ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the November 4, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the square in the Science Bingo Fest Public Card 10-31-14. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] stardreamer. It belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"What You Expect Them To Be"


The tension in the teacher's lounge
was getting out of hand.
Bruce Marshall, the science teacher,
slapped a hand down on the pamphlets
that his coworkers were passing around.

Some of those 'support groups'
would make mincemeat out of kids
like Lawrence, who adored his parents
no matter how badly they treated him,
or Chatura, who was in perfect agreement
with hers even if it didn't fit American expectations
but had no idea how to explain the cultural differences.

"You need to stop this," he said.
"The more you badger kids to deal with
problems they are not ready to face full-on yet,
the more you make them think of themselves as
broken and impossible to fix. They have their hands full."

"But they have problems. You know they do."
said Florence Rosenbaum, the school nurse.

"I know they do. You know they do," said Bruce,
holding onto the last shreds of his patience.
"Not all the kids understand what's wrong
with their lives or why, and forcing them to
deal with it too soon can do more harm than good."

"Well of course you'd say that,
with the herd of baboons you have
in your clubs," said Bo Ray Petersen,
the boys' coach and one of the P.E. teachers.

"The proper term for a group of baboons
is flange," Bruce said softly.
"As opposed to your little darlings
who never cause a lick of trouble?"

Ray flushed. There had been
two locker-denting incidents this week.
"You need to keep your delinquent geek
away from my star player."

Oh hell no.
You couldn't pry Stan
away from Lawrence now
if you used a lever a mile long, but
you could sure do a lot of damage trying.

"Everyone understands why Lawrence
is such a ... difficult boy," said Florence.
"I'm sure he'd do better if he'd just get some help."

"Because that worked so well
when you got the police involved,"
Bruce murmured.

That incident had gotten Lawrence's father
hauled away on suspicion of child abuse.
It had also broken up Stan and Lawrence
for a month, during which time Stan
had moped around school like a lost puppy
and nearly flunked two science tests,
while Lawrence had taken up with friends
who smelled like trouble and slipped him cigarettes.

Bruce had given Lawrence a stern warning
about the smokes and reminded him
that chess club was a privilege, not a right.
But it had been Stan getting stabbed
that pulled Lawrence out of the tailspin,
and Bruce knew it.

Florence looked away.
"Well at least he's not coming to school
with black eyes anymore," she said.
"He gets into enough trouble on his own
without someone smacking him into next week."

"Florence, it's not that he doesn't want help,
it's that Lawrence has way too much experience
with the kind of 'help' that just makes matters worse,"
Bruce explained. "He needs friends, not force."

Ray flicked through the pamphlets she'd brought
and teased out the bottom one from the pile,
"Can You Tell When a Friend Is No Good for You?"

Bruce plucked it out of his hand
and started gathering up the rest of them.

"This is what it takes to keep kids in line,"
Ray protested.

"This?" Bruce said sharply, waving a hand
over table and pamphlets alike.
"This is what leads to kids coming to school
on the back of a fifty-foot robot with laser eyes,
or running away to become minions of some supervillain.
This is not help. This is the opposite of help."

He glared at his coworkers.
If they kept picking at this,
he was going to wind up
having to make a phone call
that he really didn't want to make.

"Somebody has to address these problems,"
Florence said. "It's not like they can do it themselves."

"You know, I really think they can," Bruce said.
"So here's my offer: you let me deal with
Stan and Lawrence, and I'll show you how to get
the dents out of the lockers without tearing the door off."
He nodded to Ray. Then he turned to Florence.
"And I just got my new catalog from Science Supply Direct
if you want to look through the old one for live cultures."

"Deal," said Ray.

"I'd really like to see some
sign of progress," Florence said.

Try opening your eyes, you blind ninny.
Bruce refrained from saying that aloud, though,
and merely replied, "I'll see what I can do. Agreed?"

"Agreed," she said.

Bruce had taken a couple of classes
in criminology at college -- enough to know
that treating troubled teens like crooks
tended to make them worse instead of better.

They needed resources, not nagging.
Well, he had some ideas for that.

At the end of the school day,
Bruce caught Lawrence and said,
"May I have a word with you?"

"Sure, chess or science?" Lawrence said,
shutting his locker door with his hip.

"Neither, actually, this is personal," Bruce said.

Lawrence shivered. "What did I do now?"

"You're not in trouble," Bruce clarified.
"Join me in my office, please? You too, Stan."
The more moral support he could get for Lawrence,
the better, and Lawrence was already
clinging to Stan like a vine on a tree.

"Of course, Mr. Marshall," Stan said
with the easy assurance of someone
for whom trouble was never the first assumption.

"Shut the door, please," Bruce said
as he took a seat behind his desk.

Stan pulled the door closed,
the latch clicking very softly under his hand.
Bruce had noticed how much more careful
Stan was getting about handling things.

"Some of the other school staff are
concerned about you, Lawrence," said Bruce,
fanning out the stack of pamphlets he held.
"I'd like to address this before anyone
decides to throw water on a grease fire."

Both boys groaned and shook their heads.
"Yeah, that would be bad," Stan said.

Bruce knew that Stan's knowledge
came from the Activity Scouts, and wondered
if Stan had any idea how much lab safety
Lawrence knew. Maybe not yet, but
they'd get to know each other soon enough.

"They won't listen to me," Lawrence said softly.
"You know you're the only one who does."
Then he glanced aside. "Well, you and Stan."

"So what do we do?" Stan said, lifting his chin.
"I'm guessing you wouldn't have called us
in here unless you had a plan."

Bruce smiled at them. Clever boys.
He tore the pamphlets in two
and handed one half to each of them.

As the boys stared at the remnants in mute surprise,
Bruce said, "I want you two to come up with
a personal growth project. It doesn't have to be
big or fancy, just something I can show the staff
to shut people up. Respect for authority,
healthy relationships, civic responsibility --
you know what they're whining about."

"Why us?" Lawrence murmured,
still not looking up.

"Because it's your life," Bruce said.
"You know what parts you're happy with
and what parts you're not. I trust you
to do a good job with this, and find a piece
that you're ready and able to work on.
If you get stuck -- well, this isn't my field,
but I could help you find someone decent
to point you in the right direction."

"So ... like a badge," Stan said slowly,
fingering his shirttail where the sash would go
if he'd been wearing his uniform.

"I'm not an Activity Scout," Lawrence said.

Stan shrugged. "So what? Could be if you wanted,
or we can just use the guidelines as inspiration.
I've designed my own badges; I can show you
how to make something that'll work for this."
He nudged Lawrence gently with his shoulder.
"C'mon, it'll be fun -- like a science project.
You can make an experiment out of it."

Bruce saw the moment when an idea sparked,
lighting Lawrence's eyes with new interest.

"Yeah, okay," Lawrence said. "Let's do this."

"Catch me after the next chess club meeting,"
Bruce said as he let them out of his office.
"Give me a preliminary summary of your project then.
If you actually turn it into an experiment, then
it's good for extra credit in science, for both of you."

"Really?" Stan said, giving him a startled look.
"I could sure use that!"

"Really," Bruce said. "Ask Lawrence to show you
how to set up the parameters. He's done it before."

Stan glanced at the closed door of the teacher's lounge
as they strolled down the hall together. He smirked.
"Those people really should know better than
to play social chess with you," he said.
Then he stuck out his hand. "Good game."

Lawrence cracked up laughing.
God, it was good to hear that again.

Bruce chuckled and shook Stan's hand.
"Yes, yes they should," he said.

Lawrence was still laughing as he and Stan
let themselves out the side door.

Oh yes. Those two boys are good for each other.

* * *

Notes:

Bruce Marshall -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and wavy brown hair with a short beard. He wears large geeky glasses. He favors ties with geometric or scientific designs. Mr. Marshall teaches science at the high school in Omaha, Nebraska where Stan and Lawrence go. He also sponsors the science team and the chess club. He has a good eye for which students can handle more responsibility or need extra help.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Science Teacher, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Negotiation, Good (+2) Patience, Good (+2) Teen Support Contacts
Poor (-2) Overworked and Underpaid

Florence Rosenbaum -- She has fair skin, blue eyes, and short strawberry blonde hair. She loves making her own sourdough, sauerkraut, yogurt, and anything else that depends on a live culture. Florence serves as the school nurse at a high school in Omaha, Nebraska where Stan and Lawrence go. She is a busybody who often acts on immediate concerns without considering the long-term fallout. Consequently she has a touch-and-go relationship with the science teacher, Mr. Marshall. They both love talking about science, but when it comes to handling the kids, they tend to butt heads a lot.
Qualities: Good (+2) Deduction, Good (+2) Ferment Anything, Good (+2) School Nurse
Poor (-2) Considering Implications

Bo Ray Petersen -- He has ruddy skin, blue eyes, and short brown hair. He goes by Ray. He serves as the boys' coach and one of the P.E. teachers at the Omaha, Nebraska high school where Stan and Lawrence go. He and the science teacher, Bruce Marshall, squabble the way jocks and nerds usually do. Ray is known for making excellent chili.
Qualities: Good (+2) Crockpot Cook, Good (+2) High School Coach, Good (+2) Physically Fit
Poor (-2) Not the Sharpest Marble in the Stack

* * *

For the most part, people are what you expect them to be. Despite the trope that "teens are monsters," harsh treatment from adults can make teen behaviors worse, so it's important to find more effective ways of discouraging misbehavior. Know how to deal with troubled teens.



Bad help can be worse than no help at all. This is what teaches people not to ask for help when they have a problem.

In local-America, the general terms for a group of baboons are "troop" or "tribe," and "congress" is the most popular unique collective noun. In Terramagne-America, the unique term is "flange," less common but gaining ground here.

Florence's "we all understand" remark is a verbal attack pattern.



There are ways to tell when a friend is no good for you, such as doing things a true friend would never do. Conversely, there are signs of a true friendship. Understand how to tell if you have a true friend, and how to be a good friend yourself.

OOh, so glad this posted!

Date: 2014-12-16 01:53 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I love that there is an adult who understands that /how/ you help is sometimes more important than /offering to help. And that he /warns/ the boy that people are watching the two of them. He's not trying to intimidate or coerce a particular result from them, but he's letting them know that /other adults might be/. Best THEY choose something to do to "show progress" before some one can get another "helpful" idea that wrecks another month of both teens' lives, or worse.

This one makes me smile every time I read it.

And drool for the next part!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-16 04:56 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Love this. Looking forward to the sequel.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 03:21 am (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
God save me from well-intentioned idiots.

I like Mr. Marshall. He's smart and compassionate.

I just love that Stan and Lawrence are working from their strengths. I also like the fact that Mr. Marshall and Stan convince Lawrence he can do this, by showing him how to approach it.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-17 04:08 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I think someone needs to introduce Mr. Marshall to the concept of "helpiness" -- which he can then deploy as needed in these discussions. And by all that's holy, let's hope nobody hands them one of these! If my parents had ever seen that, I'd have been in the loony ward faster than you could say "involuntary commitment".

Oops, here's one of my leftover triggers manifesting. Jocks are enemies, but Jock Teachers are The Enemy personified. Individual jocks may decide not to be nasty, but Jock Teachers never do that -- for them, if you're not in their tribe, it's war to the death. At this point, I would be expecting to see things heading for a showdown as Ray-Bob tries to make Stan choose between Lawrence and The Team and gets a response he doesn't expect... and then he'd go full-homophobic nuclear on Stan. Which, although it would probably do a lot of good in the long run (as in, the asshole loses his job), would not be good for either Stan or Lawrence right now. I will be pleased if I am proven wrong about this.

"He gets into enough trouble on his own
without someone smacking him into next week."


Notice that doing something about the bullies at school is still not even on the table. Goddammit, assault is assault even if the perp and the victim are classmates!

Bruce had noticed how much more careful
Stan was getting about handling things.


Since his super-strength manifested, I presume. You've mentioned this before, that Stan is very aware of how much physical damage he could do by carelessness.

It's good to know that someone in a position of authority is on their side. I still think the school librarian might easily be another ally. Would you object if I tried to stat up that character?

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2014-12-18 02:12 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
But this is actionable. It contains enough defamatory and inflammatory statements that handing it out -- especially, a teacher handing it out at school -- means Bruce can finally call the National Hate Crimes Office and lodge a complaint.

There are actually several different versions of this -- that was just the first one I could lay pixels on. Some of them aren't nearly as inflammatory WRT things like "talks about killing people", but they all have the "common and harmless teenage behavior" stuff. I know I've used one as a joke meme somewhere on my LJ, but a quick scan of likely tags didn't bring it up.

>> Oops, here's one of my leftover triggers manifesting. <<

*hugs*


I should note that I'm not using "trigger" in quite the standard way here. What I mean by it is that this is a known faulty thought pattern that I have to watch out for lest I be tripped up by it, and that it happens because of stuff in my background. The pattern in this instance is that I tend to assume malice as a motivation or first cause for certain classes of people, when that might not always be the case.

>> Jocks are enemies, but Jock Teachers are The Enemy personified. Individual jocks may decide not to be nasty, but Jock Teachers never do that -- for them, if you're not in their tribe, it's war to the death. <<

Yyyyeah. That has been my experience. I have heard from other people that exceptions exist, and I'm happy for that. But for me, those are rainbow-farting unicorns.


Another note: Jock Teacher (as I use the term) has a lot of overlap with gym teachers and coaches, but not 100%. In my time at school, I had one really good gym teacher, one Jock Teacher, and a bunch of them who were neutral/indifferent to the geeky and unathletic kids, rather than being actively hostile. It's that active hostility which is the marker for the Jock Teacher. It's a teacher who identifies not only with sports culture but with the high-school jock's stereotypical contempt for anyone who isn't, and now they have the power to enforce that.

Since Stan tends not to get into the kind of trouble that requires calling a parent, the teachers may not have any idea that provoking Stuart is like kicking a honeybadger.

Oh, I would love to see that happen to some asshole who richly deserves it!

Roy will ignore it as "boys will be boys" unless there is actual bloodshed, at which point he flips his lid.

Which I know you know is a very bad pattern indeed. I had a summer-school teacher once who was like that -- he wouldn't articulate the rules or his expectations until someone went over the line, and then he'd go nuclear and kick them out of class for the day. Now, it's true that "no beating up on people" is something that should be a given -- but since it's not, then ignoring it until someone "goes too far" (without ever articulating what that means) and then flipping out is REALLY, REALLY BAD.

You can't always count on having someone to rescue you.

That's certainly true, but that doesn't mean that it should be ignored when it happens in public, which is what way too many people seem to mean when they say that.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2014-12-19 04:04 pm (UTC)
johnpalmer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] johnpalmer
Most gym teachers I knew were *okay*. But one is the one who assaulted me (not seriously - a shove past me when I was on the stairs) and then blamed me - claiming I attacked him! (I didn't. But I was waiting for him to make an actual fighting move so I could try to hurt him - *or* to walk away, so I could go on my way. I learned that you don't turn your back on a bully, and that a bloody nose given is often the price of being able to walk away in peace. I think he took that as me being "aggressive". )

Re: Also...

Date: 2014-12-18 01:27 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Thanks for those links! Quick question: how exactly do Qualities points add -- as absolute values, or are they signed? (IOW, if my character has one +4 Expert, three +2 Good, and one -2 Poor, does that add up to 8 points or 10 points overall?) Apologies if this is answered in the links and I missed it because I was skimming.

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