respect not fear

Out of respect, not fear

As an early childhood educator, I believe that children need to be respected. It is only through being shown respect, that children learn to respect. It is not learned through fear. Sure, fear may generate what appears to be respect – compliance, conformity, obedience. But inside, feelings of discontent may simmer until, at some future time they manifest in a variety of unpleasant ways.

Children also need to respect, and not fear, each other. I frequently write about the need to develop a welcoming and supportive classroom in which children feel valued and respected. They need to understand the diversity that exists in our world and learn to accept, appreciate, respect and embrace it. Fear is often the result of the unknown, so by getting to know each other better, that opportunity for fear, at least, can be erased.

In a previous post Watching ink dry, I wrote a story about a child being singled out and humiliated for an inability to keep between the lines in a handwriting lesson. An interesting discussion developed in the comments about nuns–teaching nuns, which surprised me. You see, although that particular situation wasn’t one I personally experienced, I did have in mind one of my teachers, who happened to be a nun, as I wrote, but I made no mention of it. I really didn’t think the attitude I portrayed was reserved for nuns during my childhood.

Within a few days of publishing the post, I visited the optometrist where the assistant, without prompting of any kind, (I have no idea how we got onto the subject) told me about nuns who repeatedly humiliated her at school. I then told her about my story, but not my real experiences which were quite similar to hers. I added this to the discussion, and so the conversation grew, prompting Charli Mills from the Carrot Ranch to entertain the thought of “Nun” as a flash fiction prompt.

black and white flash fiction challenge

She did shy away from it in the end, fearing, I think stereotyping nuns unfairly. Instead, she challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features something black and white. It could be a nun in a zebra monster truck, a rigid way of thinking, a bird in a tuxedo — be imaginative and go where the prompt leads.

But it was too late for me to consider the fear, or perhaps to feel the fear and resist doing it anyway. I’d already started recording my black and white view, coloured from years under the rule of those nuns in their black and white habits (literally and figuratively).

One memorable event occurred when, handing out history test results, the teacher (a nun) distributed everyone’s but mine. She then made a big show of trying to find it while telling the class what a dreadful result it was, and that she must have put it aside out of disappointment. Though I am quite tall, she did her best to make me feel small.

Funnily enough, when I experienced a similar situation at a writers’ critique session over the weekend–one of the writers had everyone’s story but mine–I was able to accept his apology and not relive the earlier trauma, even though it was brought to mind.

Perhaps I’m more like the nuns of my childhood than I’d like to acknowledge. Perhaps I find forgiveness no easier than they. So, apologies to all the lovely nuns, whom I am sure must exist, this poem is not for you. It is a reflection of my black and white reflections on my black and white experiences. I’m not sure that I expect you to enjoy this one.

nun praying

The nun’s prayer

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

I have no need for counting sheep,

I count the girls that I made weep.

 

Lord, I ask Thee, help me please

To do my job with greater ease–

Bless them even when they sneeze,

And keep their skirts below their knees.

 

I know the task should be not hard

And I should never drop my guard

But if they’re ever marred or scarred,

It puts a mark upon my card.

 

And while she dreamed her cunning schemes,

Her girls were strangling silent screams.

 

Circle picture book by Jeannie Baker

To finish on a more positive note, which is more my way, on her Big Sister Blogs this week, Maria Parenti-Baldey shared a post of wishes creatives have for children. Those wishes are opposite to those of the nun in my disrespectful poem. One of my favourite quotes is that by Jeannie Baker whose books I have previously written about here and here and here.

According to Maria,

Jeannie Baker wished for every ‘single’ child ‘to love and be loved’. For children to have a supportive home, a peaceful environment and ‘to be creative and not be criticised’. To go to school with time to ‘exercise their curiosity… use their imagination’ and find and make things. Jeannie wanted children to think for themselves, play outside and engage with nature with feelings of awe and wonder. Some children experience a fear of nature – ‘Nature deficit syndrome’. ‘What one fears, one destroys. What one loves, one defends.’

I thought it was a perfect quote to round out my post. I wholeheartedly agree with her wishes–they match my dream.

Please pop over to Maria’s post to read what other creatives; including, Leigh Hobbs, Gus Gordan, Mark Wilson, Anna Fienberg, Kyle Hughes-Odgers and Deborah Abela, wish for children. Great wishes, every one.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading, I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

49 thoughts on “Out of respect, not fear

  1. Hugh's Views and News

    I can remember so well how children (including myself) were made to feel belittled at school. It was a harsh punishment especially when through no fault of my own, I was made to look stupid because of being dyslexic. Then I think of how the condition was, at the time, not recognised, and ask myself if the teachers really were not very nice to me? Afterall, they did not know. But then there is the power teachers had over us. I think many children respect that power, but back in my days, I think some of the teachers let that power go to their heads, Norah.
    I loved your poem, especially the line ‘And keep their skirts below their knees.’ That made me smile.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Hugh, There is no fun in belittlement. Perpetrators must themselves feel small to try to make others feel even smaller. It’s definitely not nice to make anyone feel stupid. We generally do a good enough job of that ourselves. Your ‘stupid’ comment reminded me of the dunce’s hat that I think, if it wasn’t common, was talked about a lot when I was at school. I don’t think it exists any more. I certainly hope not.
      Thanks for you kind words about my poem. Actually, I think when I was at school we couldn’t have our skirts more than four inches above the knees when we were kneeling. 🙂

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  2. Mabel Kwong

    I agree with Ruth that this is a sad story, and very sad that you were made to feel belittled my the nuns who were supposed to be educational and guiding figures. When we are kids, we often don’t think that far, that we don’t have a good idea of how the world works as we look to others for guidance and if faced with some kind of negative remark, we might feel that we are to be blamed. Facing fear in any instance is hard, and it’s harder when we feel like we have no one to turn to. In a childhood environment this might the case because there’s the common conception that kids’ minds can be overly imaginative. It is nice to see you reflecting on your experiences and speaking about them in such a level-headed manner and raising awareness of such situations.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for adding your wisdom to the conversation, Mabel. I think a lot of those situations I experienced contributed to my difficulties with self-esteem. The benefit of them is that I realise the importance of encouraging children to see that they are valuable human beings, lovable for who they are. Valuing the children and building their self-esteem and self-confidence has always been a big part of my classroom practice.

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  3. Patricia Tilton

    What a powerful and interesting post. I loved the poem! I think many of us have memories of being humiliated by a teacher in the classroom. It holds no power over me, but the memory remains. I had a male teacher throw an eraser and hit me in the back of the head because I couldn’t work out a math problem on the chalk board in front of the class. That’s why it’s so important to respect children. They receive enough hardship from other kids, they don’t need it from teachers. They need encouragement.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Oh, Patricia, I’m so sorry you had that experience. What a terrible thing to do. It’s good to hear you say that it holds no power over you. But the memories do stay, don’t they? Yes, the role of a teacher is to protect and encourage, not to inflict, harm.

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  4. roughwighting

    What a sad story, Norah. But one that needed to be shared. I am wondering about the fear from the other side. How I would love to know the story of that nun who was so cruel to you. The only thing I can figure is that she had a cruel childhood in which she was disrespected horribly. As children, we don’t have the ability to wonder what caused the person who is giving us pain to be so mean and unkind. As adults, hopefully we are able to look at people with hatred in their souls with compassion. The pain of unkindness that we receive as a child is felt so much harder and sharper than when we are adults, I think. For me now, when someone is cold and mean, I place a mirror in front of them in my mind’s eye and wonder if they can see the glint of fear within them.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I appreciate your perceptive comment, Pam, and the wisdom in your words. It is true, that people with hatred in their hearts require compassion. We have no idea what they may have suffered to carry that hatred. Some scars are deep and hidden and, unless they are shown otherwise, even they have no inkling of their cause or even that there is better way of feeling and acting. A nice reminder. Thank you.

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  5. Pingback: All Things Black and White « Carrot Ranch Literary Community

  6. Charli Mills

    Norah, good for you to write this post! You needed to write that nun’s prayer and share the anguish of such experiences. Anne had said before about nuns being a part of a greater system of fear. I like the opposite of that — being brave in the face of fear instead of shaming. I’m sure it’s part of what made you a better teacher, too. I’m glad to read through all the supportive comments, as well.

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  7. Jennie

    This was such an important story, Norah. You know how it feels to be criticized and ridiculed. While I am so sorry you had to endure that in your childhood, you more than anyone know the importance of a loving and creative environment for children. It makes you an outstanding teacher, and also writer. Thank you for sharing this story!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Jennie. I very much appreciate it. You know, I think the treatment doled out to so many of us back then was an influence on my attitude to children – what not to do. I’ve worked hard throughout my life to prove there is a better way, and to be that better way. It hasn’t always been easy unlearning lessons from the past. 🙂

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  8. robbiesinspiration

    A very powerful post, Norah. I think things have changed. I went to a Convent for part of my school life and the Sisters were very nice to me. Sister Agatha gave me wonderful books to read and let me play Mary in the nativity play so I have good memories of her. My father was very traumatized by the Brothers where he went to school. They were very abusive.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Robbie, especially for telling me that things have changed and that you knew a very nice Sister Agatha. I had a Sister Agatha too, and she had taught my Mum at school, so she was obviously very old when she taught me – probably my age. 🙂
      I’ve heard not-so-nice tales about the Brothers too. Your father is probably of a similar age to me. Those were the “good old days”. Do I want to go back? No, no, never!

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  9. dgkaye

    I loved your story Norah, despite the sadness behind it. I’m so glad you advocate for all things goodness and kindness in teaching children. I too have heard many nun stories and can’t fathom why they have been so strict and non compassionate to innocent little kids who don’t need scolding and threatening but understanding and a little kindness to learn the way they themselves should grow and treat others. Loved the poem! ❤

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your kind words of support, Debby. Back in my day, children were meant to be seen and not heard, or not seen and not heard. I guess the nun’s treatment was really only reflective of that attitude at the time. I would hope it wouldn’t be the same now. We do hear dreadful accusations made against people in all sort of religious and supposedly “Christian” situations. I’m not sure that Christ would condone many of the practices.
      Treating children the way we want them to treat others is definitely the way to go. I appreciate your comment. Thank you. ❤

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    1. Norah Post author

      Sadly, it was the “norm” for us back then. That was only one of many instances. I’m pleased the poem worked a little at least. I stopped revising/editing when I finally got it to the 99 words but it would need more work to be as good as I’d like. 🙂

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  10. Sherri Matthews

    Wonderful to read you again Norah. How sorry I am that you experienced such humiliation AT school (and for the incident at the writing group too). I have experienced situations like that too, but not at the hand of a Nun. The thought of going to a convent or being taught by a Nun would have horrified me, having heard so many horrible stories, even then, as a child. Hmmm…makes me think, that. Your flash/poem choked me up. I’m glad you ended with this: ‘Jeannie Baker wished for every ‘single’ child ‘to love and be loved.’ As always, your passion to respect ‘every single’ child, in and out of the classroom, shines through your post. As you say, how can a child learn respect if they are not themselves respected? Lovely to catch up with you again after so long my friend. SMAG 🙂 xxx

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your compassion and understanding, Sherri. The writing group didn’t bother me. He meant no malice, unlike the aforementioned nun. It was simply an oversight. He uploaded his comments later to Dropbox, and they were all good. 🙂
      I loved Jeannie Baker’s quote too. When I met Jeannie recently and listened to her talk at a launch of her book “Circle”, I was very impressed. She had a very childlike sense of wonder about her and was very softly spoken. It was as if everything she was saying she had just thought of and was entranced by it. There are many videos of her talking about her books and artwork on the internet. If you get a chance, have a look. She is inspirational.
      I really appreciate your beautiful comment. SMAG. 🙂

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      1. Sherri Matthews

        Oh I’m glad everything got sorted in the writing group. I see now I didn’t read that part clearly, sorry about that. Oh what a wonderful description of Jeannie Baker’s talk. I love that she has such a childlike wonderment and will definitely check her out. Thanks for letting me know Norah. She sounds incredibly inspirational from your lovely description alone! Have a lovely weekend my friend and see you soon and of course, at the Ranch! SMAG rules! 🙂 xxx

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  11. davidprosser

    Teach a child respect young enough and hopefully it becomes the norm into adulthood. Give the child respect and they will be less fearful of authority figures when confronted by them. Respect can overcome such massive problems that confront people like racial prejudices.A child who knows respect may just step in and support someone being abused and is less likely to be attracted to the ‘Dark Side’.
    xxx Huge Hugs Norah xxx

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for adding your words of wisdom, David. I agree with every one. A few less on the “Dark Side” and we’ll be doing well. Best wishes to you as we nibble away at the darkness in our parts of the world.

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  12. Annecdotist

    Spot on, Norah! Children learn respect through receiving it, not through bullying and humiliation. I’m cringing for that teacher holding back your history paper — if only she’d been taught respect. Attitudes have changed but I’m not sure we can expect child-centred practices from those whose religion taught them we’re born with ‘original’ sin!
    I love your poem! Maybe they really did believe their job was making kids cry.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Anne. That history paper wasn’t all of it and probably wasn’t the worst of it. Never mind. I seem to have survived, not unscathed, but not as badly as some. I think, for some reason, I realised that many things of my childhood were not the way they were meant to be. Not sure why I did and others didn’t. Maybe reading contributed.
      My poem was totally a work of the imagination, wondering what someone who hurt others might pray for. 🙂

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      1. Annecdotist

        Although painful at the time, I think realising that things weren’t quite right must have helped you. My childhood, and even adolescence, was total mind control, I might as well have grown up in a cult. Or maybe it was, in its own way!

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        1. Norah Post author

          Mind control. That’s a great way of describing it, Anne. I remember my father being cross at my brother for writing in my autograph book, “What you don’t know won’t do you any good.” My father was adamant that ignorance was preferred and emphasized that “What you don’t know won’t do you any harm either.” I think ignorance has led to more harm than knowledge. Only through knowledge can we advance. My turn to rant! 🙂

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  13. thecontentedcrafter

    Bravely done Norah – and no need for apology I feel. For in place of the noun ‘nun’ could come any other amount of general nouns………. Sadly there are many women who are older who have these memories of nuns and I’m sorry it was yours. (I do wonder if they were taught that was a good way to treat their charges.) But on the whole if the cap doesn’t fit – it doesn’t fit – so why would anyone take umbrage unless it fits?

    I really like your poem – it’s written in a way that makes me want to laugh, but I’m too busy cringing ….. Ultimately that’s a very powerful way to get your message across.

    In my time in the classroom I saw many teachers who ruled by fear. Once, (have I told you this story before? I beg your pardon if I have) when giving a talk to a teachers symposium about respect and inspiration in their classrooms, I asked them to think of a couple of the most challenging students in their groups and then to imagine how those kids would refer to them in ten years time. Then I watched as heads bowed and eyes turned inwards and in some a realisation dawned – it was a palpable experience and one that I, as a teacher and a mother, was not immune to. For we all make mistakes – but there is no excuse for refusing to see the effect of our behaviour on the little ones we have in our care. Very well done Norah!!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your support, Pauline. It often was a sad experience being schooled by nuns. I guess their job was to keep us on the straight and narrow. It must have been difficult at times. I thank you for your acceptance of my contribution.
      I’m also pleased the “prayer” made you want to laugh as much as cringe. It was meant to be amusing. I can’t really imagine any nun praying in that way. 🙂 It was just a silly thought of mine.
      You hadn’t told me the story of the teachers’ symposium before, so thank you for sharing. What a probing and insight producing question. It’s one that any reflective teacher should be asking quite regularly. It stops one in one’s tracks. As you say, we need to see and accept our mistakes, and learn from them.

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  14. prior..

    wow – well done Norah and I enjoyed reading about how this topic unfolded and I can see why Carrot Ranch meandered away.
    I also like that you did not – with the note that this does not apply to “all” nuns – just some.

    and my SIL has a mom who was scarred by the nuns that helped raise her in the 50s – maybe 40s too- and she would be one of these:
    “I count the girls that I made weep.”

    but as noted – i am sure there are some very caring nuns out there who had teaching skills and knew how to respect and edify students to motivate in positive ways – not threaten with fear and punishment –
    ahhhh
    I could go on – but will not – cos you said it pretty comprehensively
    🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely words of support, Yvette. I appreciate them. I was a bit fearful about sharing the post – particularly the “prayer”. It was meant to be humorous as well as tragic. Isn’t that what Shakespeare excelled at? Not saying I did though. 🙂
      I’m sorry to hear your SIL’s Mum was another who suffered as a result of the nuns’ handiwork. I think there’s a few of us out there.
      But as you say, I’m sure there are plenty of mighty fine nuns out there too.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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