With the upcoming elections, the recent riots in Egypt and Libya, and the season finale of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, I have seen more hate on the Internet then I can bear. Religion, Politics, and reality stars are all obviously sensitive subjects that people are very defensive and devoted towards, but do all the opinionated comments, tweets, and posts have to be so heavily tainted with hate?
I asked myself this question over and over all evening as I read numerous articles about the cause and effects of Libya’s riots. The best answer I came up with is that hate cannot be eradicated by hate.
Almost every time I face a difficult life question I attempt to solve it by deciding how I would respond to this question to a first grader. I am a big believer that we should all behave the way we expect our elementary students to behave.
So, if a first grade girl told me that a little boy was bullying her best friend on the playground, how would I respond? Should she hate all boys and assume that every boy is going to be mean and hit girls? Would I tell her to be violent and aggressive back towards the little boy?
I would tell her to stand up to the little boy and explain to him that he is hurting her friend’s feelings (and of course to let a grown-up know). I would also explain to her that this little boy needs kids like her to teach him how to be kind, compassionate, and a good friend. I would then remind her that he likely came from a home where that type of behavior is used and he may not be very happy with himself. Being nasty back will just encourage his negative behavior, not stop it.
When I was teaching first grade in 2008 (The Obama/McCain election) I taught the basic facts about each candidate, presidency, and elections without any bias. Being an educator I wanted to give the facts and allow the students to come up with their own choice. However, every child is swayed by their environment, naturally.
After reading a children’s book about either Obama or McCain, one opinionated 6 year old jumped up and announced, “I’m voting for Obama!” Before I could respond with my monotone non-bias “Cool”, another brave 6 year old looked up at him and said “My Daddy says that if Obama is president all boys will have to kiss and marry boys!”
After all the “eeewwwss!” died down, a banter of Presidential candidate bashing ensued. Seriously, imagine 20 six and seven year olds shaking their fingers in each other’s faces while trying to mimic the words they’ve heard at home, from the TV, or even their other friends.
I knew several of their parents fairly well, and I KNOW most of them are awesome and loving parents who only teach their kids to be caring and understanding towards their friends, but six year olds are surprisingly devoted and protective when it comes to their family’s opinions. Towards the end of my little classroom riot I heard “I don’t want to play with you anymore!” and “I’m not your friend!”
I quickly put on my Mary Poppins face and sweetly but sternly had them sit down, be quiet, and look at me. After a minute of silence I began explaining to them how important it is to get along with people who think differently from us. I did my very best to teach them that the world is a better place because we all have different ideas and opinions. I even informed them that one of my best friends does not vote for the same person I vote for, but I still love her, spend time with her, and even enjoy learning why she likes that particular candidate. We can all learn from each other and appreciate each other!
We talked about how strong words like “hate” and statements like “We aren’t friends anymore” only hurt people’s feelings, these words do not help or teach. “How would you feel if….” was used often during this conversation.
I explained this very important life lesson in the best simplest terms I could form at such short notice. (Who would have thought first graders would be so passionate about the election!?!) I believed I got the point across after one little girl raised her hand and said, “If my best friend doesn’t like jelly beans I shouldn’t stop being friends with her! We can both like different foods.”
Correct. (I just love their sweet genuine thoughts!)
*I should also mention that other times we had conversations about how you may not love everyone or be best friends with everyone, which is OKAY for sure, BUT you still have to treat those people with respect and decency too.
We may not have gotten around to our math groups that afternoon, but we still learned a big lesson. Impromptu lessons like this are the scariest and the most memorable in my teaching career. I never know what life lessons will transpire when working with children.
Don’t even get me started on the many times students asked me about religion. Teaching first grade involved so much more than Eric Carle books and addition problems. We kept it real in my classroom… Did I ever mention the moment during Red Ribbon Week (Drug Free Week) when one girl innocently asked, “What are drugs?” and another responded with “My Daddy was arrested last night for selling drugs!”
True story, but I’ll save that for another blog.
So the moral of this blog is please PLEASE pretty please take a moment to think about the language being used in opinionated posts, tweets, and comments. We can express our opinions and thoughts without being hateful and hurtful. I know this is possible.
AND, the next time you are questioning your actions ask yourself “What would my first grade teacher say?” I do all the time. WWMFGTS? Simple.
Love and Cheers!