You can’t buy sympathy, my mother always said, and it’s probably the hardest thing to teach. My mother, a nurse, would say this proudly as my brother and I would bring home lackluster grades, but would wheel the grandmas and grandpas around the halls of the nursing home after school as we waited for her to finish her shift. Our grades weren’t stellar, but at least we were quick to hug the elderly folks with dementia and even faster to call out BINGO numbers during afternoon games.
Unfortunately, sympathy, kindness and peace don’t always fit neatly into standards and objectives. Our designated reading and writing curricula may be aligned to the five pillars established by the National Reading Panel, but it doesn’t always meet the pillars of how to be a decent human being. And when your students are 14, angry and marred by poverty, betrayal and abuse, concepts of sympathy, kindness and peace aren’t the most easily relatable.
But as teachers, it’s our jobs to try. Last year for Black History Month, another Special Education teacher invited my class to a sit-in. It was mesmerizing for all of us to watch this older, white woman with two broken arms describe her youth as a desegregation activist in Texas.
This month, our door is decorated with biographical summaries of international peacemakers, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and Chief Joseph. This week, our writing assignment is to imagine having $1 million to give away to any person or group. Who would you give it to and why? These are two responses:
I will give to the orphans.
I will give some mony to the orphan to buy food for the ophan.
And the orphan deed a buy to go get food, coust, and go to a playgrand to play at in orphan town.
And the orphan need parents to couk and to go school. and buy them Bick’s, and some game and a Xbax, and Play Station 2.
By “Corey ”I want to give the money to the old people. I will help and get them a lot of heaters for winter because it will keep them from turning into a Popsicle. I will give them a lot of food to eat. The food will help keep them from hunger. Old people have no job so they have no money to buy food. I will give them games, shoe games, boared games, sewing, and a TV so they won’t get bored all day and it will keep them busy.
In one glance, I see they need work on sentence construction. And spelling. And run-ons. But in one rough draft, they remind me that sympathy can’t be bought and it’s probably the hardest thing to teach. But everyone can learn.
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