After Bern: An Open Letter to the Newly Disheartened

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It’s Going Down
June 8, 2016

Several years ago, I worked as an after school program teacher. In the 3-4 hours I spent with kids before their parents arrived, instead of playing outside or relaxing after a long day at school, I helped administer tests, monitored performance, oversaw homework, and handed out worksheets. The school I worked at didn’t have much money; neither did the kids or the people who worked there, and due to low test scores we were threatened with being taken over by the state. Administrators wanted to get these scores up and looked to the after school program to raise performance. The kids of course, had other ideas.

The kids wanted to do anything but be in another 3-4 hours of school. Once, we did an activity where they made posters about how they would change the school for the better if they had the power to do so. Almost every kid in the classroom of about 20 drew the school on fire. The natives, as they say, were restless.

When I did attempt to implement instruction the kids would goof off, talk back, or sometimes exploded by flipping over their desks or walking out of the room. The stress of almost 10 hours of schooling was too much for many of them, who also had to go home to blue-collar families that were often struggling.

In order to better manage this chaotic and stressful situation, bosses and specialists gave us a set of tools which by all accounts were completely, ‘democratic.’ We would start by “making agreements” with the kids and creating “buy in” for activities and completed work. In order to further create an environment of law and order, I often would appoint student helpers from the class that worked as an auxiliary police force in exchange for special privileges or candy.

In many ways, this classroom environment mirrored the creation of the United States. A powerful elite helped to manage and shape a unruly population of indentured servants, slaves, and indigenous people. But to do so, it needed a police force. In order to get there, it gave privileges to some (what became white people) while curtailing them for others (everyone else).

The colonial powers used anti-Blackness and white supremacy, I used Skittles and extra hall passes.

But government is much more than carrots and sticks, politics involves overall the spectacle and myth of democracy. For instance, in our training sessions we were told, “Get them to create a set of agreements around rules and behavior in the classroom, but make sure you shape and guide these rules. Obviously, don’t let them get out of hand.” Meaning, we were to help give the appearance of the students shaping the guidelines for their behavior, however at all times we (who were ruled over by the administration and them by the US government) in actuality were there to create the physical framework. But moreover, we existed to guard against school and thus government authority being attacked by the unwashed young masses hell bent on doing zero work and collectively singing J-Lo songs.

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