Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Detention, Mystery, and the Fear of Authority

by Julia Buckley

Today I got every teacher's most dreaded task: detention duty. No one wants detention because the job is odious. A former dean decided that the students in after-school detention cannot do homework, nor can they sleep. They are to sit in silence for an hour; the philosophy here is that they must be conscious of their time being wasted in the same way that, most likely, they wasted a teacher's time with their shenanigans.

The problem, of course, is that few young people can endure the torture of silence, and at the very least they want to make eye contact and goof around a little. This is not cool to most detention monitors, including me. I am there out of obligation, and I make it clear to the room's occupants up front that I would like to do my work in silence, and those who want to bend the rules will just end up back in the room again--an endless punishment worthy of Tartarus.

I am grateful to say I only have to do this three times a school year, because the reality is that I'm a terrible sheriff, and I don't know how cops can do their jobs. I'm terrible at maintaining a tough facade, and it shouldn't even be difficult. Because, despite the fact that they're in detention, these are the GOOD kids of the world--they came to school late, or talked while announcements were on, or chewed giant pieces of gum. That's what they generally get detention for.

A friend of mine who teaches in a public school in a rather notorious neighborhood had to break up not one, but two fights at his last detention duty, and one of those fights involved a knife, a wound, blood, the police. I listened to his tale, horrified, remembering my resentment that certain students were making eye contact. My thought at the time was How dare they? :)

Detention is a time-honored punishment, but do not throw stones at me when I tell you that I never received one in school. The reason is simple--I had then (and still have now) far too great a fear of authority. If a teacher threatened to give class members a detention for talking too much, I got quiet. I was not a rebel, nor was I disruptive for the sheer joy of it. I liked order; I still do.

I suppose it's not a surprise, then, that I read and write crime fiction. I like mysteries to be solved, perpetrators to be punished, innocents to be spared. Mysteries are orderly, and the genre is structured so that one never has to walk away without a solution to the problem.

My husband laughs at my fear of authority. I see a police car and I slow down. I have done this for twenty years because of an inexplicable terror of being pulled over (I was once, for a non-working brake light. I nearly died of fear). I have no liquor in my car, no drugs, no contraband. I buckle in and buckle my children in; I stop at stop signs and yellow lights. Yet I see a police car and I feel weirdly guilty. Perhaps it's the Catholic upbringing, but somehow I am always able to feel guilty about something.

I reflected on all of this as I walked into detention today, ready to face a room full of malefactors and some residual hostility. Instead, two angelic looking girls sat there in silence. Most of the student body had gone to a big basketball game.

So the three of us sat, I and my caged cherubs, all of us bound by authority in one way or another.

In a stab at rebellion, I let them leave a couple of minutes early. :)

21 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

3 times a school year would be too many, Julia! :) Glad you survived it.

I never had to go to detention. I was a nerd. :)

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Lisa Bork said...

"Detention" -- puts the fear into me the moment I read it. Never been there; don't want to go, even with a softie like you in charge :)

Julia Buckley said...

Maybe this is why we all like crime fiction? :)

Alan Orloff said...

Man, looking back, I WISH I'd pulled some shenanigans good enough to get detention. Alas, a youth wasted.

Julia Buckley said...

What, all straight arrows at this blog?

G.M. Malliet said...

Julia: The rowdy people can't sit still long enough to write books, perhaps.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

If I may, I never had detention either. Guess we were all nerds and afraid of authority. And, like you, Julia, I see a cop car and my heart stops. But then, I live in Los Angeles. Enough said...

The real question here is how many of us straight arrows rebelled later? Recently, we've proven that we can lie our butts off, but how many of us now deserve detention for one misdeed or another?

And, Julia, those few minutes you let those miscreants go early - a sure first step towards anarchy.

Keith Raffel said...

Julia, You mean you're kinda like Vernon in John Hughes's The Breakfast Club? Cool.

Richard Vernon: "That's the last time, Bender. That the last time you ever make me look bad in front of those kids, you hear me? I make $31,000 a year and I have a home and I'm not about to throw it all away on some punk like you. But someday when you're outta here and you've forgotten all about this place and they've forgotten all about you, and you're wrapped up in your own pathetic life, I'm gonna be there. That's right. And I'm gonna kick the living shit out of you. I'm gonna knock your dick in the dirt."

G.M. Malliet said...

LOL.

Keith, that does sound eerily like something Julia would say. I can just picture it...and the look on the kids' faces when she loses it.

Beth Groundwater said...

And for those of you who misbehaved in one way or another in high school or college, just wait for your teens to start asking questions! Since my husband did some "sampling" in college, I answered questions about drub use. Because I was and still am a health nut, I didn't smoke pot or try other drugs. As for underage drinking, neither one of us could claim innocence, so we just tried to model moderate,responsible drinking as adults. And as for teenage sex, all we could do was tell our kids to be careful and use condoms. We certainly had no hints for how to control those raging urges and abstain! All in all, I'm pretty proud of how my two turned out and what they still don't know about their parents' youth. :)

Jess Lourey said...

I made it into detention and was proud of it at the time, which is horrible in retrospect. Glad my kids don't read this blog.

I also feel guilty around police officers, even though I'm a pretty straight arrow now, but that's NOTHING to how I feel going through airport security. There's nothing like that long line leading toward all that authority to convince me that I've been a weapons-smuggling drug dealer my whole life and not even been aware of it. I'm not defensive! You're defensive!

Cricket McRae said...

Well, they know of your nefarious past now, Beth.

[raises hand] I was in detention. More than once. It was great. We were allowed to do homework, and I had a crazy classload (plus college courses at night) so I relished the chance to focus. And I really liked my teachers, so it wasn't much of a punishment. Julia, I would have driven you crazy.

Julia Buckley said...

GM, No problem with me sitting still. My doctor suggests I might want to try moving a bit more. :)

Sue Ann, you are so right. I am a secret anarchist, but soon . . . .

Keith, I haven't seen the Breakfast Club since the 80s, but that sounds about right, especially the 31,000 dollars. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Beth, I have a pretty clean slate when it comes to what my kids might ask about--but my husband? I've told him that he is never to reveal certain nefarious details, especially because the boys hero worship him.

Jess, I can't imagine what got you into detention. But the airport security thing--wow, would that tap into my font of guilt. Another reason it's better for me not to fly. :)

Cricket, that's exactly why they won't let our kids do homework in detention--it would be a benefit, and none of them would mind getting one. Even now I think kids like them just for those moments of peace and quiet--the chance for contemplation in a loud world.

Keith Raffel said...

So Julia, do you think The Breakfast Club had an influence on your choice of careers?

Julia Buckley said...

No. :)

Alice Loweecey said...

When we got detention in HS, we had to scrape the gum from the rugs, vacuum, clean, and fetch and carry. I realized I just totally aged myself--plus this was a Catholic school--the rules were different. Homework? We did it at home after detention, because we were too busy cleaning the school!

So very glad I'm not a teacher anymore. Even with the fear that the habit instilled in the little darlings.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I was a worrier in school also. I never thought about a connection to crime fiction, but it make sense! I've made a concerted effort to be more easy-going in recent years. Life's too short to get stressed over things that truly don't matter! (Like an hour in detention.)

Kathryn Lilley said...

My big act of rebellion in high school was wearing a pant suit, when girls were allowed to wear only skirts and dresses. I remember being grateful that I always made the honor roll, so got the privilege of going to the honor room instead of study hall. The honor room had no monitors, and we just sat around and gabbed all the time.
The Kill Zone

Julia Buckley said...

Alice--our kids have to work during Saturday detention, so I've seen it.

Kathleen--I tell myself all the time not to be a worrier, so I can relate.

And Kathryn, what a great concept--an honor room! Sounds like something the Knights of the Round Table sat in. :)

Donna Hole said...

And my kids call ME a push over. :)

Wow, you are paranoid. So glad you survived to write about the experience.

.........dhole