One email I received told this story: “We had a bully in my first grade class (in 1947). He was the biggest kid in the class and loved to punch me and the other boys when he thought our teachers weren't looking. He was wrong. They noticed the abuse.
“One morning we were lined-up after recess going back into the building and Mrs. D-- had her back turned as the boy gave me a punch in the arm. I gave him a shove and he landed in a mud puddle next to the sidewalk.
“Neither my teacher or principal ever said anything to me about this incident. The bully’s family moved him to a new school and I never saw him again. I have always wondered how this bully's life turned out.”
Girls can be bullies. As I talked with older ladies, they mentioned a couple of ways that elementary age girls could be abusive. One person recalled a classmate who was both verbally and physically abusive. On one occasion the bully took this girl’s sack lunch and smashed it hard enough to make it inedible.
As for girls mistreating boys, one lady told us how she and her “partner in crime” (another girl with the same first name) teamed up to make a fellow student miserable by chasing him all over the playground. Whenever they had recess or unsupervised recreation outdoors, he could not escape them.
Another common theme in these stories was the influence of teachers—mostly good, but occasionally terrible, like the one who badgered a child with a speech impediment that kept her from pronouncing her last name correctly. Many of us were painfully shy when we entered school, and the teachers we remember knew how to help us get over that.
We also needed to learn how to move beyond literal thinking. Here’s an illustration: One kindergarten teacher spent time discussing her children’s home addresses and what those numbers and street names meant. However, she had one student whose address was a P.O. box, and she wrote his name on the board like this: “Joe Smith, Box 59, Jewett, TX 75846.”
A few days later, the mother of another student came to her and said, “I want to do something for the homeless child in your class.”
“But I don’t have a homeless child.”
“Well, my son Billy came home telling me about Joe who lives in a box.”
Her son hadn’t yet got beyond literal thinking. For some, this lesson is hard to learn. I saw this in a college course where students read Jonathan Swift’s satire, “A Modest Proposal.” The speaker in that story suggests that poor Irish families ought to sell their babies to wealthy English people to be eaten as a dainty dish.
Swift presents this idea ironically, so that most readers can tell he is using sarcasm to attack England for exploiting the Irish. But I had one student who could not get beyond the literal idea. As a sophomore in college she had not yet learned to think abstractly.
A retired English professor, Dr. Jerry Lincecum teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories. He welcomes your reminiscences on any topic: email@example.com