Thanks to this system, big groups of kids are facing potential outcomes in a few short steps, something no school child should have to endure.
That stress in my life – over huge classes, screaming, screaming parties, a multitude of teachers – was enough. Young kids need exposure to situations where what you hear and see is as small and insignificant as possible. In my experience, the middle school BigBAC scene was exactly the right size.
When I arrived there two years ago, it was an infamously fratty environment, with a morning assembly between 7 and 8 a.m., eight-and-a-half hours of gym class, and sensory deprivation over the following days. Several of my weekend activities involved balanced fighting and rote memorization.
The BAC was created in the mid-1990s as a pilot program to address the case of a Florida middle schooler who had been abused by soccer players. As part of his commitment to the program, the boy could only spend a week there.
I went first. I struggled through primary-grade math, along with the kids, a handful of whom earned perfect marks. Almost all of the bruising was of my own making, but I was also suffering from a severe anxiety attack (negative childhood emotion) that plagued me for years, affecting my ability to read and concentrate.
Holed up in a classroom for all that time, and trapped in a situation none of us found comfortable, I was conscious of all that goes on in BigBAC classrooms. More important, I wanted the people who made their annual days the most stressful of my life to understand how I felt.
The students were generally good-natured, interested in sharing experiences and doing well in class, with only a handful of erratic ‘bad kids’ among them. I did not find any of the behavior I encountered on the camera sessions to be special to either the students or to the teachers. The focus was just on the distress and desperation I felt.
It was an empathetic environment. I communicated well and enjoyed most of my experiences. But I did not find it lush or amazing. I found the stressed executiveia unique and unstable, with a grade-schooler’s loss of control. The teachers and staff knew, but they also knew they had a job to do anyway. If I didn’t jump down from the tallest above-ground structure in the school gym or make strong one-on-one pleas for calm regulation of my breathing and ragging off the whiteboard, I got harsh treatment, because safety is the first priority of people there.
There were no—repeat, none—tough love and assertive discipline models. Snappy communication styles were part of the BAC curriculum. None of them worked in the real world. Four of the adults on staff took advantage of my situation by ignoring my objections and punishing me. I attempted to end the game based on the punctuality of wifi, but Dunn and Du duo attorneys told DCPS I had no legal right to do so and failing responsibility.
Still, I felt moderately comfortable with the role I had been cast. When my bluff held up, I fulfilled a role demanded of me. It was hard work, but it was better than being a disorderly, and often verbally abusive teenager. Every player on stage was an actor.
Five years later, I still know much about how to shave, wash dishes, or eat a hot dog. I see several key differences between the BigBAC setting and the standard college classroom that I attended as a student. First, the middle school classroom had a sense of community and a sense of compromise about the perception of what constituted appropriate behavior. In addition, the people in the BigBAC scene showed exactly the same feelings of helplessness. Nothing they needed seemed to work. They showed zero leadership skill, glaring and angry at the smallest of misbehaviors, pressing, firm, critical, but fun in a mindless sort of way.
I would have loved to take that whole BigBAC experience and bring it to my college, though. And I might have, had a few close friends known the fantasy I had about it.
I’m not sure exactly why this fantasy stopped. It’s possible the slogans don’t resonate with a confident young woman raised to believe that she is a good person. It’s also possible my desire to draw pictures of a polite school where my friends find everything adorable caused me to settle for figurative illustrations that were far below my own personal standards.