Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Fine Art of Thievery

My library has a theft-protection system that works very well thanks to one basic assumption that the kids make that is entirely wrong. Most of our students believe that the book's bar code is what will set of the alarm. If the book is not scanned, the alarm will go off. It's actually a pretty good guess. But wrong.

Kids make attempts to steal books about twice a month. These are usually comic books or graphic novels, books about cars, pro-wrestling, or sex. Boys are usually the thieves, for whatever reason. Maybe the girls just don't get caught.

Today, a 6th-grade boy came in to return the book Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. He then browsed for ten minutes or so, setting off the alarm when he tried to leave. When I called him back in (they always come back; they never run), he emptied the contents of the large portion of his backpack onto the counter. No book in there.

"Hm. That's odd." I said, curiously. "May I look in this smaller pocket, just to be sure that there's nothing else that might set off the alarm?"

"That's my friend's book. He in my class," says the boy, a wild look of terror in his eyes. I haven't even opened the pocket yet, but I already know that there's something good in there for me.

"Ok." Unzip.

"That's my friends. He in my class."

"What's his name?" I am always willing to listen.

"Ummm." He's gazing at the ceiling, really trying to come up with this name. "He sits next to Arturo."

Oh! Right. The kid who sits next to Arturo in Ms. _______'s class this period. Of course. I know him well.

Needless to say, the book hadn't been checked out to anyone. The bar code hadn't been scanned, and the security device hadn't been deactivated. This was a case of attempted book theft. The young boy, who had fooled himself into thinking his plan would work. became belligerant. He changed his story several times, finally telling me quite severely"You'd better be quiet!" before storming out of the library, foul words on his tongue.

But as all hapless thieves are wont to do, the boy messed up again. He left his school ID on the counter. Ha!

I take great pleasure in busting the wayward student. The library is a place where student crime thrives. Theft, vandalism, ditching class, bullying, inappropriate Internet frolicking, littering, harrassment, extortion, gum-chewing and candy-eating, note passing, cussing, teacher-bashing, ... I see it all. Except for violence, I see every manifestation of school rule-breaking there is. And I love to expose it. I do. I love to realize that I am witnessing a crime in progress, observe carefully to confirm my suspicion, approach the perp with nonchalance, phrase my first question in a non-threatening manner, get a partial confession or piece of evidence due to luck or investigative skill, and then bring it all home. Get the ID, get the name, call the teacher, explain the situation, and see the student realize that the library is not a free zone. The library is a classroom where each offense counts.

I don't spend my day looking for students who are misbehaving; I'm too busy for that. They just appear before my eyes. They ditch class in the library, but sign in using their real names. They attract a throng of observers around the computer screen, only to close the application as soon as I walk up. If that isn't an invitation to check the Internet history, what is? They leave spilled, sugary candy all over the couch....and leave their textbooks right next to it.

I love my students, and this is one of the things I love most about them. Some of them are always calculating the odds of getting away with something, which means that their little minds are churning away in there. I love that. I love to point out to them where they went wrong, and most of all, I love the way their faces look as they consider how they will revise their plans for the next time.

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