Why Stopping the Bad Isn’t Good Enough

I had worked too hard that day helping kids be good, Dayvion being one example. Dayvion had ended the day without a detention, but this was because of my vigilance, not his. I felt like a pitcher at the mound, dividing my attention between a batter wanting a pitch and a first-base runner wanting to lead off. For each instant Dayvion escaped my gaze, he seemed to have a plan. But I kept snapping my eyes back just in time to foil his antics. He didn’t filch a calculator from Kayla, pass a note to Kenyon, or trip Josh coming down the aisle. Because each time he felt my eyes, he jerked back into place. He ended class offense free; I ended class frazzled.

Now, in my quiet after school classroom with papers to grade, e-mails to answer, and the message light blinking on the telephone, I just sat. The rain thrummed on the window as I sorted thoughts. The trouble, I decided, was that I was helping Dayvion meet my goals for him, not his own. I needed to switch the burden to him.

But how?

I thought of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development from a college class. Dayvion, though, would roll his eyes at words like conventional morality and social contract. But what if I translated Kohlberg for Dayvion?

The next day, Dayvion noticed my new poster on the wall:

What's Your Stage

When we talked during break, Dayvion recognized himself at Stage 1. We bartered a deal to nudge him toward Stage 2. He liked chocolate.

“You tell me,” I said, “when you’ve grown out of Stage 2.”

Kohlberg didn’t turn Dayvion into an easy student. But the chart became a mirror for Dayvion. He could spot himself up there on the wall. And when we read Number the Stars, he could place the Nazi soldiers.

“They think they’re good because they follow Hitler’s rules,” he said. “They don’t think about whether the rules are good for everyone.”

He saw also noticed that the protagonist Annemarie was brave enough to help others, even though helping them hurt her.”

“Wow!” he said. “She sure enough isn’t at the bottom. She’s way up there.”

Dayvion liked reading about heroes, even though he didn’t always want to be one. But he was moving up the chart.

 

 

 

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