Embarrassing Questions

11.25.14 Question MarkChildren ask a lot of questions.  They’re supposed to.  It is a cornerstone of learning.  And I believe it is the duty of adults, parents, teachers, even the whole village, to answer those questions as honestly and unemotionally as we can.  But it’s not always easy.

Now, I’m not talking about the kinds of questions which are asked as distractions (those are a different problem).  I’m talking about the kinds of questions in which the child really does want an honest answer but where an honest answer can be embarrassing to the adult or a serious challenge to adult dignity.

If you have ever changed a diaper, cleaned up after a sick cat, or used a bedpan in a hospital ward you probably know that some situations require actions which are necessary but inherently undignified.  It is in those moments in which we learn that dignity is carried in the heart and not dictated by circumstance.

When children are young and the questions are things like: “Daddy, why do I get boogers in my nose?” or “Mommy, why do Daddy’s farts smell so bad?” the challenge to dignity isn’t all that great.  But as our children mature and the questions become more sexual in nature, far too many adults/teachers shy away in embarrassment from these assaults on adult dignity.  Among the many embarrassing questions I’ve been asked, the following three questions stand out for me.  They were serious questions asked in class.  Although they challenged my dignity, I felt they were worthy of serious, dignified, honest answers.

I was asked: “Mr. D., what’s a stiffy?”  “Mr. D., why do your nipples look like that?”  and finally, “Mr. D., have you ever kissed a man?”

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Teachers Get Bullied Too

Smaller FearChildren aren’t the only ones who get bullied.

Bullying travels in every direction following the shifting currents of power.  Yes, even teachers get bullied.  Sometimes we are able to handle it and the bully doesn’t succeed (see: Two Choices Technique and the Gangsta’).  But sometimes even the most experienced and toughest of us can feel unsure of what to do next or what will happen next and that can bring on a very deep fear.  I have felt that fear.

It seemed to have happened both gradually and swiftly (I know that sounds absurd but that’s how it seemed).  One minute I was giving an assignment and the next I was being threatened by a boy much larger and younger than myself and he was saying things like, “What you gonna do about it?  You gonna hit me?”

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A Conversation with P. M. DeVuono

9.18.14 FotoFlexer_Photo copyWhat is What Happened to David about?

What Happened to David provides a new twist on what it’s like to be bullied. It tells the story of what it’s like to stand up for yourself and then get sent to an alternative school because of it.

In What Happened to David, 15-year-old Mary tells us how she was bullied, victimized and unfairly sent from a magnet school to a tough alternative school where she met David, another victim of an unfair system. Their love grows as they adapt to their new school. Just as she starts to feel safe, Mary’s past returns with tragic consequences. This is a story about violence, young love, obsession, belonging, loss, and survival at school.

Can a book about an alternative school be useful to all students or is it only for those who have been in trouble?

This book is for everyone. This is a book about survival and dealing with loss. Those challenges happen in everyone’s lives and at every school. The fictional people and situations described in the book were inspired by real world experiences at over 35 different schools over 25 years. This book can also be useful for the child who is being bullied or for schools dealing with bullying. It could be given to or studied with parents as an example of how difficult it is to deal with bullies.

Where did you get the idea for What Happened to David?

I taught at an alternative school for 20 years. I realized that there were no books written about my students. I wanted to tell their story. I wanted this to be a gift to all those kids who worked hard to prove that an alternative school really can be an oasis of second chances.

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The Bully on the Bus: Part 2

YMCA 2Ben was my friend.

Ben was also the school fat guy at a time when childhood obesity was not yet the epidemic norm it is now.  I know it sounds awful to call Ben the fat guy but he was overweight and that made him a target for school bullies.  However, Ben was my friend.  He took pictures of my band!  And any artist or entertainer will tell you that we have strong propensities toward vanity and anyone who supports our art is a friend indeed.

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