Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see and learn.
These lyrics comes from a song in Into the Woods, a strange but fascinating Broadway musical that weaves together plot elements of several fairy tales which was recently made into a feature film. I’ve only seen the musical once–done wonderfully by Barberton High School students when I worked there—but the message from the song has stayed with me.
“Bullying” has become a very hot term in American schools, as we frequently read or hear stories of students bullying other students, sometimes to tragic ends. But the truth is this: adults bully as much as students do.
I see it in social media, where cyber muscle causes people–often anonymously—to taunt, tease, ridicule and criticize others, both personally and professionally.
I see it in letters to the editor, where innuendo and slander are par for the course, where half-truths or twisted facts attack the integrity of decent people just trying to do their best.
I see it in email, on television and in personal interactions. Gone is the idea that intelligent people can disagree and still be intelligent people, replaced by attacking the integrity and dignity of those with whom we disagree.
While never condoning students bullying each other, I can understand it. Kids are kids, and kids are still learning the proper way to behave and interact with each other. They will learn to do these things more quickly if adults provide better role models for them.
This is not to say that we should concede arguments or avoid conflict. It is only to say that we need to express our disagreements in ethical ways.
We are all educators. We have the utmost responsibility to teach our children that they can disagree without being disrespectful, that they can attack ideas without attacking each other. So please be careful of the things you say. After all, children will listen.
Here is a link if you’d like to hear Broadway star Bernadette Peters sing the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gey1PtXYwLI