"Just Because": A Random Act of Unkindness | Edutopia
Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

"Just Because": A Random Act of Unkindness

Mark Nichol

Editor / Writer

A friend of mine was bicycling through a quiet neighborhood one day last fall when, like a good citizen, she slowed to a halt at a stop sign. When my friend started pedaling again, a teenage girl who, flanked by a group of friends, was standing in the street near the corner as if she were going to cross, suddenly slugged my friend in the arm, knocking her off her bike and onto the ground.

As the gaggle of teens behind her broke out laughing, the girl looked impassively at my friend, who staggered to her feet, and said, unprompted, "Just because." After making a few insensitive comments, the youngsters headed away as my friend -- shaken, bruised, and bloodied by her impact on the pavement -- walked her bike along her intended route until she had recovered sufficiently to mount it and continue along her way.

The bruise on her arm where the girl had struck her remained visible for a couple of weeks. For just as long, she could barely use the arm she had landed on, and months later, it still ached at the point of impact. But the most acute -- and most chronic -- damage was to her soul. The thought that a group of adolescents could so callously inflict senseless pain and display such insensitivity toward another human being was a heavier blow to her than the physical impact.

This incident is minor on the continuum of inhumane acts, but its very banality is disturbing. It got me to thinking about some of the tenets The George Lucas Educational Foundation stands for: social and emotional learning, emotional intelligence, character education. It's easy to be cynical, to decide that it doesn't matter how many classroom meetings and cooperative-learning activities and affirmations and validations children experience at school if a family -- a community, a world -- can produce a child who commits an act like that, so petty yet so reprehensible.

But we, as educators, cannot surrender; a primary function of our profession is to help children, regardless of the mitigating forces in society, attain a full measure of humanity. Edutopia.org articles such as "How To: Teach Character in the Classroom" and "'We're Here to Raise Kids': Character Development Is Key" attest to the drive we have to accomplish this formidable task. (See our Emotional Intelligence page for more features on the topic.)

What do you think about this issue? Does character education in schools have a significant effect on children's emotional growth? Is it worth the effort, considering how many contradictory stimuli, including influential accounts and footage of celebrity belligerence and other antisocial behavior, exist in the world? Is it sensible to believe that the girl who said "Just because" might have pulled her punch -- or might never have considered striking my friend in the first place -- if she'd learned better behavior in school, regardless of external influences? I'd be interested to read your thoughts.

Comments (52)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Christie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is hard to believe people can be so crule. I think it is extremely important to teach our students the value of character. We have a class that we call Affective Skills. This class was designed to teach students how to behave appropriately in certain situations. We teach them life skills that they can use after high school. To me this is one of the most important classes we offer.

Tasha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am constantly amazed at the cruelty human beings inflict on each other. I believe that teaching students how to treat others is extremely important since there are many students who do not learn these skills at home. In my three years teaching, I have encountered several children who do not know how to have a caring relationship with another person because they have never had a caring relationship. At my school we have a program called Character Counts that teaches students how to treat others and carry themselves in a respectful manner. I love this program because I believe that it is important for students to know not only how to interact with other but also how to be caring and responsible citizens.

Tom's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sam, I agree with you that meaningful and valuable lessons taught in school are lost outside the school doors. My school has tried to offer parent programs in character education, literacy, parenting with Love & Logic; however, the same parents always show up...those that have a solid foundation of parenting skills in the home. The trouble is reaching those kids...those parents...with the greatest need. It seems that many parents send their kids off to school with the "out of sight, out of mind"
position and don't see how anything at school relates to their lives at home. However, schools should not give up and should have strong expectations and models for their students. Kids are pretty adaptable and sometime, those seeds that have been planted at school will grow and bloom at some later time in a child's life.

bansted's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I read a lot of comments regarding how educators should teach character education. I get the feeling that many believe that this is a "magic pill" and will miraculously solve the problems such as the random act of unkindness mentioned in the article.

I disagree. Character is learned from an early age through example. Young children watch parents, examples in the media, and peers to learn their mores. They react according to those values. Although educators can mitigate the effects of example from home and peers, they cannot entirely overcome this disadvantage. Blaming a school or a district for cruelty among one or more of its students is akin to blaming a particular race or religion for the behavior of one member of that group.

Individuals make choices based on their values. Those values are learned mainly before a child starts school.
I believe in character education, but I also realize that it is but one tool. It is not the untimate solution to the problem.

Bethany's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a teacher, I do believe that part of my job is character education in the classroom. I try to be a good example for my students every day, and I also try to groom good behaviors in the classroom. However, in a state that is very focused on standardized testing at each grade level, how else can I integrate a Character Education program/curriculum into my English classroom or into my school?

Maurice Elias's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Character education is about more than values. A child may want to be responsible, but without certain skills, he or she will not be able to act responsibly. A child may want to be respectful, but without the skills to understand his or her own feeling and the ability to read the emotions of others and the nature of the social situation around him/her, that child may not be able act respectfully. Lickona and Davidson make a distinction between moral character and performance character. In NJ, we are using the term, social-emotional and character development. Both of these terms are attempts to advance the concept of character education to include the participatory competencies needed for life success.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

First of all its sad to say but this is the world we live in. it seems as though children today lack the empathy chip, and to these random acts of unkindness, "just because". As teachers we can do our best to incorporate character education in the classroom, but when that child goes home, who knows what the charaters of the parents are and what that part plays. Teachers can do only so muvh as well as making sure grades and standerdize testing in the classroom is covered. This is a hard one.

Jennifer Peak's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am also a teacher who believes that teaching character education in the classroom is important. As you stated about standardized testing, I too, would like to know when we have time to fit it all in? I have yet to start an actual character education program in my classroom, but I do set good examples by having a positive attitude and teaching about respecting others. My hope for the future is to take 10-15 minutes daily to actually role-play or try to fit in a mini-lesson to teach kids about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. I know this is not nearly enough time, but hopefully, just getting a daily dose character education will help shape students into better citizens.

Julie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you. We have to set the right example for our students. With any given opportunity in the classroom throughout the day,we talk about how issues are handled. (Good or Bad) We also discuss if things could have been handled differently. I teach fifth grade and we do have a program that has lessons to help teach character education. I complete the program but not as thoroughly as I should. Like you said our focus is on standardized testing. I don't really have a good answer. I do know that we need more time to teach the students to be successful members within the community. This includes character education.

Jennifer Peak's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a third grade teacher, and I do believe it is important to teach kids about character education. The younger the child is, the better. As stated in other posts, parents do not always help with their actions, but we as teachers must do what we can to be positive role models and help shape our students into decent human beings.

In an ideal world all parents would nurture, care for, and teach the difference between right or wrong at home. As educators, we know this is not always the case, so whatever we can do or say is important. Students are faced with many different influences each day, and it is important that they are taught to know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Since not all get those lessons at home, let us do what we can to help. Even if just one student stops and thinks before acting out of anger, it is a step in the right direction.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.