Parents everywhere have stories of their tots repeating terrible, dirty words. My aunt has a great one about my cousin when he was small. It was the holiday season and they were at some type of Santa’s workshop/Toyland place. My cousin LOVED playing with the trains. He did NOT LOVE being told that he needed to go home and that the trains were not going with him. He yelled out, “DOG GAM IT!” My aunt claims that he heard that one from my uncle. Obviously, he took some liberties with the consonants.
When these moments happen in my classroom, I don’t necessarily feel embarrassed. I certainly didn’t teach them these words, phrases, and understandings. Nooo, I feel something more akin to worry. Maybe even dread. About how the situation is going to be re-imagined and retold by those who had formerly innocent ears. And about how the warped message is going to come back around to me again like some real-life version of the telephone game. I can’t just rush one kid out of the classroom and pretend it never happened. I need to do some damage control.
This happened a few weeks ago. We were reading a fiction book where the author mentioned vertebrates and invertebrates. Somehow, this led to a discussion about adaptations. Then a student said that his dad was a scientist, and he mentioned the theory of evolution. So far, so good. We’re having a rich discussion about science topics during our literacy block. I’m loving the content area integration. But as you can anticipate, the conversation about evolution takes a turn.
“Mrs. Bakke, you’re telling me we come from monkeys?” “Well, no kids, but a long, long, long, long time ago humans and monkeys had a common ancestor.”
“Mrs. Bakke, humans and monkeys are the SAME?” “Well, you see, monkeys and humans are both mammals. More specifically, they’re both primates, so we have some characteristics in common.”
“Mrs. Bakke, I USED TO BE A MONKEY???” “NO, do not go home and tell your parents that I’m saying you used to be a monkey.”
We had another one of those moments today. We were reading aloud Streams to the River, Rivers to the Sea by Scott O’Dell and using our inferences about the characters to make predictions. The book tells the story of Sacagawea, and in this part of the book, she keeps getting captured by different men who want to make her their wife (just a teensy bit problematic). O’Dell writes that one of the men stares at her and comments that she is beautiful. I kept trying to point this out and clue the kids in that he like liked Sacagawea.
One of the fourth-graders said, “Oh, so like when you wink at someone.” I think I nodded and said something akin to, “So how does the character feel about her?” The student totally ignored my question and instead said matter-of-factly, “A wink means I’ll meet you in the bathroom.” I must have given a freeze response because the rest of the students stared and went “ooohhhHHHHhhh.” I quickly realized the student half understood that his statement had romantic implications but that he was totally confused about the specific inappropriate nature of meeting someone in a bathroom. Maybe he just thought it was cool to hang out in the bathroom with girls? He pleaded, “But that’s what my fifth-grade cousin told me!” I said something reassuring but made it clear that he shouldn’t repeat the things his cousin says.
Who knows what the kids will tell their families about this one. I don’t think I’ll really start to worry unless they start scrunching up half their faces at one another and heading off to the bathroom in pairs.