“I’m a bad boy.”

I was incredulous this week and, in an instant, so terribly sad when I asked the students in my class to write three things about themselves they wish every teacher knew about them. One student who has struggled with every kind of esteem and behavior issue in the book wrote on his card: I’m a bad boy.

Defined. Condemned. No hope for anything good to come of that. An adult made this pronouncement and it stuck.

Besides the glaring cruelty of such an essential statement, very much like the lethal acid “I’m ashamed of you,” there’s nowhere to go from there.

It’s not about behavior choices, it’s about identity. That boy, that son, that student trying to learn responsibility, accountability, mutual respect and a few details of George Washington’s presidency in my class, is now just Bad.

My pastor calls it a “ding” when someone hurts someone else — says something irritating, or unkind —forgets something important —lands any of a 1,000 kinds of little hits — insults and hurts that make a mark, like the ding when a loose grocery cart blows into a parked car.

I’ve seen how often this happens in school. Really, every minute of every day.

I wish we would all be much kinder to one another, and I wish I had some good-as-gold ways to help kids deal with the dings — from other kids and, in this case, from adults who can be just as mean.

I don’t think I’ve ever been good at this. I respond more like a defensive badger than a wise counselor on behalf of underdogs everywhere. My flashpoint for rage and protection is low. I rush to stand between the oppressor and the oppressed.

Could we at least commit to stop using “good guy” and “bad guy” language — start clarifying choices instead of condemning character?

In the meantime, is there salve for the dinged spirit? Are there effective words to say? Is it prayer?

 

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