On Neglect of A Child

This is mostly a time capsule, but also a public thank you note and call to action.

I had always thought of “neglect” as a strictly physical or emotional thing. I think I always pictured a skinny, filthy boy. Maybe the boy had a tear coming down one cheek.

No longer.

Neglect now looks like a happy boy, but one who constantly lies. The lying is so pervasive that truth itself needs constant defining.

I want to record two observations that have shocked me, not because they’re unbelievable, but because they’re perfectly coherent despite being as alien as aliens.

Firstly, I recently watched a boy be immediately repulsed by my request to make a written record. It’s a look money cannot buy. Despite lacking most indicators of critical-thinking for his age, he knew immediately that the action of writing would put his well-honed methods at a disadvantage. Specifically, if we timed an event (say Math Facts) and just announced the result out loud, making no written record, the next time we discussed it, it simply became a battle of who cares the most. A, “Huh-uh. I didn’t take that long,” or, “I didn’t go that fast,” depending on the child’s mood. But with the written record, there is now accountability. And with accountability comes responsibility. And responsibility brings fear—because we’re talking about a child who has never known responsibility because the adults never taught him to read and write. And we fear what is new.

The second observation is along the same lines, but the inverse angle. With no written record, conversations and moods tend to follow the energy of the group—no matter their particularly disadvantageous content or claims. The important thing to note is that there is no undesirable consequence for the child in talking like this—just go with the flow, and add something in kind. The specific example is as follows. Recently someone influential in the boy’s life (with apparently no awareness for the power of their words) remarked the boy was becoming fat. Keep in mind, the boy is not becoming fat. Anyhow, the boy then recounts how he didn’t have kool-aid at lunch that day. The audience laughs. Then I say, “We’re actually gonna just do water for lunch from now on in any case.” He, surprisingly, says, “That’s okay! I have plenty of kool-aid in my stomach already.” More laughs all around. Then at lunch the next day, he absentmindedly asks, “Can I have kool-aid?” I say, “No. Didn’t you say last night that you were fine without it?” Oh, the look on his face. Again, it was priceless.

For me, these observations and this new understanding of neglect and accountability and responsibility and truth are priceless.

Oscar-style, “I’d like to thank the Academy (like the actual Greek one of antiquity), my parents, my teachers, my sister, my church leaders, my friends, and just about everyone who every picked up a writing utensil and wrote with it and encouraged me to do the same from the earliest age. Also, I’d like to thanks all those, many of the self-same people, who called me out for lying from a young age—despite the nowadays perceived harshness of that simple act. I don’t know if it felt unpopular back then, but either way, thank you.”

For you, dear reader, hold the children accountable. Teach the children to write. In other words, don’t neglect the children.

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