One of my daughters had a teacher who would put one student’s name in an envelope each day. That student was the “Mystery Person.” At the end of the day, the teacher would open the envelope, and if the Mystery Person had been well behaved, he or she would get some special reward—a sticker or certificate or something. If not, the Mystery Person would get nothing, and the teacher would put the name back without revealing who it was. Sometimes, during the day, if the class was becoming unruly, she would say, ominously, “The Mystery Person is being watched.”
I happened to like a lot of things about that teacher, and I know she was not the only one to employ the Mystery Person technique. But I found the Mystery Person thing more than a little creepy, especially in light of all the other ways in which the school seems to be acclimating kids to life in an authoritarian culture. (I happened to think of it again after reading the news a few days ago.)
I don’t mean this blog to be of only local interest. I’m sure I would have much more comfortable relationships with our local school personnel if I just stuck to blogging about education issues in a more general way. But so many discussions of education—the policy proposals, the statistical analyses, the economic arguments, all the talk about “school reform” and “accountability” and “increasing achievement”—strike me as hopelessly removed from what actually happens between actual human beings in actual schools. It’s as if we’ve all tacitly agreed to avert our eyes from what’s right in front of us. If I didn’t occasionally describe the lunchroom whistles and the Dairy Queen attendance prizes and the silent single-file hallway lines and the Orwellian “Mystery People,” there would be little point in writing the blog.