Today was one of those hard, rewarding days. As we work through the essential question "Why do humans hurt each other?" there are bound to be difficult moments. In some ways, the most difficult teaching moments are the ones that make it worth it.
The piece I had the kids read today was not particularly daring. In October, People did a special report on bullying, in which they profiled six teenagers who were bullied for different reasons. They finished the statement I was bullied because... and the responses were:
1. people were jealous
2. we are overweight
3. I am muslim
4. I am biracial
5. just because
6. I'm gay
Before we started reading the profiles, I prepped the kids. "I know that some of these profiles are going to make you uncomfortable because you are going to recognize some of the people here. You are going to see reasons that people here at our school are bullied. And you might want to deflect it by making a joke. I am going to ask you to dig deeper than that, and really consider our essential question. Why are humans--kids you see every day--choosing to hurt these kids?"
Responses throughout the day were interesting. Most kids tried very hard to look within. A couple bullies snickered. Some excellent questions arose, particularly in seventh hour. Roger was laughing and bragging a bit because he said he guessed all the reasons why the kids were bullied based on their photos--and then he was right. Then he stopped laughing and said, "That's probably not a good thing." I said, "I think it might say something about you, but it probably says more than that." Another student stated that Joey, the gay kid in the article, could have prevented his own bullying by not coming out. A girl in his group pounced: "We are all different. Why should he have to hide who he is?"
The toughest moment--and my only one like this--was when Tyler approached with the article about Joey in his hand. "I don't like to read anything about this," he said. "I don't want to read it." I took a breath. I suppose I had considered this, but maybe with a short story with a gay character or something more obviously "controversial" (since people are controversial, as we all know). Not in a People article featuring six different kids.
I looked into his dark brown eyes and said, "There's nothing sexual in here. (Don't even know if I should've gone there at all, but you can't take it back.) This is a person. I want you to read it."
He is a super compliant kid. He nodded and went back to his seat. I went and checked in with him later, saying, "The reason why, Tyler, is I want you to know how all kinds of people feel when they hurt."
He said, "I read it."
Tyler didn't respond further. I don't know if today did any good--for him, or for others. I know they're better off thinking about it than not, and better off with someone who won't let them shift away from the hard questions. This is why I teach.