Friday, February 20, 2015

Herding the Cats to Compassion

#1000Speak -- 1000 bloggers posting about compassion and kindness to flood the Blogosphere with good February 20, 2015. Search for the hashtag and support the cause, please!

I'm one of those teachers who sometimes (?) takes a roundabout way to get to the point. I don't mind letting the students get me off topic (sometimes). I love it when they inadvertently come up with a perfect (or not so perfect) example of what I want them to understand.

“The point is, and I do have a point...” I say, steering our totally random discussion towards a “teachable moment.” I like to think I toss the idea out there, and just keep ooching, nudging, imperceptibly herding the cats to the conclusion I'm hoping for (or somewhere near it, anyway).

But I have not yet found a way to lead them to a meaningful discussion of “compassion.” At least not as it concerns “virtual” conversations.

I’m amazed at how accepting they are of other students who are differently-abled. They don't bat an eye when one of their classmates who has Down Syndrome needs extra help – they just pitch in and help. For the most part they are (at least when teachers are around) pretty considerate kids.

I'm not saying they're angels. Oh, my goodness, no.

Sometimes they (we all) say stupid things without thinking. And sometimes they say those stupid things without realizing what they are really saying. Some of those nasty, hateful words have lost their power, which may or may not be a good thing. We say them out of habit, without thinking, not to purposely hurt.

But absence of malice is not the same thing as compassion.

And while students with learning disabilities are protected, those with no obvious disadvantage are fair game. Particularly when it comes to electronic conversations.

During just the past two months at my school we've had at least four incidents blown totally out of proportion because the majority of the discussion took place not face-to-face in the hallway, but thumb-to-thumb on cell-phones.

During the most recent “Twitter-fight” I channeled the cranky English teacher who hides just below the surface of my mellow Home Ec teacher facade. I told one class “You know, back in the day (cue the eye rolls and heavy sighing), if we had a beef with someone we actually had to (melodramatic gasp for emphasis) talk to them in the hallway... or maybe write them a nasty note on real paper and pass it to them during study hall, or stuff it through the vent on their locker door. We couldn't (ahem), sit one table away from them during lunch and 'twit' nasty things back and forth.”

I was hoping for a meaningful discussion about how we don't talk to each other anymore, we talk at each other. What I got was a report of the number of retweets, favorites and subtweets (whatever that means) that sprouted from the original offending tweet, as well as a defense of Wronged Party A (and a defense of Wronged Party B from the next class).

What I got was a synopsis of the actual, real-world fight that could have – but did not – break out once the twitter-tweeters actually did turn around and talk to each other.

“My point is,” I said, trying to herd the cats, “do you think it’s possible that neither one actually threw a punch because they were having (melodramatic gasp again) a face-to-face conversation?”

I saw a flicker of comprehension as my students considered that maybe, just maybe, there were some things you would tweet without thinking, but you wouldn’t say in person.

“Adding 'LOL' or 'JK' or a funny face emoji isn’t the same as the non-verbal communication – the facial expressions, the vocal inflections, the body language – of a face-to-face conversation,” I said, pushing the point.

But my students were already on their cell-phones, checking for updates on the latest drama.

Next time I’ll tweet them the lesson.



  1. Will you have your own personal # to tag them all?

  2. I might have to learn! #behindthecurve