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Friday, May 25, 2007

When do kids turn mean?

Posted by: Hammer / 12:48 PM

Big Sister Hammer took part in her elementary school talent show this morning. I got to watch many performances before she took to the piano. Although she was the best one in her row and clearly the highlight of the show, my strongest memory might well be how gracious these damn kids were.

One girl blew a shoe in the middle of her hula hoop routine. Virtually her entire class smiled brightly at her and gave her a big thumbs up -- just as their music teacher had encouraged them to do before the performance. "My god," I thought. "Why aren't these kids laughing? Is it possible that these small humans really want to see their fellow classmates do well?"

"Is," I wondered, "Schadenfreude dead?"

Moreover, a girl with Down's Syndrome had performed a dance routine earlier. As I watched her stand at attention, waiting for the music to start, I thought back to my middle school years. In particular, the first time I saw a grown man cry -- for real, and not for fake.

Dan Hanson, a teacher, was helping lead a discussion on the treatment of the special education students in our school. He described how some students were mocking them or bullying them on the playground. He described the challenges one girl faced just in getting to school everyday because of her physical limitations. He told we assembled jackasses that this girl was one the bravest people he had ever met.

At this point, he began to cry. It was strange -- different, at least -- to see him stand with his back straight, shoulders back, chin up and tears coming down his face. "Yes," he said to us "it's okay for boys to cry."

And then his thoughts and mood shifted just a bit. His voice became very serious. Almost dark. "I do not want to see any of you making fun of Tammy -- or any of these brave children -- again."

Now, I hadn't teased Tammy (not her real name). I hadn't been cruel to her. To be honest, the rare times I noticed her and I avoided her. So I was innocent of the gravest charges against our class. But I remember calling my friends Speds and Retards. And I remember the wrestling matches near the Tard Pit -- where the loser stepped into a depression in the blacktop and was therefore a Retard.

I knew then what I should have known much earlier. That these name are all hurtful and degrading. I knew that my behavior wasn't the worst, but it was plainly bad enough.

Today a girl I don't know danced in front of her first grade classmates. Allow me to mention that she was a better dancer than I, if that doesn't damn her with faint praise. She was a bit awkward, but trying mightily.

Not only did she receive a wonderful ovation from her classmates, but they all asked for high fives when she was done.

I was very proud of those children for celebrating and supporting one another. If I were a better man, I'd celebrate and support alongside them. Instead, I'll start worrying -- when do these caring, supportive children turn mean?


A terrific post. Spot thinks kids often turn mean under the influence of adults, particularly parents. "It's a dog eat dog (sorry) world out there; you gotta be tough and look after yourself."

Spot read an article not so long ago about geneticists who said or found that humans are predisposed to altruism. It is a genetically-encoded survival skill for a group or tribe. But socialization beats it out of us.

Well, that and the hormones.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:52 PM  

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