::::::::Having taught elementary school for 20 years, mostly third, fourth, and sixth grades, and been around kids most of my life, I have developed a world view that our species is inherently good. I have seen it every day I've worked with kids. The overwhelming majority of the time kids simply want to be accepted by their peers. This seems to be our primary psychological need. When accepted, they are willing to help one another without thinking twice. That in fact, is a key I use to run a successful classroom.
I use small group settings to have students help one another and share knowledge, skills, and understanding. When things are going right, it is like watching kids learn on adrenalin; well, it IS watching kids learn on adrenalin. I also continually try to incorporate everyone into class discussions, try to have more able students take slower or troubled ones under their wings, and, in essence, let everyone know that NO ONE is "on their own."
Yes, there are problems, but it is remarkably rare when it turns into something that must involve parents-and if we get to that, I often see where the problems are originating from. So many other teachers I've known see the same things.
Why? I think the answer is simple. We are social beings, and when our social needs are addressed, we don't have the wish to "get on top" by squashing others. We don't need that ego recognition, because we already have it.
I know I'm putting a lot in a nutshell here, but let me give one more example, that I think goes to the root of how people get twisted. The example I'll give is that of Cody Thunder. Cody was NOT the twisted one, but out of an entire community, he is the one person who knew how to save a twited peer. I wrote about Cody in a diary column I titled, "All I Want for Christmas." I shall include part of that column here and let you draw your own conclusion:
Cody Thunder is my hero. Cody Thunder is a Guiding Light for America, and Beacon for the World, if we but follow his kind example. You likely heard of Cody, but might not remember him. He appeared in an article titled, "Wounded Teen Reached Out to Minnesota Gunman." The "gunman," a distraught student wielding a gun, killed several other teens in his high school, in 2005.
One teenager wounded in the shooting said he reached out to the gunman before the attack because the boy seemed to have no friends. "He looked like a cool guy, and then I talked to him a few times," 15-year-old Cody Thunder said Thursday. "He talked about guns and shooting people."
Thunder said despite that, and even though the student cultivated a dangerous appearance that included sculpting his hair into devil horns - "It looked like he was trying to be evil" - Thunder never thought the student would shoot up their school.
At first, "I thought he was messing around, I thought it was a paintball gun or something," said Thunder, the first wounded student to describe the nation's deadliest school shooting since Columbine. The disturbed student, a hulking 16-year-old, shot to death five students, a security guard and a teacher, then killed himself. Earlier, he shot to death his grandfather and the man's girlfriend.
"It was a mean face," Thunder said, when asked about the gunman. "He was aiming at me," said Thunder, who was shot once in the hip. Thunder said he had a few classes with the gunman last year and spoke with him a few times. "Because no one talked to him. I just thought it would be nice to go talk to him, so I did," Thunder said.
"Because no one talked to him, I just thought it would be nice to go talk to him, so I did." Wow!
As sixth grade teacher, I'd like to add this: If another three or four students, or even a teacher, had taken the time to do the same-just talk to the disturbed young man, even for a few minutes now and then, it is almost certain this tragedy would never have taken place. The boy was an excellent artist, though his pictures reflected much violence. What, I've often wondered, would have happened if some insightful adult had taken note, posted the student's art for others to see and comment on, and made this young man feel cared about and wanted?
Kindness, that's all I ask for. Kindness to fellow Americans, kindness to humans all over the world.