In getting ESL students to practice the passive voice, I give them a survey exercise, where they have to go around the class and ask whether their fellow students, “ . . .have ever been rescued from a dangerous situation, or have ever been praised by a teacher, or have ever been humiliated by a teacher.” The students write down their answers and when finished, they go back to their partners and report on what they have found out. Students relate what has happened to them and then turn in their papers for me to check on the passive voice.
The idea of humiliation in the classroom brought back memories of when I was in second grade. I was in a Catholic school in San Francisco, and at the time, there wasn’t co-education in Catholic schools. Boys and girls were educated in separate classrooms in separate buildings. There were 52 boys in our class, and we all wore the uniforms of the school. Our teacher seemed to be at her wits’ end and lost her temper over and over again. One boy in our class, Manuel, came from a family where he was very close to his sisters. They must have always played together at home, but at school since the genders were separated from each other, he couldn’t be in class with his sisters or play with them at recess. The playgrounds were also segregated. However, Manuel went into the girls’ playground to play with his sisters all the time. Every time he did it, he was told not to do it and was punished. After multiple times, our teacher decided to punish him severely.
Manuel was removed from class, and we were told that he was going to be punished. When he came back in the classroom, we were not to utter a word. Manuel was led back into the classroom, and we immediately saw that he had been forced to put on a girl’s uniform, which looked a bit like a sailor suit. The minute we saw him, all the boys in the class burst into laughter because no one had expected that this was going to be the punishment.
And yet . . . when Manuel saw that everyone was laughing at him, he started to twirl around and dance in front of the class. He tried to get his skirt to spread out away from his body by going faster and faster. There was a big smile on his face as danced, and the class laughed even harder making our teacher very mad. This was obviously not the expected outcome that she had wanted. Manuel was immediately ushered out of the room, and we were yelled at for not following orders.
In looking back on this, I think that this was the most humiliating thing I have ever seen a teacher do to a student. That Manuel had the wherewithal to turn the tables on the teacher and make a mockery of the punishment was brilliant but way beyond his years it now seems to me. I wonder what happened to him.
I know that this is an extreme case, and humiliation was intended, but it is also possible to “accidentally” humiliate a student in class. With the best of intentions, I have done this. I had a student from China whose name was Jackie. I assumed Jackie was a boy, and when “his” partner turned in a short bio on “him,” his partner had crossed out all the pronouns from he to she. I know that students have a problem with pronouns since they sound so much alike to their ears, so I thought that this was such a case. I marked the pronouns and wrote on the paper to change them back to he. The student was to rewrite the homework assignment. I returned the paper, and Jackie and the other student came up to me after class, and Jackie said, “Mr. Morasci, I AM a girl.” I felt very bad about this and apologized, but there was nothing I could do to undo this.
When Jackie went around the classroom for the passive voice survey and was asked if she had ever been humiliated by a teacher, she said, “Yes, when Mr. Morasci thought I was a boy.”