I didn’t realize I was at war with my high school students. I didn’t realize that, even as I was deliberating over what to get them to thank them for all their hard work, they were also planning their move. I did not anticipate an equal or even capable opponent, but clearly these children have studied battle before. These little monsters are trying to make me cry in front of them, but so am I.
My move was to buy them cookies. These kids have worked ridiculous hours for the last month, so I wanted some delicious way of showing my appreciation. Cookies made sense. The message from a cookie is clear: my gratitude for the work you did is comparable to how delicious these cookies are. I didn’t buy that good of cookies, but my best move has never just been the cookies, it has been that I also buy gluten free and vegan cookies in case any of my students have those dietary restrictions. The implication is that I am a benevolent ruler, and they should sob in the face of my ultimate benevolence.
Every classroom is just a competition to see who will break first and show their genuine affection and appreciation by crying all over the place. I have almost never lost. Usually my class ends in a stalemate with neither party having felt much at all, but that’s not happening with these kids. They know I’m weak. They know I have feelings beyond “tired but need to work” and “hungry but doesn’t have my debit card.” They used that information to launch a counterattack I had only seen once before, and I sobbed like a child after it happened last time.
They bought me a card. The little emotional deviants bought me a card and wrote stuff in it. How dare they! How could they take this route of such easy emotional devastation? Don’t they know there are rules of conduct in battle? You don’t just show genuine appreciation to someone because you feel it? You try to make them cry so your appreciation of them subordinates them and puts them in a position to feel like they need to do something for you. That’s how I was taught. What’s all this “genuine emotion” and “kindness without consequences.” This is war, children, you don’t get to be a nice person without ulterior motives under capitalism. I brought you cookies because you worked hard, and the implicit message was that you’d work hard again. A CEO gives their bonus away to their employees, and the message there is that it is a gift because of the work the employees had put in, but that doesn’t acknowledge that the money was stolen from the workers’ labor in the first place. A would-be senator goes to a parade, and the implication is that everyone in the parade will see them there and vote for them, but the only sacrifice that senator made was being seen near people, but sometimes the gift is out of proportion with what is expected in return.
But they went outside the paradigm and didn’t use their gift for emotional subordination. They seem to have just given it because they were “thankful.” Strange, what is this that I’m feeling. It’s not the budding tears of a traditional defeat. I don’t feel like I owe these students anything more. Why am I sad? What did they do?
Those tiny monsters made me feel feelings, and then they left. Bastards. They just dropped their card and left to go graduate, and I was stuck in the library for a few minutes after crying like a child who’d eaten too many cookies.