23 October 2009

Teaching, Week 9, Part II: Tattling (Year 3, Day 59)

I've decided to break this week's "Teaching" entry into three parts, and you can view Part 1 and Part 3 at those links. Needless to say, it was a very productive, or at the very least interesting, week.

In the beginning teachers' class, I had intended to play Boggle with them as a way to welcome them back after not having had class for one reason or another for three weeks. However, after one "student" hit another and then that other student telling me to punish the one student, we quickly got into a discussion (since it's the beginning class, more of a halting lecture, actually) over the conflicting ideas of "no tattling" and "good behavior" in America. Stereotypically, this is a pretty common conversation in the States:

"OW! Dad, Jimmy hit me!"

"Jimmy, don't hit your brother! Sammy, don't tattle on Jimmy!"

This always confused me to know end. We generally don't like snitches in American culture. At the same time, we don't like people who break the rules. I think it might have something to do with our revolutionary roots and thus thinking that our friends should be united with us against unjust figures of authority. Don't tread on me, and all that. I explained that within a group, right can turn wrong and wrong right. In a gang, for instance, crime can become the accepted way of life. For someone to betray that way of life by ratting the gang out to the proper authorities is tantamount to the ultimate crime within that group. It can be the same with low level violence with siblings or cheating with classmates. Though the person may be doing the actual "right" thing by tattling, they're still breaking the mores of that group.

Still, it's rather confusing to not report something like cheating in school because you don't want to be socially ostracized. Since childhood, I've taken the tact with my friends of not telling on them until they created a dangerous situation for themselves or others, instead earnestly encouraging them to stop and sometimes threatening to break off our friendship if they don't.

But, the teachers rightly pointed out the hypocrisy of it, the disadvantages to it, and the potential for serious consequences. I granted this, but pointed out that it wasn't a hard and fast rule, that there were situations--violent crime, for instance--where "tattling" was entirely appropriate. Indeed, in thinking about it now, I realize there are times where we think of tattling as entirely noble. There are just more pertinent times where we see it as entirely treacherous, even when that person was up to that betrayal one of our best friends in the world.

Anyway, it made for interesting discussion.

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