When I was in grade school, we had a class comedian. I took it for granted that there would be a boy in our class who would cut in with funny remarks that more often than not raised our teacher’s ire. It seemed normal to me that this would happen. I was glad to have a class comedian for a couple of reasons. One, he was entertaining. Since classes could be tedious at times, it was nice to have things lightened up from time to time. Two, there was a certain satisfaction in seeing one kid in our class being the one who got in trouble frequently as long as that person wasn’t me.
It so happened that the came when our comedian announced to our teacher and the class that he was moving to another school district and a few days later, he was gone. I remember consciously thinking that we would need a new class comedian and I even knew who it was going to be. I was right on both counts. The very boy I expected to move into the role did that just. (He had acted a bit the part of understudy before this.)
When I think back on all this, it becomes clear that the class comedian, although disruptive at times, was actually a nice kid. He was never mean to anybody as far as I can recall. He didn’t have much in the way of friends although I spent a little time with him. He deserved better in that respect. I knew his family was broken and that sort of thing leads to some children acting out. Much the same could be said for the boy who took over the role of comedian, although he had a bit more of an edge to his personality.
I suppose one might say my insight was a bit precocious; I really don’t know how many other kids in my class had that awareness, if any. On the other hand, any pride over this insight drops down precipitously as I admit that I consciously participated and inwardly affirmed this situation.
Like many children, I was not a stranger to scapegoating activity. I was myself the butt of scapegoating among these same children. That did not happen during class where I was very docile and obedient and rarely in danger of being on object of opprobrium from a teacher. My social adjustment as a child was not particularly smooth and it became harder when my strangeness got connected with my surname so that I was “the man from Mars.” Perhaps it made me feel better that someone else was the class scapegoat in certain respects. Maybe it made it easier for me to be docile because somebody else was acting out on my behalf.
A year or two later, there was a different scapegoat. He wasn’t a comedian or a disruptive presence. He was not as attractive as some kids. Somehow, he rubbed our teacher the wrong way and this boy never had a chance to make it right. I didn’t get the same satisfaction from this boy’s scapegoating; it was not entertaining and at some level it seemed unfair. I suppose I might have been more troubled if I didn’t happen to have a pretty good relationship with this teacher myself. I know see this favoritism as unfair and that I was overrated by this teacher, to detrimental effect in junior high where my limitations showed up. In many ways, he was a good teacher, but the pattern of there being a class scapegoat showed up with other classes he had. One of the most hurtful things that ever happened as a child was at the hands of the music teacher at our school who was also prone to scapegoating behavior. She singled me out for ridicule by showing the class a man on a flying carpet and telling the class that this was me, flying off to dreamland. Another example of a teacher being the scapegoater.
All of these reflections show how easy and insidious for a social group like a class in school, to instinctively gather unity through scapegoating one person or another. It is all the more disturbing to realize that teachers fall into the role of scapegoaters, reinforcing what the children are doing. We all need to get in touch with memories such as these to understand ourselves and to help us overcome the systemic needs that continue to haunt us