A loud pounding interrupted the instructions for the learning assignment. The class gave a collective sigh. We knew what the sound was. We heard it daily. When Benny’s frustration level piqued he clenched his jaw, broke his pencil and started kicking the nearest wall. I had marked him absent just a bit ago, but evidently he made it to school and now was in the front yard repeatedly kicking the porch of our portable classroom.
Benny was faced with some hefty decisions at age of 9. He had just begun running drugs for his mother and older brother. And now his brother was offering him a chance to “get jumped in” to the gang that ran the reservation underground. Gang initiation usually started with the young ones out here.
His Individual Education Plan, required by the Special Education department, listed many challenges, one of them being suspected Fetal Alcohol Effects. Benny was developmentally delayed, but I suspected the constant barrage of anger is what really stunted his neurological growth. The traveling school psychologist listed “Anger Disorder” in his folder. I found this label odd. The anger didn’t seem to be unwarranted or based on disillusion. I found little in his life that didn’t merit intense anger. The injustice was glaring. Had I written the IEP, perhaps I would have written, “Reality Disordered, anger justified.”
The frail portable shook with every kick. I had gone on giving instructions, but I could tell by the student’s wide eyes and glances toward Benny’s direction, that the learning moment was lost.
I stopped. Three kicks passed. A family picture on my desk tipped over.
“Wonderkids, sometimes we experience such pain, such anger, that we can’t keep it in and we can’t understand it and we can’t do it alone. Benny is experiencing that kind of pain and anger. He needs our help. We are going to go outside and help him kick the porch until the anger is all kicked out.”
Everyone stood up and walked outside, single file. They joined Benny on the porch. Benny was too busy kicking to notice. Then all the kids started kicking with him. There were grunts and groans as our toes smacked solid wood. Benny came out of his trance and blinked at me. He looked around at his classmates who had stopped kicking to see if he was all right.
I put my arm around his shoulders. “Together we’re bigger than the anger, Benny.”
He nodded and started up the stairs to the classroom. He immediately crawled under a table. Pearl, one of his peers, brought a blanket over for him to curl up with. We all took a deep breath and a prayerful moment of silence. And then I went back to the board knowing that Benny would come out when he was ready and the assignment would be waiting for him.
Religious Educations knows that sometimes academic or planned curriculum needs to be put on hold so that life curriculum can be lived in its moment.