Sunday, May 06, 2007

I had a good yesterday, spent up in the Delta with a few other Teacher Corps members, attending the Leland Crawfish Festival. First time I've ever had crawfish and it was pretty good, though I (thankfully) didn't suck the heads. There was also a great lineup of local bands playing blues, country, and bluegrass. There were about 200 people there, mostly white (which is surprising given the demographics of the Delta). More interestingly (but perhaps not unexpected) was the de-facto segregation that invaded the open seating; whites sat on one side of the stage, blacks on the other.

After spending a few hours at the festival most of us went to see Spiderman 3. The movie itself was actually pretty disappointing and I think I have come to the decision that Spiderman is a bad superhero. He's too emotional and whiny, and he never makes a solid decision himself. A few friends who were at the movie with me termed Peter Parker the "Emo-superhero." Also, every villain in the film (seemingly like every villain during the entire series) had a "good guy gone bad" backstory, which was really annoying. Why can't we have bad guys that are purely evil?

But I don't mention my movie-going experience in the hope of becoming the new Roger Ebert, but rather because the social factors on display in the theater while we were watching the film. We went to see the movie at a theater in Greenville, in the heart of the Delta. For the 4:00 Saturday afternoon showing, the audience was 90% black and a good 40% of the audience was under the age of 12. We got there about ten minutes before the previews began and found a set of seats in the middle of the theater. We were mostly surrounded by parents who had brought sets of children, most of whom were already restless in their seats.

Instead of being annoying, the kids' comments during the movie added to the fun. "Ohhh he hit a girl!" yelled one at a most opportune time, and I remember being happy that a young kid from the Delta was surprised at the display of semi-domestic violence. Why do I say this? Well, about ten minutes after he said that, I heard a loud "smack" come from my immediate right. A little girl, sitting two seats down from me in between her mother and her mother's female friend, had been hit by the mother (for, I assume, being annoying, or loud, or something, though I don't recall any kind of disturbance). I immediately turned and gave the mother's friend a look that said, "what the hell is the matter with you people?" She caught the fact that I was staring at her and turned to meet my glare. We had this half moment (actually, probably a few seconds) of silent conversation with our eyes, during which she seemed tired or annoyed for me judging her friend.

Later during the movie, the kids in the row in front of me became restless and began moving around. The mother, or whoever she was, fired a look at one of the kids once they had been snooping around in their seats for awhile. "Sit your ass down before I knock your teeth out!" About a half hour later, she stremlined her request: "SHUTUP!"

I think almost everyone has had similar experiences. You're in the supermarket and the woman next to you in the checkout line attempts to quiet their child with a brisk slap on the arm or cheek. I've seen it happen everywhere, but it seems to be more common in the areas in which Teacher Corps sends their recruits, especially the Delta. It also seems to happen more commonly in black families, perhaps it is more common in Southern families in general. White, black, or brown; north, south, east, or west, these moments seem to happen more often amongst lower-class individuals. I have no concrete evidence to backup these suppositions, just what I have witnessed.

It is not really the hitting that specifically bothers me, but rather the attitude in general. My roommates and I commonly joke about parents "smacking around" their kids, but whenever we discuss it there is always a degree of disgust added to the conversation. We don't laugh about the stories of our students getting smacked in Wal-Mart because such tales are actually funny, we laugh at them because it is such a foreign, absurd image.

It seems that the children in the Spiderman 3 movie theater were seen by their parents as burdens, not as joys. As studies have shown, children who are exposed to "phrases of negativity" (such as "shut up," "go away," etc.) are more likely to have social, academic, and economic difficulties as they get older. If that is true, these kids are in big trouble.

The thing that I wonder, sitting here while I type this, is whether this is a social problem or an economic problem. Of course, those two issues are intricately related, but the question is still worth discussing. If my hunch is true and children in the Delta are disciplined using physical punishment more often than their average American counterparts, what is the reason? If my hunch is true and children in the Delta hear more "phrases of negativity" than their average American counterparts, what is the reason? Is it because most are poor? Is it because most are black? Is it because all are Southern, or at least now live in the south?


Blogger miss mouse said...

Good observations and questions - whole generations of social scientists, analysts, policy makers, and preachers haven't figured out which is the chicken and which is the egg in the behaviors you describe.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Sam the Minuteman said...

Education (or the lack of it) probably plays a big role. It would be naive to believe that corporal punishment does not exist in homes with (college) educated parents, but probably to a lesser extent. Through education and reading, we learn what types of discipline are most effective and appropriate, and, ideally, we incorporate those ideas in our parenting.

7:13 PM  

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