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Friday, January 4, 2013

Respect and Compassion

Remember how I mentioned in my last post that I've been intending to do a unit study on Benjamin Franklin ever since our September readings about the Montgolfier balloon? And how I was also trying to do a chronological American History survey...so we needed to cover the French & Indian War before we could move on and focus on the Revolution?

Well January 17th is not only Benjamin Franklin's birthday, but also KID INVENTORS' DAY, to commemorate him. Not only is this super awesome in a topical sense, but hello? C is an inventor (a big part of the reason I wanted to revisit BF--to tie the invention interest into some political history learning). YAY. So, French & Indian War be damned--we're skipping ahead!

(We'll come back to address it at some point, though. We live in a region where you can't drive more than a few miles without encountering a historical marker or park or memorial to that era. Perhaps when the weather improves. And I'll jut hope that the timeline helps them understand the sequence of events.)

Ahem.

I started gathering information on ol' Ben, and inventors, and kid inventors. A quick Google search brought up some video clips from the Ellen show, where she featured kid inventors. It sounded like a perfect supplement. I previewed the video just to see what it involved. It was predictable...a few adorable kids with sincere, hopeful delivery, showing off unusual but ultimately clever contraptions. Win!

Except that a few minutes in, all I noticed was the laughter of the studio audience.

I haven't linked the video here because I do not blame Ellen for this. It's a cultural phenomenon that has been around for far longer than her show. ("Kids Say the Darndest Things", anyone?) And despite her own stifled chuckles, they were just that: stifled. She seemed to do her very best to be a good host and interviewer and address her guests with dignity. But the peals of laughter from the audience really started to bother me. Yes, kids can be so stinkin' *cute* in their naive enthusiasm. And yes, I've also been guilty of sharing a giggle over something that my kids took deadly seriously. But I'm trying very hard to be aware of my reactions.

Because KIDS HAVE FEELINGS.

If feminism is the radical notion that women are people, how much more radical is it to extend personhood to children?
--Wendy Priesnitz
Yes, of course kids have feelings. And they have great bullshit detection systems. They may not catch on at first, but eventually they do become very savvy at identifying condescension, and they most certainly know when they're being laughed at, not laughed with. And these kids were not laughing.

Part of me wants to pose the question whether the audience would have laughed at their peers so freely. Sadly, the current trend of ultra-competitive "reality" game shows has an answer for that. True, there's something to be said for having a thick skin and not needing crowd approval. But there *should* also be something said for simple empathy and manners.

A while back, I found C in seemingly random, spontaneous tears. I finally got him to open up. He had been thinking about a family gathering that we had been at several days before. "I was telling a story," he said, "and the cousins laughed at me. They said I was so cute. I wasn't trying to be cute. I was serious!" He was utterly heartbroken. Here he was, speaking from his heart, making what he felt to be a very rational observation about the world around him, and he was met with a smug pat on the head. And laughter. He was dismissed, and diminished.

The act of sharing yourself with others is a vulnerable one. I realize that the world is not a fair, or even a kind place. But it saddens me that more of us don't make a better effort to exercise compassion and try to be kinder people. I want to show my son some video of child inventors being celebrated--not giggled at. I want him to have a chance to share without being instantly disregarded simply because of his age or experience.

I want that for all of us. :(

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