I can’t help but notice a kind of irony in what happened to Jack at school.
The story behind this website is that I became alarmed at the way boys are silently labeled as “bad boys” and treated as such. I decided to advocate for boys. My response to the various accusations against boys was: Boys are not sick, they are not budding criminals, they are not in need of “correction” all the time. Boys are not bad, I wanted to scream all over the internet.
That was in second grade and my son was the one receiving the label of bad boy. After third grade, however, while Jack still carried the suspicion of the authorities on his back, he actually became the victim of some really bad behavior. Neither Jack’s academic achievements nor the fact that he was not the one targeting other kids with physical or verbal nastiness did away with the negative judgment he received in second grade. While he was the one absorbing the bad behavior of other kids he was nevertheless considered problematic. Nobody said that to my face, but let’s just say I’m not stupid.
At this point I really don’t care what the teachers thought about him, me, or anything else. I am so relieved not to have to give that more thought. What is interesting to me is how the tables sort of turned on us over the years. I mean, here I am, advocating how good boys are and next thing I know my own son is subjected to some really bad-boy (and –girl) behavior. Isn’t that ironic?
And here I am again, writing about how happy I was to leave the “gated community” of private school for the “real world” of public school… How the values I held in raising my son in an open and more democratic environment was so important to me… How I wanted my son to learn to rely on his own resources rather than social advantages… And next thing I know, the very public school that I extolled over any private school basically spits him out as an undesirable element: his classmates literally vote him out of class and the teacher barely bats an eye. Isn’t that ironic?
So what do I make of this irony? Shall we call it a bizarre kind of karma?
I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it. Maybe this is a test of my beliefs and my commitment – in which case let the gods hear that this was not at all necessary. I don’t budge from my beliefs and commitment.
Not even the boys – and girls – who behaved with a rather strong demonstration of the ignorance and cruelty of childhood are “bad.” Ignorance and cruelty in children is just raw material. It is a kind of exploration: We encourage children to explore, don’t we? Why shouldn’t we expect that they will take us at our word and do some real exploration in every human direction? Why would we think that the curiosity of kids only extends to pretty, sunny landscapes, strewn with sweet tempers and kindly motives?
What I have learned from this experience is that yes, kids will be kids, which means that yes, they will reflect all aspects of their homo sapien genes. Of course kids are like us – that’s because they’re human. They are who we are. That seems obvious enough. And yet, we hardly think twice about finding faults with them that we don’t find in adults. We pathologize and criminalize them. It would be so easy for me to say the kids who bullied my kid are sick and violent. They sure behaved in a sick and violent way. They see plenty of sickness and violence everywhere and they will go there. And it’s all too obvious how they reflect back the exact nature of their environment.
So is there a solution?
Ain’t that the question?! I’m sure if you bring it up everybody will have all kinds of theories and prescriptions to offer. Me, I actually don’t flatter myself with coming up with solutions. I don’t know about theories and prescriptions. I can only come up with observations. And my observation is that it won’t do to call children sick and violent. It also won’t do to make them lists of do’s and don’ts. My only suggestion is to share this observation with children: Cruelty has its attractions and ignorance its conveniences. Let’s look at what those attractions and conveniences are...
But then again, do we have the courage to look at the attraction of cruelty and the convenience of ignorance in ourselves? Will any of Jack’s teachers give this a moment’s thought? Will any shadow of sadness even pass their consciousness? Will they look this simple fact in the face: Under their watch a group of perfectly nice kids “voted” a classmate out of class. And the result? The voted-out classmate is indeed out while the teachers and kids continue on with their ways after the little bump of a particular incident.
I think this shows that the convenience of ignorance is even stronger than the attraction of cruelty.
I’m not the first one to make that observation. Nor am I the first whose beliefs and commitments encounter the force of a certain banality. Not much of a karmic message there! Just life as it ever was.