Friday, September 24, 2010

It's Gotta Be In Their Face

Recently, I've been doing some volunteer hours for my daughter's charter school.  I supervise lunch.  That means I keep all the kids from doing bodily harm to one another AND I attempt to teach them to quiet down and form orderly lines by class without holding their hands while they do it.  I'm having a varied level of success on both fronts.  In exchange for my efforts my daughter gets to attend all day kindergarten for free.  She loves this and this enables her to attend all the special classes like music, PE, Spanish, and art (theater is in the morning).  It also lets her stay for science and social studies as the morning is full with reading skills and math.

I'm very happy with our arrangement, even if it is absolutely exhausting.  Dealing with other people's children is always a challenge.  Not to mention going from bed rest and a prolonged recovery to walking for two hours and chasing kids, is a bit of a shock to my rapidly aging system.  Yet, today as I was patrolling the school yard and the cafeteria, I was struck by a bit of a realization.  It's very easy to tell the kids you are going to have issues with, without knowing their names, anything about them, or even talking to them.  They just have it in their faces.
Now I love biology and I make it my hobby to study intra and interspecies interactions.  I love to watch people and to see how they interact together.  I don't always understand all the reactions and there is definitely some skewing do to our entertainment and perception, but it's fun.  I also love to watch animals in their interactions and to learn about research that others are doing in those areas.  This does not mean I'm a journal junkie, I kinda wish I was, but I barely have time to read as it is.  To keep up with the Journal of Nature, and the Wildlife Society Journal, and all of those cool things.... yeah not happening, besides they cost mucho moola and I'm volunteering to cover the $11 a day for my daughter.  Plus the school really benefits from my help, or so everyone keeps saying.

Many prolific theories, primarily in apes and monkeys, but also among colonial mammals such as prairie dogs, state that hierarchy is a combination of displays of fitness and abundance of sex hormones such as testosterone. While we make testosterone and many other hormones all our lives, I find it difficult to believe that pre-pubescent children are displaying leadership characteristics predominately based on early abundant hormone production. I also don't see too many displays of dominance on the playground (and hey I'm watching right!), so how is it that even without seeing the kids causing problems and bossing other kids around, that I know that certain kids need a bit more observation than others, particularly, but not limited to, certain boys.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of girls that are on the list, but it seems to be dominated by the boys, especially in the younger age groups.  Our school runs through 6th grade and most, not all, but most of the girls that have the "trouble face" are 5th or 6th graders - at which point we can clearly argue for hormonal influence.  The boys however, some of them are first graders and I am reluctant to believe that 6 year old boys are projecting that much testosterone that we humans with our limited scent perception can pick it up just by seeing a face across a field on a windy day.  No, it really does have to be something in the face.

It's not skin color, because my offenders go from pale to dark.  It's not racial, as several ethnic backgrounds are present in my line-up (which becomes a true line-up along the wall on a particularly bad day).  One thing they all have in common is the desire for dominance in their group.  Most are quite popular, although the popular angle doesn't hold as true in the youngest offenders.  Is this why we love a rebel?  

Let's look at one of my trouble makers, he's in the sixth grade, by all accounts he's really a pretty good kid.  We'll call him Nate, I don't know his name, but from the names I know there doesn't seem to be a correlation to the syllables or sounds of the name and our offenders.  Besides some of the trouble makers have the same name as some of the non-trouble leaders.  He's a very dynamic kid.  Not overly tall, in fact at first I mistake him for a 5th grader, but that's not a big deal, I can't tell ages of people to save my life and most of my aging of kids is based on comparative height.  He's not particularly remarkable physically, really just a skinny short haired guy.  But his face, it's alive, he's dynamic, engaging, and he regularly has a following.  He's not a bad kid, he readily listens and tries to control his following horde of young men when asked.  But talk to any of the underlings and the behavior issues persist, talk to Nate, and wam, just about the best kids in the room.  What's so special about Nate?  Why can you see it from across the room.

And what about the youngest trouble leaders?  Their clans are smaller, and much less coordinated.  The trouble maker gets to a point where he can't control himself as his actions progress.  He's not always followed, but he is largely encouraged.  Even the music teacher (who uses our space after lunch) has learned that two boys sitting together is generally a recipe for disaster.  These guys don't have the same distinctive faces of their older counterparts, but they still catch your attention in the room.  

Maybe the issues of these kids has less to do with the hormones of sex and more of the rapid nature of their brains.  Today I watched Nate as he regained control of his group (quite swollen today as other kids joined in the chaotic suggestions Nate was making), when the game of tag degenerated, he sought to regain control by changing the location.  Instead as he rapid fired through equally decisive plans, he ended on instituting a suggested game with the natural leadership skills he seems to weld so well.  

So of course with my realization that I see these kids, who in all honesty are already great leaders among their peers and more likely than not will be leading the major companies and our political arena while I'm attempting to engage in retirement.  I take a look at my kids.  Firstly, my oldest daughter can only wish she was one of these kids, she lacks the raw confidence, always has.  My second daughter, possibly, but maybe she is too young, and as a Mom I refuse to believe my son would ever show a face like this.  But am I wishing a bad future on them?  Would it be better if whatever it is, hormones, personality, quick thinking, was a gift of my children, that these trouble-making leaders really do become the leaders of the future?

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