Head Down, Finger Up

Dear Terrence,

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve come lately simply to ignore when you’ve put your head down in my class. There are enough behavior problems in that class to deal with that I don’t want to pick a fight, so to speak, with you. I know I’ll likely only get attitude, and even if you do comply, it’ll only be temporarily.

It bothers me because it’s disrespectful, but quite honestly, you don’t seem to care, and you’re only a kid, so like I said earlier, bigger fish to fry and such. Today, however, you were disrespectful to close to 10,000,000 people. Did you know it was even possible to disrespect so many people at the same time? I really didn’t either: I’d never really given it much thought. But when you put your head down and slept through our Holocaust-based writing exercise as we prepared to read Anne Frank’s diary, you basically put your middle finger up to all those who died in one of the evilest atrocities in history. For all intents and pursposes, you said,

I don’t care about you. I don’t care that you lost your family to a murderous regime. I don’t care that the last image you had of your child was of her being ripped out of your hands, screaming. I don’t care that you had the responsibility of burning the corpses of thousands upon thousands of gassing victims. I don’t care that you were “experimented” upon, shot, kicked, beaten, tortured, and treated like a roach. What I care about is that I’m a little sleepy now in first period, so screw you — I’m going to sleep.

I anticipate your response being something along the lines of, “I don’t care.” That’s fine. No one can make you care about anything. But if you find yourself one day alone, if you find yourself wondering if anyone in the world cares for you, and if you decide that the answer to that question is, “No, no one other than my mother,” perhaps you’ll know how those millions upon millions of Holocaust victims felt. And ironically, the fact that you put your head down during that class session would go a long way in explain why no one cared for you.

Then again, maybe that’s what you’re experiencing now. Maybe you already feel that way. It’s a bit presumptuous of me to suggest that I know you so well as to make such an accurate assessment. After all, I only see you for a small slice of your life. Still, it strikes me as a real possibility.

At the same time, there are plenty of others who have lived lives devoid of anyone really showing them any concern or compassion as children who have grown up to be perfectly empathetic individuals. (And there are plenty who have experienced the opposite.) I do know that you’ll have an easier time in life — a more fulfilling life — if you manage to purge “I don’t care” from your vocabulary.

Still caring for you, but with greater difficulty today,
Your Teacher in Room 302

P.S. I said nothing to you when you put your head down the second time after I’d already asked you politely and privately to show some respect. I didn’t want to damage the atmosphere I had created in the classroom. I will, though, address it tomorrow.

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