I came home from work on Friday to my 4 year old daughter and my 5 year old god-daughter playing in the living room. Well, playing seems like a rosier description than is warranted. My god-daughter had her ears covered with her palms and she was screaming, shrieking really, at my daughter to stop growling at her. Apart from the shrieking melodrama, the request seemed reasonable. Unfortunately for my wife and I, and my god-daughter in this instance, reason and my 4-year old are mortal enemies. In fact, as I write these very words, she is insisting to my wife in the next room that she should be able to eat her play dough.
Anyway, with some intervention, she stopped growling in the face of her shrieking sister. I took the brief moment of peace to sit on the couch and look at my phone, hoping against hope for some prolonged silence. Within minutes, the tables had turned. Now the god-daughter was growling intensely in my daughter’s face while she screamed at the top of her lungs that the lion-like behavior was “hurting her ears.” There was no time to enjoy the irony of “screaming” complaints of “hurt ears.”
Someone had to be the adult here. I thought for a moment about running through the house looking for my wife and asking her to fill that role, but then I thought she would make fun of me. So I tried to be one of those good dads from the ABC Family movies.
“Girls- do either of you like when someone is growling in your face?”
They both sort of growled their “no.”
“So maybe we can all learn something here. We should treat each other like we would want to be treated. If we don’t like somebody growling at us, we probably shouldn’t growl at other people, right?”
The kid that lives with me every day seemed dumbfounded.
But the other one, the one that goes to school already, jumped in.
“That’s called empathy. Treating others the way you want to be treated. I learned that in school.”
That made me pause. It seemed meaningful. In a world where the news seems to be dominated by a lack of empathy, it is partly the work of teachers to tell kids that they should consider the feelings of others. It shouldn’t be that way, but there are a lot of things that fall unfairly on the shoulders of teachers because other people push them aside.
Before the growling, I had been walking home from work and listening to a podcast about Sen. Al Franken’s resignation. I’ll admit, 2 months ago I thought Al Franken was one of our better senators, but somewhere in the lineage of 8+ allegations of inappropriate behavior and a terrible resignation speech, I lost hope in the man. His speech missed the point entirely. He called himself a “champion of women,” he claimed that he was innocent (though still resigning), and then he went on to point his own bloody finger at other men who were worse.
No, Al. The existence of bigger assholes in the world does not make you any less of an asshole. And if the near double digit women who have accused are all in some grand conspiracy against you, then I can think of at least 50 better ways to handle this situation.
It’s true. The man in the oval office is a really bad person. He has proclaimed as much time and time again and I am kind of sick of talking about Darth Cheeto, as Damon Young has so perfectly dubbed him. And there is an accused pedophile chasing a senate seat in Alabama which seems terrible to even type on this page. And even worse, he is predicted to win. That should make you angry, so if you have to quit reading right now because you threw your iphone across the room, I understand.
But I don’t want to miss the point. The point is that my 5 year old goddaughter learned more about empathy in kindergarten than Al Franken demonstrated on Thursday in his resignation speech. And she certainly knows more than those other two guys. And if you have been watching the news lately, we have seen a lot of Al Franken, Donald Trump, and Roy Moore (not to mention a long list of other guys). And if our students are paying attention, they are hearing a lot more about the jerk-faces in the world than the good people trying to have empathy.
So It’s our job as teachers to try to listen, and to try to use this moment as a chance to understand how women have been wrongfully treated in workplaces and homes for centuries. It’s a good chance for us to be empathetic. Unfortunately, our society isn’t going to take the microphone away from these powerful a-holes anytime soon, so our job as teachers is to spread the mic around. My goddaughter deserves the microphone right now to echo her teacher’s lesson on empathy, and not these guys in DC who seem to think it is about them. We could pass the microphone to all kinds of people who need empathy in our schools and society. We could use this as a time to learn a little more about the groups of people who have been treated unfairly.
We might all learn something.