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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Well-Behaved Kids

My children are well behaved.

I'm not sure why.  I mean, I sort of know why--and it has nothing to do with them living in hunched and quivering balls of fear/respect/hatred of our authority.

They're well behaved because authority has been kind to them, and because it's encouraged them to think for themselves, and because their parents and teachers have, for the most part, treated them as a valued member of the team.

This doesn't mean they're perfect. ZoomBoy is still a little spaz, and he and I spaz out at each other frequently because ADHD comes with a hair trigger temper, and when we're tired, squashing that thing down isn't always easy. But we work on it--both of us. We both practice taking big deep breaths, and at not taking out our confusion or unique thinking on the whole rest of the world. I've tried very hard to teach him to ask for help while respecting the limits of his teachers and classmates. It's a fine line--he works on it every day.

But even the teacher who had the worst problems with him was quick to point out that he was kind to his fellow students. She used to put the kids with the behavior problems next to him, because if they couldn't get along with ZoomBoy, they needed to sit by themselves. The worst he ever responded was by using a pencil eraser and very gently pushing the kid's hands on the other side of the tape that marked the line between them.

In a well-behaved kid, a misbehavior is usually a big red flag. Something is wrong. Usually NOT with them. Usually, it's with something else in their environment.

If a well-behaved kid tells you they disagree with an adult, you can talk about how to deal with that disagreement. You can give them tips with how to negotiate the adult world, even though they are short and young and don't have any power, really.

Well-behaved kids are often the ones who change a class's culture, or a school's, or a community.

A classroom teacher listens to the well-behaved kid. If another teacher rubs the kid the wrong way, or if a situation bothers this child, or if social injustice begins to matter (it's always nice when this happens) it is the well-behaved kid who can stage the meaningful change in the environment.

Thinking back about teaching, it was the well-behaved kids who gave us the direction to start needed clubs like the GSA or the Spanish Club or Matheletes. I ran the Creative Writing club because several well-behaved kids approached me and assured me that they could deal with the paperwork, because I was not great at it.

These kids were not always the straight-A students. They were not always the athletes. They weren't always quiet in class when we asked.

But they were respectful when they spoke to us. They apologized when we pointed out they'd been rude. They recognized that we were doing the best we could for them, and that they could help us out by being respectful when we tried to do that.  Although they were quick to point out when we erred, they were also quick to accept our own apologies when we gave them.

I know we need to work with compassion and creativity to engage the kids who have chronic behavior problems--that is teaching and that is life. Acting out has a cause--and sometimes we can access it and fix it, and sometimes we are not that kid's hero because that door was closed to us long ago. But the chronic behavior problems get lots of attention--ask any kid in a classroom full of them. That's what they're there for, that's why they are doing it.There are a thousand different reasons, a thousand different essays to write about difficult kids, and this is not their story.

This is the story of the well-behaved kid. It's unfortunately easy to disregard the well-behaved kid as a suck-up, or someone whipped by the system--to equate "well behaved" with "obedient"--but I just wrote a guest blog about the "good boy hero", and I'll say now what I said then.

A good boy or girl--i.e., a well-behaved kid-- knows the difference between what is right and what is correct. The well-behaved kid will stand up quietly and insist on doing what's right, because what is correct is clearly morally wrong. The well-behaved kid wants to change the system, not demolish it. He or she wants to draw attention to injustice or a problem--not to their own issues.  He or she doesn't want to be rude, or shrill, or mean.

The well behaved kid is humble, thoughtful, and level-headed.

A well-behaved kid isn't a victim. He isn't isn't a puppet. He isn't a fool.

He's not a grandstander (but he can be a ham), and he isn't cruel, and he's not a tool.

He isn't entitled. In fact the well-behaved kid is sort of the opposite of the entitled kid. Entitled kids expect their tantrums and their bullying and their snideness and their outrage to get the positive response that the well-behaved kid can sometimes garner with a humble request.

Captain America is the quintessential well-behaved kid.

Ghandi was a very well-behaved kid.

Suffragettes were (for the most part) extremely well-behaved--when they weren't breaking the law by insisting on their rights.

Colin Kaepernik is a well-behaved kid.  He is asking, in a humble, meaningful way, for the nation to look at change. He doesn't want the attention for himself--he wants the attention to improve upon a longstanding flaw in his world.

I was not always a well-behaved kid. As I grow older, I hope someday, I can be.

I'm glad I've got some role models to look at as I grow.

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