My household recently dealt with the self-inflicted turmoil of changing schools two months into the academic year. There were a number of reasons we made the decision to pursue this option, but chief among them was the attitude reflected in a single comment made by my child’s teacher: “Big people talk; little people listen.”
When my child came home and repeated this phrase, I knew it had struck a chord with him because very rarely do I get such detailed reporting of what happens during the school day. (Parents, can I get an “amen”?) For additional context, know that I’m talking about kindergarten at a public school with kids who need buckets of support for all kinds of behavior problems. Regardless, I find this mindset to be overly simplistic, short-sighted, and yet profoundly illuminating.
I had to really contemplate why this directive upset me as much as it did. I can understand why a teacher of any grade level would see this as the most expedient way to manage their classroom. After all, when you have 20+ crazed 5-6 year olds to deal with, it’s human nature to take the path of least resistance. But what troubles me so much about the attitude reflected in this comment is the implied meaning:
I’m not here to support you.
Everything an adult says is truth.
Your thoughts and ideas are not important or do not matter.
When the emphasis is on control instead of instruction, children (nay, people) do not learn how to think.
Granted, educational achievement gaps in this country are truly glaring, and I’ll be the first to admit it places every public school teacher in an incredibly difficult position. Contrary to what it may seem, I don’t write this to levy animosity at the teacher or the school directly. I believe my child’s teacher was doing the only thing they knew how to do with fewer and fewer support resources year after year while facing increasingly challenging needs from their students. It’s an impossibility and is one of the reasons why so many teachers are burning out so early in their careers at such an alarming rate.
I write this because I’m concerned that we’ve replaced debate with threat, aid with accusation, and compassionate inquiry with a command-and-control mentality. My colleague, David Larson, wrote about “the poison of resentment” a few weeks ago, and he could not have been more right.
As I watch the news coverage of the student protests surrounding the Israel/Hamas conflict, the same questions keep replaying in my mind: How many of these students actually understand that Hamas and Palestinians are no more synonymous with one another than Nazis and Germans? Where are the anti-terror protests? How many of these students actually understand the Biblical underpinnings behind this conflict? (How many people reading this article even understand this?) Or are they only viewing things through the lens of a secular, 20th century chronology?
What are we actually teaching our children? Nothing, because we haven’t taught them how to think critically or seek knowledge and understanding. “I talk, you listen.”
And because we haven’t listened to them, there is so much anger and frustration behind misplaced emotional turmoil that things seem to go from 0 to 60 in a matter of minutes without any clear end-game. Are we dismissive of their fears because we’re afraid of realizing that we may still have something to learn?
The school we’re enrolled with now places an emphasis on “wisdom beyond scholarship,” and I look forward to seeing how this bears out over time. I ultimately told my child that yes, we should listen to our teachers and grown ups and follow directions at school, but that little people have important things to say too. I want my child to learn how to speak truth to power with civility and purpose in an age when rage is more newsworthy than common sense.