“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
This is Mr Browne’s September precept for his fifth graders.
A difficult choice for kids who have been taught only the choice between right and wrong.
Mr Browne is Auggie Pullman’s homeroom teacher. You can meet them both if you watch Wonder, a film by Stephen Chbosky
The film is based on the 2012 bestselling novel by R.J. Palacio and follows a boy, Auggie, who was born with a craniofacial condition known as Treacher Collins syndrome, which causes extreme facial disfigurement. It narrates Auggie’s everyday toil to blend in and be normal when not only his appearance but his superior intellect makes him stand out.
It will tug at your heart string, watching Auggie being bullied for his deformity. Auggie has been home-schooled by his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts . But now that he’s 10, she and Auggie’s dad, Nate (Owen Wilson), have made the decision to send him to middle school. They know they can’t shield him from the world forever, and they have no desire to.
As a teacher who has been part of the school environment for 20 years, it resonated with the struggles that I get to see in the school environment when children try to cope up with bullying.
Even though the movie ends up with Auggie winning the Henry Ward Beecher Medal for his strength and courage and receives a standing ovation, the numerous real life Auggies are not so lucky.
In schools, children do not need disfigurement like Auggie’s to be at the receiving end of bullying. It could be for being overweight or underweight or for wearing spectacles. Children with special needs are also shunned and so are those from a different racial background than the crowd. Even the perfect ones also get nicknamed as ” Little Miss Perfect” , “Goody Two Shoes” . Nerds, geeks, dorks, are insults masquerading as compliments.
Body -shaming often takes the form of name-calling in schools. It begins with the intention of humour and a means for achieving popularity with no consideration for the feeling of mortification it would evoke in the person at the receiving end.
I was sometimes called soda-glass for my thick myopic glasses till I switched to contact lens some time in 1998. I have heard my friends being called fat, chicken legs , nut-job , dumb-ass and ugly.
Most of the times, a bully doesn’t feel that name-calling is mean. Rather he/she believes that it portrays him/her as cooler and powerful.
As a teacher, how much ever indignation you feel over it, you cannot instill kindness , empathy and acceptance in every child you teach. It is like trying to boil the ocean.
Millennial parents are fully aware of their role in developing empathy in their children. Yet both physical and digital bullying are not showing any signs of decline.
We are all a part of a society that craves for perfection and looking beautiful will remain at the top of our list because we love to see heads turn in our direction. As a mother, I encourage my tween son to manage his diet and to exercise, not only because of health benefits, but also because I do not want him to be called fat by his peers.
Above all, each of us is guilty of soft bullying which is still mean. Is there anyone who would deny calling someone “ass” or “idiot” or “jerk” or “ ass@#$@” in anger or annoyance? The behaviour which triggered that particular response from you cannot be used as an excuse for using an abusive word. We do have a long list of Shakespearean insult which is still merciless even if they are authored by the bard.
The important thing is, we are made the way we are. There is very little that we can do to alter our appearance nor can we put an end to the shaming we might have to deal with, at some or the other phase of our lives.
As Mr Tushman, Auggie’s Principal says” Auggie can’t change how he looks. Maybe we should change how we see.”
Or listen to a frustrated mother Isabel Pullman, when she pacifies Auggie “There are always going to be jerks in the world… But I really believe… that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other”.
Or inspire to stand out with pride when you cannot blend in.
Categories: Movie inspired Thoughts