The day after the election, stories immediately broke about swastikas spray painted on schools along with graffiti stating things like “Whites only” followed by a big “TRUMP”. At one school, a few students printed out some fake deportation notices that they passed out to Hispanic or Mexican students. In an elementary school cafeteria, a large group of students started chanting: “BUILD-THAT-WALL!”
So, of course, it is obvious that Donald Trump’s winning this election turned all these students into racists or at least unleashed the underlying racism that they had been keeping just below the surface. The mainstream media was all over this, to give us a peak at what a Trump-led, white supremacist nation would be like.
But before we panic and start fearing rights being revoked or internment camps being set up, I would like you to take a moment to think back to your K-12 educational experience.
I have been teaching for 20 years, all at the high school level, with the exception of one year of middle school. In my time in this profession, I have realized something that remains consistent. I really like 99% of my students each year. I like their personalities, their senses of humor, their quirks, their ways of greeting me, how they say goodbye at the end of class. I just like them, a lot. Amidst that 99% are some students I absolutely love. They are kids that give me hope for the future, that make me feel secure knowing our future is in their hands. They are the leaders, the thinkers, the problem solvers, and the communicators.
And then there is the other 1%. On average, I have about 150 students per year, so that means that within a two-year period, I have three students who I just do not like, and the reason for this is clear.
These are kids who like to say things to other students to hurt them. These are kids who go out of their way to physically hurt or belittle weaker kids. You could psychoanalyze these kids all you want, determining what has caused this behavior – neglect, abuse, pressure, desperation for attention, etc. However, regardless of the reason for the behavior, the bottom line is that these kids are just . . . plain . . . assholes. They’re cruel, and they’re bullies.
I see them when they get to high school, and I see how they treat other students and even teachers at that stage, but the thing is, I know they did not just become like this once they hit 14 years old. They were like that in middle school, and they were most likely that way in elementary school. In case you don’t remember these kids from your own school days, please allow me to give some examples from my own life.
1% at the Elementary Age
In my own elementary school, I remember a couple of older boys who liked to wait for smaller boys to use the stall for a bowel movement in the bathroom nearest the playground. When a boy went in there, one of the older ones would stand on the sink and the other on the toilet of the other stall, and they would throw stuff down at the kid. It was usually wet toilet paper or paper towels, but they also threw other things – whatever was in the trashcan, the doorstop, or even handfuls of dirt. Once, one of these kids even peed under the wall of the stall on the shoes of a kid that was in there. I know this, because those shoes were on my feet. That was the last time I ever went into that bathroom at recess.
Just a couple weeks ago, I was working out in my garage, with the door open. Between sets, I ran in place for 30 seconds to increase my heart rate. Some 5th grade friends of a boy across the street road past, and when they saw me, they stopped at the end of my driveway and pointed, laughing obnoxiously. One kid yelled (in a voice that I’m sure he considers his “retard” voice): “Run Forrest, run!” They laughed even harder then rode off. If that kid was willing to do something so disrespectful to an adult stranger, what is he willing to do to his peers?
1% at the Middle School Age
During the year that I taught 7th grade, one day at lunch I was walking to my classroom, and up ahead of me was a tiny little sixth grade boy with glasses, and he had an enormous backpack. He was looking at a comic book and eating a sandwich as he made his way past the side wall of the gym into a courtyard area. I remember thinking he was a particularly cute kid, and he made me smile. Then out from behind the wall, a bigger kid ran up behind him and kicked the little guy’s foot as and grabbed the backpack, throwing the little guy to the ground. Then for good measure, the bigger kid kicked him the lower back, right under the enormous backpack. The attacker and his friend started laughing, and they didn’t see me until I had them by the shirt collars, dragging them to the office (where they would be put on a “behavior contract” then sent to class). When I found the little guy to check on him later, his glasses were broken, and his arm and face were scraped up.
1% at the High School Age
When I was in high school, there was a girl who was not very attractive but had a major crush on an athlete who was good looking. Despite his being a jerk, she still liked him. And then he did something that totally surprised everyone. He asked her to prom. In my naivety, I thought that maybe he had turned over a new leaf. But then the following Monday I heard what he did. He took her to an extremely expensive restaurant before the dance and ordered both of them the most expensive dishes and desserts. Then after they ate, he excused himself to the restroom. However, instead, he went to the parking lot, got in his car, and drove off to meet his buddies at a party, leaving her sitting at the table.
A few years ago, an obnoxious kid whose locker was outside my classroom proved to be mean in the halls with the things he said to the other kids. I addressed it with him a few times, but he always played the innocent victim. Then one day, an extremely skinny girl that most of us knew was struggling with anorexia walked past him. I heard him say to her: “Looks like you’ve packed on a good fifteen pounds there. Maybe you shouldn’t scarf so much.” His friends laughed at this, but when I confronted him, he denied it to me, as he did to the principal. The girl didn’t want to even talk about it, so the kid got nothing but a lecture from the principal about being sensitive of others.
A girl who was a freshman last year wound up getting suspended for two days, because her math teacher heard her tell another girl who had bad acne that there were pills she could take to make all that acne go away. “It’s called overdosing.”
The one that takes the cake, however, is a story one of my seniors told me this year. He moved from Texas six weeks into the school year and was surprised at how nice kids were at our school. When I asked him more about it, he said that some of the kids at his old school were just mean. Then he proceeded to tell me about a “prank” one kid pulled on one of my student’s teachers. She had been pregnant but lost her baby to a miscarriage. One morning when she was back at school, she found a present outside her classroom door. She opened it to find a Cabbage Patch kid inside with a note that said: “Try not to lose this one.”
Now these are some really low and despicable things, and one of the biggest problems with these kids, especially at the high school level, is that they are intelligent – usually very intelligent. I wish they were dumb, because in that case, despite their mean intentions, all they would be able to do is call people names or punch them. A dumb kid would have told the anorexic girl that she was gross because she was so skinny, or something to that effect. Yes, that would have hurt her feelings, but it would not have zeroed in on what hurt her most. A dumb kid wouldn’t have thought up the Cabbage Patch kid “prank”. It takes intellect to come up with something so deeply cruel – intellect with no conscience. I can’t imagine what that teacher felt.
So, with these stories in my pocketful of experiences, when I saw the reports of the post-election incidents at some schools across our country, I didn’t panic or freak out that there was an outbreak of racist students in our country. That kids were racist like that didn’t even cross my mind. Instead, the 1% did. This is just more of what I have seen through my life and career. The kids that did those things aren’t racist. They could care less about another kid’s race, religion, gender identity, sexual preference, or anything . . . unless they see it as means to hurt someone for the simple sake of enjoying that person’s pain. They’re mean. They’re assholes. They’re the 1%. They saw a chance to exploit the situation for their own gratification, and they pounced. I know this, because I saw it as a kid, as many of you probably did, and I’ve seen it for the past twenty years.
Now, looking at these examples is rather depressing, and I admit, just writing them made me feel pretty crappy, especially because I have a lot more I could have included, but I think you get the picture. However, remember, these are the 1%. They are loud and blatant and draw attention to themselves through their cruelty, but they are still miniscule compared to the others. If they made up more than 1% of the students I taught, I don’t know if I could stomach this job. But the other 99% make it worth it.
My wife recently had surgery on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving break began, and the Monday prior, I told my classes I would be gone the next day to be with my wife. After the Thanksgiving weekend, many students asked how she was, which was nice. But the next day, two separate girls gave me two separate “get well” cards to give to my wife. They had never met her but still cared enough to do that. It was touching and thoughtful and negates the depressing thoughts of the mean kids. Just like I have more mean kid stories I could share, I have many, many more wonderful kid stories I could share.
So before we panic and freak out about the outbreak of racism amongst our school children, how about we use a little common sense – which seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years – and gain some perspective on this situation. Racism is not spreading like small pox.
“But what about that entire group of elementary school kids who were chanting: ‘BUILD-THAT-WALL!’ in the cafeteria?” I can hear someone say. Yes, definitely more than 1% was involved in that. However, again – perspective, people. They are little kids. One kid could have started chanting, “EAT-THAT-BOOGER!” And the rest would have done exactly the same thing – all joined in. If you don’t believe me, attend a kid’s birthday party and start chanting something when they’re all gathered around the cake and waiting for it to be lit. You’ll see.
We won’t be able to stop the 1% that draws so much pleasure from cruelty; those kids are always going to be there. But we can keep from giving them even more satisfaction by blowing things out of proportion, freaking out, and hitting the panic button. And we definitely can be happy for the other 99%. I certainly am.