The Personalist Project

My third-grade teacher was named Mr. Crisco. That was silly enough, but then he decided we were going to have a Feelings Chart and fill it out every single day. On the first day, we all decided together (Mr. Crisco being a very collaborative sort of guy) which color would stand for which feeling (red for excited, yellow for happy, black for sad or mad), and then each day, depending on how we were feeling, we’d fill in a square in the corresponding color.

Either my sister Abby or I got in trouble for filling in all the squares black in advance. (She remembers it being me and I remember it being her.) What Mr. Crisco didn’t understand was that we weren’t expressing rage or depression; we were just rebelling at having our feelings pried into and being required to declare them publicly.

We came by it honestly. My mother once had to take one of those invasive tell-us-who-you-really-are tests at school, and she got in trouble for filling in C for every single question.

For decades, the Feelings Chart was emblematic to me of what was wrong with public education, and the world at large, in the ‘70’s. You go to school to learn, don't you? Not to express your feelings. Your teachers are there to teach you, not to pry into your emotional life.

But it occurs to me I was missing something. Mr. Crisco had maybe 25 kids in his class. He did need some fairly efficient method of identifying what state we were all in, and not just whether we knew our multiplication tables. Maybe it wasn’t just pure nosiness for nosiness’ sake, popular as that was at the time. What if he had neglected to notice a suicidal child? What if he'd failed to mention one to the parents? What if his idea of being a teacher was so impoverished that it was exhausted by “Feelings are not my department”? 

Teachers are in a funny position. The good ones know their students and care about how they turn out. A student who feels known and cared about will be much more motivated to learn. 

Then again, teachers also need to just plain instill the multiplication tables and other just plain facts (I speak as someone who has spent much of the last two weeks drilling multiplication facts into my daughter to the rhythm of the mini-trampoline. That’s as fun as I can make it, and the thrill wears off pretty fast, it turns out).

The Feelings Chart was a horrible example of how reductionist attempts to nail down a child’s inner world can go wrong, but maybe Mr. Crisco was on to something.

You can’t reduce somebody’s inner world to an easily referenced color on a chart. But it speaks well of him that he was trying. It seems to me that no amount of tools and techniques will help a teacher who's not genuinely concerned for his students, and that for one who is, many such tricks, and nearly all educational fads, will be superfluous.

But I'd be interested to hear from teachers. It's easy enough to see possible pitfalls in your approach to your students' affective dimension.  But what does work?

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Comments (3)

Phil Prever

#1, Mar 14, 2015 12:28am

It was you, not Abby, and I was proud of you. ~Abba

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Mar 15, 2015 7:54am

Devra, the shift in your thinking on this point mirrors mine.

I didn't have a feelings chart foisted on me, but I remember resenting very much the '70s feelings focus, and the intrusive questions about my personal life that came with it.

But lately I've been asking myself whether there isn't, after all, much more to the emphasis than I'd realized. 

Especially since the election of Pope Francis, I've notice two things:

1) That he talks a lot about the heart, and

2) That there is a very strong strain of anti-feelings sentiment (if I can call it that) "on the right" that is both unattractive and damaging.

Also the heart and emotions have become more central in my own self-understanding and way of relating to others. 

So, how to be more interested in and concerned with each other's feelings, without being intrusive is the question.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Mar 15, 2015 7:59am

Here's one of the keys, I think:

We should be interested in others' feelings, because they reveal the person in a way that his words don't. But we're not entitled to another person's feelings. We don't get to demand that he reveal himself to us. We have to win his trust.

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