and return to assisting first grade.

Afterwards, Mrs. Bear followed me into my classroom where I was straightening up.

“You do know why she was put in your room, don’t you?”

I looked up at her.

“She was asked to spy on you. After the Old Woman’s evaluation the Core Group wanted to know what was going on with your class. Mrs. Raccoon reported to them every day.”

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