My son goes into grade five this year. Over the summer we have been giving deep consideration to the idea of moving him to another school. You see, the last two years have not been easy for him. He was slow to make friends when we moved to a new city. He would often tell us that the kids at school wouldn’t play with him, or that they would make fun of him. We thought he might just be taking a while to transition so decided to give it another year but by spring break of this past year, he DREADED going to school. It was at this point that I suggested we switch schools.
This was not a decision we treated lightly as a switch would mean not only leaving the French Immersion program but it would also be his third school by grade four. We assumed the problems at school were mostly social. Jakob is not your typical rough-and-tumble type of boy. He is creative and thoughtful. He is an internal processor and likes things his way so while we knew that some of the issues were due to the lack of neuro and socio-economic diversity in his school, we also knew that some of the problem laid in his inability to be flexible in social situations. Our daughter however, (as a result of being rejected from my son’s school), attends a public school rich in diversity of every kind. We wondered aloud if it might not be a better social fit.
Over spring break however, we chatted a lot about attitude. We talked about how being happy and enjoying school is, more often than not, a choice. We talked about not caring about what other people thought. My husband suggested that instead of trying to do what he thought people wanted him to do, or trying to say the things he thought people wanted him to say, he should just be himself…because Jakob, is a really awesome guy. And we talked about looking out for others who might feel the same and to always practice kindness. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
He took this to heart and it was a TOTALLY different story when he returned to school after the break. That being said, he still wanted to switch schools. Over the summer however, I think we have come to the agreement that he will remain in the same school (thank God!) but I am reminded of how important it is to teach kindness to our children.
As I have watch the news these past couple weeks, I wish that more people had learned kindness at an earlier age and perhaps lived by J. M. Barrie’s new rule, “always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary”. Reading Wonder has been one of my summer assignments not only for Jakob but for myself. There is so much wisdom in this book – so much so that I would recommend it to, not just young readers (I believe the intended audience is grade 3-7) but everyone. It was helpful for me as a parent of a child with special needs to see Ella through the perspective of a sibling, a friend and a peripheral character. My heart resonated with the fears of August Pullman’s parents as they enrolled him into school. I worry alongside them that my child will not be accepted, or worse, hurt, emotionally, physically and spiritually and yet, I know that they will need resilience and empathy as they navigate their world outside of school. And I am reminded that it is SO very important that I teach BOTH of my children to be kind. Wonder is not a book about “special needs”, nor is it about inclusion. It is about kindness.
In the words of Mr. Tushman,
“If every single person in [who read this post] made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”
Spoiler Alert: here is Mr. Tushman’s full speech to the outgoing Grade Five class at Beecher Prep.
“But the best way to measure how much you’ve grown isn’t’ by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even you grade point average – though those things are all important, to be sure. It’s what you’ve done with your time, how much you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you have touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success.
“There’s a wonderful line in a book by J. M. Barrie – and no, it’s not Peter Pan, and I’m not going to ask you to clap if you believe in fairies…
“But in another book by J. M. Barrie called The Little White Bird… he writes… ‘Shall we make a new rule in life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?’
“Kinder than is necessary. What a marvelous line, isn’t it? Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed. Why I love that line, that concept, is that it reminds me that we carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness. And what does that mean? How is that measured? You can’t use a yardstick. It’s like I was saying just before: it’s not like measuring how much you’ve grown in a year. It’s not exactly quantifiable, is it? How do we know we’ve been kind? What is being kind, anyway?
“It glimmered in their kindness to him. Such a simple thing, kindness. Such a simple thing. A nice word of encouragement given when needed. An act of friendship. A passing smile.
“Children, what I want to impart to you today is an understanding of the value of that simple thing called kindness and that’s all I want to leave you with today. I know I’m kind of infamous for my…um…verbosity…but what I want you, my students, to take away from your middle-school experience, is the sure knowledge that, in the future you make for yourselves, anything is possible. If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”