“It’s so hard to listen for six hours!” The littlest articulates tonight as she sits doing homework at 7:30 that she did not do over the weekend and did not do in the hour and half that was not spent in the car on the way to sister’s orthodontist appointment this afternoon.
This conversation comes after the middle one came home in tears because she was being made fun of all day for two reasons. First: the freshly made gap in her teeth that the painful pallet expanders have created and Second: she is a “conflict manager” at school – as a fourth grader – this is a perfect job for a girl who believes in rules and rule following but also believes in doing what’s right for the sake of being kind or helpful – The older kids think this is funny and tease her by “ghost” pointing across campus – “Look at that kid doing something against the rules!” and then laughing maliciously as my dear girl turns to look. Jerks.
The oldest came home with stories about “friends” who call him “white boy” and are mean about his personality and downplay everything about himself that he’s been proud of until now – now he hears their voices and wonders what it is that he is good at. They make fun of his broken arm by saying that roller hockey is easy and there’s no way they’d ever break a bone doing such and easy sport.
Why? All of my children are under the age of 13. Why are they having to face malicious comments and these jerk-face wolves of children who do not seem able to try and build each other up rather than break down every part of each other that might make them feel good and confident about themselves?
For the past 7 months I have focused my Masters inquiry on attempting to foster and build empathy in my classroom. For the past 7 months I have watched as my students break each other down. They can recognize and relate to one another’s feelings and experiences and in the same breath use that empathy to push their figurative thumbs in the eyes of an already hurting person – to squeeze that broken heart to see if the blood spurts faster – to turn away and feel better about themselves for being better than someone else rather than attempting to find a common ground and make a new friend. They almost never choose to be kind.
Now I sit in my own home and try to encourage my own children to continue being kind – to continue caring and resisting the urge to return a negative comment with an equally negative response – and I know they’re walking into a world where the wolves are crouched and waiting to pounce. Peers who believe that mean means strong and strong means right. This is how stereotypes are reinforced. This is why bullies are still being bullies.
And then I’m back to the littlest who recognizes that she is expected to be focused in class and when I asked her where her focus was otherwise, she said she just wanted time to talk to her friends behind her and that six hours is just so long…..and it is.
I keep coming back to the same question. Why in the world are we punishing our children with school? With mean interactions that are supposed to make them better understand what the adult world is like? Why are we putting them in uncomfortable seats in situations that so very much do NOT to a match their social or cognitive development. Why are they not outside playing? Learning to sew and fish and turn cartwheels? Why six hours? Why not 2? Why not give them time to figure out how to relate to one another on a level outside of the 4 tired walls of a classroom – lets break this freaking hierarchical capitalist society and re-invent our priorities people. How do we even begin to change this?