Tomorrow we're having an assembly about bullying and teasing. It's some sort of play or musical... I didn't get much in the way of details. But we were asked to prep our kids by discussing the topic ahead of time. My journal prompt for today was, "When someone uses their words to hurt me, I _____." Most kids wrote "tell the teacher." A few wrote "walk away." One wrote, "turn around and punch him." The illustration for that one showed the Fighting Boy's fist in another child's face, and a speech bubble that said, "Ha ha ha!"
My first thought was to let it go, but then I decided to turn it into a discussion at circle time. I pulled Arthur's Eyes off of my bookshelf and read up to the part where Arthur's friends make fun of him when they see him in his new glasses for the first time. Then I stopped to ask some questions.
"What should Arthur do now?" I asked.
Several students voiced opinions: "Walk away!" "Tell the teacher!" "Find new friends!"
Fighting Boy said, "Punch them in the face!"
"Okay, let's talk about that," I said. "What could happen if Arthur punches them in the face?"
"He could get in trouble," one child offered.
"So, do you think it's a good idea to hit someone if they hit you first?" I prodded.
Almost every child said yes. I don't know why this surprised me, but it did. Several kids said that their parents tell them it's okay to hit someone if they hit you first. One girl even said, "My mom always says 'My daughter is not a punching bag.' She said I'm allowed to hit back." Joe Cool said his mom doesn't care if he gets in trouble for hitting someone back. "I don't get punished at home," he said.
I tried explaining to them that when they are in school, there are always adults to tell if someone is bothering you. In school, it's not okay to hit someone, even if they hit you first. In school, if you hit someone and they hit back, both people will get in trouble, no matter who started it.
"You don't want to get in trouble, do you?" I asked.
Fighting Boy shrugged. "I don't care. It's just for one day," he said.
"Do you think it's cool to get in trouble?"
Fighting Boy and Joe Cool both nodded.
I just couldn't let it drop. I tried reasoning with them. "Do you know what happens to grown-ups who get in trouble?"
"They go to jail," replied a chorus of students. A few of my kids know this first-hand, having had parents or relatives locked up for various reasons.
"Do you think it's cool to go to jail?" I asked.
Joe Cool nodded even more enthusiastically.
The whole exchange left me sad and frustrated. I can't control what these kids do at home. I can't censor what they watch on TV, or what music they listen to, or what they hear from friends and family. That's out of my jurisdiction. But it worries me that at seven years old, their view of the world is "survival of the fittest." It's eat or be eaten with these kids, and it carries over into the classroom. It scares me to think what some of these kids will be like when they get older.