Once upon a time in American society, a certain sense of decorum was the norm. Regardless of what was said behind the relative safety and closed doors of one’s home, people generally treated one another with a certain amount of courtesy and civility in public. In recent years – and especially recent months – we have seen a sharp rise in bullying, violence, hate-based harassment, vandalism, marginalization, and “othering.” If television shows mirror society, just compare and contrast the social norms portrayed in Leave It to Beaver or The Brady Bunch with Pretty Little Liars or The Secret Life of the American Teenager. I call our current social climate a “reality-show climate.” Those who feed on a steady diet of Big Brother, Dance Moms, 16 and Pregnant, or most other reality shows regularly see bad behavior rewarded, morals compromised for fifteen minutes of perceived fame and fortune, and meanness not only glorified, but celebrated. The grittiness and rawness of inappropriate and salacious
entertainment behavior is lauded for being “real” and “uncensored” . . . and many watchers, believing the behavior they see on tv is the social norm, don’t hesitate to drop their own filters in public and behave just as outrageously.
Of course, all behavior is caused and causes are always multiple. I’m not suggesting that societal norms have changed because of reality tv shows. I am saying: Whether we’re witnessing life imitating art or art imitating is life, one thing is certain – hostility, violence, bullying, and harassment is not only on the rise, it is fast becoming perceived by many as the social norm, and the divisive political environment in our country is exacerbating this. Adults in our country are deeply divided over immigration, security, religion, racial discrimination, marriage equality, and Roe v. Wade, and our students are feeling the effects of this division. Some students are feeling emboldened to mimic the hate-based actions they see portrayed in the media. Others are feeling fearful, sad, and anxious. Students are grappling with the meaning of new vocabulary words such as misogyny, xenophobia, fascism, bigotry, and resurgence.
Drawing on more than two decades of teaching experience, this is what I know for sure: We cannot ignore these issues in our classrooms. No matter our political affiliation, no matter who we voted for or why, we need to respect and honor our students by talking about these issues truthfully and frankly. Our students deserve the truth and the truth is: We all have work to do to make things better.
Teachers need to actively and proactively address bullying and meanness. This type of behavior leaves deep emotional scars that affects our students' sense of safety and self-worth for years, if not decades. Students need tools in their toolbox to be prepared to deal with mean behavior when it does happen – and they need tools to help prevent such behavior in the first place.
One way we can address this is by teaching our students how to deal with bullies and meanness:
We can also help students by teaching them coping strategies. If students are feeling anxious, listen to them. Honor their feelings. Make sure they know your classroom is a safe haven for them to talk about their emotions, concerns, worries, and fears. Remind them they are strong, resilient, compassionate, and caring. And remind them that the sun will come up tomorrow, we will all go to school and to our jobs, and we will all be okay.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we can help our students by teaching them to be kind, compassionate, accepting, and empathetic community members. If the only thing we teach our students is academics, we’ve only done half our job. The other half of our job is teaching students to be good people. Create a culture of kindness in your classroom and teach students not just about “random acts of kindness” but intentional acts of kindness. Because no matter our political affiliations, worldviews, or feelings about our elected officials, we can all agree that our students – ALL our students – deserve to be treated as beautiful humans worthy of dignity, respect, courtesy, civility, and kindness.
I want to help, and many of my amazing colleagues on Teachers Pay Teachers also want to help! Together, we have created free resources – resources we have committed to keeping free forever – that you can print today and use tomorrow. I created a 30 Days of Kindness Challenge that includes 30 tangible and intentional acts of kindness, along with reflection sheets and writing activities.
Other free resources can be found by going to Teachers Pay Teachers and searching the hashtags: #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths . . . or you can hop through the blogs below to find resources for 6-12 teachers that focus either on kindness or civics . . .
Thank you to Rachel Lynette of Minds in Bloom for originating the idea for #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths resources. Thanks, also, to Pam of Desktop Learning Adventures and Darlene of ELA Buffet for hosting the Secondary Smorgasbord blog hop . . .