Childhood is a series of defining moments. . . I was hoping to write about something other than the outrage welling up inside me after reading about traumatized Lamya Cammon, the 7-year old first grader, whose "frustrated" teacher cut off her beautiful braid in front of a classroom of snickering children. Telling the child, “Now what you gonna go home and say to your momma?”
The teacher, whose identity has yet to be disclosed, was fined $175 for disorderly conduct. What fine will be levied against her for invalidating a child? For making a classroom of children co-conspirators to her cruelty – and shaming – of an innocent child who fidgeted with her hair during class. Lamya, who went back to her assigned seat and wept after the incident, has been reassigned to another classroom, one where she does not know the students and will hopefully have a respectful and sane teacher.
Childhood is a series of defining moments. . .
When I grow up, I hope to be respected. Cherished for the divine being that God created me to be.
I, too, had a traumatic "braid" experience in elementary school. I, too, had an invalidating teacher, one who dismissed me as I raised my hand repeatedly to tell her that Howard, the obnoxious boy seated behind me, was pulling my hair. The teacher felt I was disrupting the lesson by sharing this unimportant bit of information with her, no matter that I was being hurt by Howard's antics. With each dismissal by the teacher, his taunts escalated and the pulls became harder and unbearingly painful. On the third pull, I turned and in my most menacing whisper told Howard that he had "one more time" before I took matters into my own hands. Egged on by his snickering minions, he chanced the final pull before all hell broke out.
"Stop it," I yelled as I jumped up from my seat, turned and swung at him with all my might. My fist landed squarely on the right side of his neck. The pencil I had been writing with was still in my hand. It lodged in his flesh. A piercing yelp. Then he fell in a spasm of pain, and panic, before pandemonium erupted. The teacher rushed from the blackboard, pushing aside the throng of bemused and horrified students, to kneel beside a withering and howling Howard, yellow Ticonderoga wobbling with each sob. I stood back, dazed, wondering if he would die and what would happen to me if he did. The teacher was unsure whether to dislodge the weapon or not. A nurse was summoned by phone to our outlying portable. Howard's screams brought teachers and unruly students from adjacent structures.
When order was finally regained – the pencil carefully removed, Howard's wound temporarily dressed and he gingerly escorted from the room – I, an obedient, thriving learner, was sternly ushered to the principal's office where I was suspended, and my mother called to come and collect me.
I was outraged. It was my first and only suspension. And, an unfair decision by yet another adult who showed no regard for the assault upon me that resulted in my hitting Howard in the first place. I had never intended to hit him, nor did I realize I had the pencil in my hand when I did. I was genuinely sorry that his injury required a trip to the doctor's office.
I remember sitting in the principal's office hearing the teacher's excuses, her attempts at rationalizing her indifference to my pleas for help, when my parents showed up at school for a meeting the following day. I was allowed back in class, but only after formally apologizing for my disruptive behavior, and to Howard, several days later, when he returned to class with his wounded pride and injury stitched up. It was yet another indignity to my self-esteem.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end of my woes. Disgraced in front of his buddies, Howard and his brother Bobby decided to teach me a lesson by staging a fight with the school bully, Dwayne, on a day when my older brother was absent. I was petrified as news of my impending battle circulated during recess and in the lunch room. I didn't confide in any adults, after all, the one time that I did hadn't turned out so well.
That warm spring day, when the final bell rang and I could linger no longer in the portable, I hastily made my way across the school yard hoping to get to the gate and run home. Instead, in the middle of the yard, I was immediately encircled my a mob of jeering youngsters. I looked around, but didn't see an adult.
I was on my own, again.
Dwayne stepped forward and called me out. A good head taller than him, I assessed my options – run, or hold him off long enough for a teacher or secretary to exit the main building. But before I could put either option into play, Dwayne shoved me. I stepped back, scanning the crowd for an ally or a sympathetic face. There were none. He shoved me again as the crowd taunted him on. Like my episode with Howard, I completely let go. Swinging my long arms like blades on a wind mill, I repeatedly struck Dwayne until he fell.
Somewhere in the distance, an adult yelled out and the crowd scattered.
It was my first and only real fight. And, this time I wasn't suspended for standing up for myself. In fact, some concerned administrator decided that I would make a good office assistant during recess and lunch time, at least until the school year ended. By then, my reputation for "not taking any stuff" had been well established.
The enduring lesson from my "hair incident" was learning that adults aren't always fair or honest, and that standing up for myself would cause a backlash that I had to be willing to accept if I chose not be victimized or invalidated. Yes, at age 9, I knew that I had to stand up for myself or suffer the consequences; running from bullies for the rest of my life was never, even then, an acceptable option. I learned that standing up for myself, when an adult in authority refuses to, may be my only recourse. I wonder what lesson Lamya Cammon will take from her experience – that teachers, like some third grade boys, can be obnoxious bullies too.
For all the Lamya Cammon's in classrooms across America, my hope is that respect will come soon, before you're all grown up.