I mentioned a while ago that I’d used excerpts from The Freedom Writers Diary in class, both for content and for…well, I could call it a morality lesson, or character education, or something, but I like to think of it as a do-the-right-thing lesson. The do-the-right-thing lesson didn’t have much in common with the Spike Lee movie (they’re both connected to racial issues, as my students who started punching the other kid did so because he was using racial slurs, but that’s about all), but was instead designed to make my kids realize that reporting someone for being an asshole isn’t snitching but is protecting yourself and the people around you.
We read two essays. One was about a boy who was being bullied, lost it, beat the shit out of the bullies and almost killed one of them, and ended up in juvie, when if someone had reported the bullying it might have all been prevented. The other was about how two boys from the Freedom Writers school went to Vegas and one lured a little girl into the bathroom to kill her while his friend watched him abduct her and then just walked away. That essay ended with the line that the friend could have saved two lives that day.
It went as well as I’d expected it would – I got kids to acknowledge the issue, at least some of them, and to pay lip service to understanding it, but I didn’t really believe I’d gotten through to any of them on any deeper level. I hoped it, sure, but honestly assumed that they’d forget about it as soon as they walked out the door.
Probably most of them did. At least one didn’t.
After school that day, one of my girls showed up – Sparkles (both her makeup and her personality sparkle – awwwww, I’m so cheesy!). This girl is incredibly sweet and friendly, very funny, very smart. Just a great kid. She asked if she could talk to me in the hallway, so I said sure. When I asked her what was going on, she told me a story.
That day in math, she and a friend of hers had been messing around. Talking, laughing, throwing little pieces of paper at the boy in front of them. Sparkles fully acknowledged that she shouldn’t have been doing that, but, y’know, she’s 12 and sometimes isn’t perfect. Then it escalated. Sparkles’ friend took a piece of gum and put it in the boy’s hair. Not cool. The teacher found out, got mad, and made everyone write about what they knew about the situation. Sparkles wrote that she had no idea what had happened because she didn’t want her friend to get in trouble. But then after class she started thinking. She remembered the essay we’d read, about the friend who’d let his friend murder a girl, and while she knew that gum in the hair was an infinitely less serious situation, she couldn’t get it out of her head.
Sparkles told me she didn’t want to be the kind of person who let her friends get away with stuff just because they were her friends, but she also didn’t want her friend to be mad, so she asked if I could report what had happened. I said I would, but that if they needed to know who the witness was, she’d have to come forward. Though unhappy about the possibility, she understood.
Before she left, I stopped her. I told her I was so proud of her for doing the right thing. It’s not easy to do, for adults or kids, and I was so delighted that she was that kind of person. She thanked me.
This kid rocks, and would rock no matter what, but my lesson had an impact on her. And if it affected her, maybe it affected some of the others too.