Lessons Our Children Learn (ii.)

In the previous post, I rambled about false messages parents are sometimes sending to their kids. The original issue that got me started was reading about girls being told that if boys harass them in the playground, that means they like them.

Now, luckily enough, I’m in a position where my daughter never actually was bullied by any of the boys in her school. She just doesn’t seem to be enough of the meek and mild type who becomes the first victim of bullies. Because I know it does happen, even in her primary school. Some of the boys are quite notorious. As a member of the school board I get to hear even more stories than I would otherwise, and I never stop wondering what it is that makes boys consider themselves cool when they set fire to the trashcan by the schoolyard or when they pick on those weaker than them. But neither can I stop wondering when after a weekend or holiday I find broken bottles in a sandbox. I don’t mind teenagers hanging out in a playground, and I don’t mind them drinking beer there any more than anywhere else, but beer bottles don’t break on their own in a sandbox. Sometimes I want to put up signs saying “It’s not cool to pick on weaker people. It’s actually sooooo lame.” Or “It’s no fun to see a toddler cut his hands on a broken bottle.” Or even if the glass gets noticed and the parents take their kid away from it, “It doesn’t make you a man to spoil a toddler’s fun.” When we moved during my first term in primary school, I didn’t think it the least bit cool when the fourth-termers picked on this new kid. What I considered really cool was when this class-mate of mine, who wasn’t even one of my closer buddies, stood up to them and got them off my back.

Recently, I’ve heard problematic behavior in boys and how it seems to become ever more common explained by the way our primary schools work. I remember years ago, girls were said to have a disadvantage at school. They were said to show less class participation allegedly for being shy. They appeared to shy away from anything that was remotely scientific or at least to give up more quickly and explain the supposed failure with a gender-specific, genetic incapability. Even if the latter may not have disappeared, entirely, the whole situation seems to have changed considerably. It was talking to an old friend who fathered a boy a few years ago that I first realized how much, at least primary schools here in Germany, are geared towards girls. There are hardly any male teachers in primary schools, the whole is so much about sitting still, proper handwriting, drawing pictures, and if you’ve done a good job, as a reward you get some colorful sticker pasted into your exercise book. I know that I as an adult sometimes can’t muster the patience for watching my daughter paint her letters rather than write them. Maybe it’s no small wonder that boys grab the first outlet, they can get. Some schools, hereabouts, react to that. They offer extracurricular boys groups, often led by a male teacher, where the boys get to participate in all sorts of activities that they are interested in, typically activities more physical than regular classes. Instead of painting pictures in art classes, they may go and build a wooden hut in a forest, for example. There’s the building of something tangible, the physical exercise of collecting the wood and raising the building, the element of danger using real, maybe sharp tools, which they’ll otherwise typically be protected from. There’s also the experience of faith being put into them by trusting them with the tools and the possibility to learn how to pay back that trust with responsibility. I’m totally in favor of such groups, especially when they set themselves rules and through a male role-model demonstrate that justice and respect are not less manly than bullying your school-mates, quite to the contrary.

Whether school can really teach kids that if they don’t learn it, at home, I’m a little unsure, not to say skeptical. Most adults, today, only seem to care for themselves. What politicians do is good, as long as it is beneficial to me. Everybody can say what they want, as long as they’re not talking nonsense. And nonsense is whenever they take a view that’s different from mine. Take a look at your average, controversial blog article and the comments it gets. I’m not at all surprised it gets as bad as this. It’s my conclusion from my blogging experience that most people just aren’t interested in discourse, they just want to be right (and here’s my issue with the couch-queen’s tag-line.) And whoever contradicts their opinion needs to be ground into the dust. That’s just a fantastic display of respect for other people’s opinions and at the end of the day of respect for other people as such. How can we suppose kids to learn respect with such adults? So many people talk about respect and when you listen to them closely, all they talk about is getting it, not giving. If there’s one thing I hope I’m getting across to my daughter, it’s that, whenever she feels being treated unfairly or disrespectfully by friends, teachers, parents, whoever, (a) don’t accept it and (b) remember what justice or respect demand when it’s you who’s acting.

Like I said, I’m lucky my daughter doesn’t get bullied by boys in her school. On the other hand, the way the girls treat each other feels like a more sophisticated, less physical, but no less effective way of bullying to me. How they compete for being the prettiest, the most popular. How it seems hard to ever have three girls play together without it all ending in two of them competing for the attention of the third. How the worst threat is “You’re no longer my friend.” And how two days later alliances have shifted, again, and two girls who were bitching at each other are suddenly all close again, complaining about another girl. That completely mystifies me. If I had friends who treated me like some of my daughter’s friends treat each other, I’d have told them to take a running jump, years ago. And that, certainly, can’t be reduced to a lack of role-models at school. But maybe, if I had paid more attention to girls in my primary school, I’d know that it’s always been like that. Who knows. Somebody understand girls 😉

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