I used to teach 8th grade. Voluntarily. Middle school was a perfect match for me – the kids were old enough to get my humor and young enough to appreciate my goofiness. Also, it confirmed my friends’ fear I was insane. I taught Civics, which was great for flexibility and creativity in teaching. The kids had no standardized tests at that age in that subject, so I was basically able to assign whatever I felt best would get the information across. I was DRUNK WITH POWER, I tell you. This explains the following assignment I gave my poor 8th-graders towards the end of my 1st year teaching.
I was in my early twenties, and therefore bold. It was a Friday in June. I did not normally assign homework over the weekend, but this time was different. I was going up to NY to see my parents that weekend, but first, I was getting my haircut that afternoon. Reeeeeallllly short. I had hair that went several inches below my shoulders, and when I came back on Monday, I knew it would be buzzed in the back and sides, and kinda long on top. So, in case it didn’t work out so well for me, I gave them homework. To make me feel better if I needed cheering up. Here was the assignment:
“When you see me on Monday, I will have very short hair. Your homework is to come up with something nice to say to me about my hair, even if you don’t like the way it looks. You will be graded on the following criteria:
1. the elaborateness of the compliment, and
2. the sincerity with which it is delivered. Even if you don’t like the way it looks.”
I got my haircut, and the huz loved it. He thought it looked cool. He couldn’t stop running his hand up and down over the buzzed part on the back. I understood…isn’t that what you want to do to anyone you see who just got a buzz cut? Run your hands all over their heads? Come to think of it, maybe I should have gotten it buzzed all over. Anyhow, we drove to NY, and when my dad opened the door, he took one look at me and said, “Well, I always wanted a son.” (He was KIDDING, people, I promise!!! But now you might gather from whence my sarcastic streak comes…) Unfortunately, I hadn’t given my DAD that homework assignment, so I had to wait for Monday to hear from my students.
Let me tell you. Those 8th-graders really came through for me. Except for one kid. We’d clashed all year, but we were starting to get along. He wanted to go to the rest room. When I pointed out, feeling insulted, that he hadn’t complimented me on my hair, he finally gave in with a heart-warming, “Fine! It looks very nice! Now, can I please go to the bathroom???” Lucky for him, I was grading that particular assignment on a curve.
I would like to give all politicians the same assignment I gave my 8th-graders. Not that they all have to say something nice about my hair, silly, that would be too easy! If I were moderating the debates, though, I’d make it mandatory for each candidate to say something positive about the other candidate. Elaborateness wouldn’t be required, but sincerity would (that’s something they need to be good at anyway, right? Great practice!) The depth of the compliment should be part of the grade as well. And it wouldn’t be allowed to be a backhanded compliment, either. Like, “You really have great comic timing – like when you fell down the steps of Air Force One? Hilarious!!!” It would have to be real. Examples:
Obama: Newt, I really admire your intellect. You’re a world class historian, and your novel about Gettysburg was beautifully written.
Gingrich: Barrie, I have a lot of respect for the work you did as a community organizer, and I can’t help but be really impressed that Bin Laden was captured on your watch.
THEN they could tear into each other. But I get so very tired and disgusted at the political process as it now functions. Showing respect for one another apparently doesn’t garner any votes. Respectfully disagreeing and in-depth discussion doesn’t make for good TV. I know these things are true. Also true, however, is that voter disgust is high and trust levels are low. Everyone wants the culture in DC to improve, and no one knows how to achieve that.
Until now! I mean, seriously!!! They should really try the compliment thing! It’s like smiling and exercise…even if you didn’t feel like doing it to begin with, it almost always feels good when you’ve done it. And somehow, the rest of the day just seems to go better.
Now, this wouldn’t work for all politicians. Not all of them have redeeming qualities on which to build a respectful repartee´.
(Hindenburg: Adolf, I really admire your fashion sensibilities and your painting has shown great improvement in the last few years!)
But, really – can’t we just try it?