Wednesday is word day. And today’s word is assumption.
I have almost completed this particular chapter of my book, but after my student teacher meeting Monday and then a causal chat with a mother of 4, I am compelled to explore this here.
We all know what they say about making assumptions. But I think we need to consider not only is the potential there to make asses of ourselves, but we are often causing damage, hurting kids.
Hear me out.
Jax is a bright, anxious, free thinker of a 4th grader. He is a peanut of a kid. He is fun to talk to. He has incredibly detailed and rich ideas about the meaning of life. He is a gentle soul. He moves through his school days causing little to no distractions. He has friends. Good kids.
So this week during lunch, in a lunchroom that is crowded and noisy as lunchrooms typically are, Jax wanted some ketchup on his burger. He tried opening his ketchup packet and in doing so, some ketchup sprayed on the table. When Jax reported this to a lunch supervisor he was reprimanded.
The lunch supervisor assumed Jax did this on purpose so she separated him from his peer group. She assumed the very minimal mess on the table was because Jax was horsing around. Even though Jax has not been a problem in the lunchroom, the other kids were not complaining, and he actually came to her for help, the ketchup mess must be due to misbehavior. No matter what Jax said, she assumed he was lying and needed to be removed.
Let me ask you all this. How many times have you struggled with opening a ketchup packet and ended up with ketchup in or on places not intended? That’s why we all carry Tide stain removers in our purses. Is removing you from your peer group at the table fair, reasonable, justified? Now consider the odds of kids, with much less dexterity and fine motor planning and control who are distracted and excited about having time to be social, opening those packets which results in ketchup landing on places not intended.
The assumption that Jax did this on purpose has consequences that will go unnoticed. They are consequences that will limit Jax in ways nobody takes the time to consider. I know a lot of you are probably shaking your head because this is no big deal. Well, it is a big deal. And here is why.
- Jax will no longer use ketchup when eating hot lunch in the cafeteria. Think about that. He will no longer use the condiment he enjoys and which makes some of school lunches tolerable enough to swallow.
- Jax has just received the message that he is a trouble maker and a liar.
- Jax has received the message that lunch supervisors are not there to help.
- Jax has internalized that he is too clumsy/stupid to open a ketchup packet.
- Jax now knows he has no voice.
- Jax has learned that the truth does not set one free. Instead it gets you in trouble and isolated from your peers.
Our students receive these messages all day in school. Every day the adults are assuming things about kids and reacting as if those assumptions are true. We cannot afford to allow our students to internalize the negative and very unhelpful messages we are sending them. We have absolutely no right to make, and then act on, assumptions about another’s behaviors. Especially kids.
Let’s consider the assumptions we make when students refuse to do an assignment. Our most immediate assumptions are typically that the student is just being stubborn, or noncompliant, or lazy. Based on those assumptions, we might try bribing, but more often we start taking things away until the work is done. Because that work has to get done. Because I said so. Because that’s the way the real world is. The student may become upset. At this point we become upset and more determined to make the student do what we directed. The behaviors escalate. Both adult and student become ugly. The work may or may not get done. If it is completed, it is usually slop and there is no real learning. Well, except that adults are bullies and don’t see students as whole beings.
I wonder why we don’a assume that the request we made is something the student feels unable to do for any number of reasons. Why don’t we assume we may have explained things poorly or the way we taught the concept just didn’t work for the student? Why don’t we assume the student is hungry, tired, worried, angry, depressed or too anxious to perform the task? Why don’t we assume the student doesn’t have the executive functioning to plan, initiate, organize enough to do the task? Why don’t we assume WE are the problem, that what we are asking of that particular student is just not reasonable? Why do we assume that just because everyone else in class is doing it, Suzie should be able to do it? Why do we assume that noncompliance is always a choice?
Wouldn’t schools be better places if we stopped putting the onus on kids by assuming unwanted behaviors are because of some flaw in them? Wouldn’t schools be better places for kids if we first assumed that WE may have been remiss in some way and then make modifications in our approach?
And shouldn’t we assume that there are going to be accidental messes when we kids open up those pesky ketchup packets?