I got an email the other day. My son’s teacher wanted to discuss my son’s strong emotional response that day in school. My first thought was — uh, could you please define strong emotional response? Did he burst into tears? Did he throw a table? Did he yell? Ah, the joy of delicately worded emails!
What prompted the strong emotional response? An apology. Another student had been made to apologize but my son refused to accept. He didn’t mean it, my son said with a shrug.
At first I wasn’t sure how to react. I’ve spent years
forcing strongly encouraging my kids to say they’re sorry, even when they don’t mean it. I know there’s a school of thought that says kids shouldn’t have to apologize (I’m looking at you, Mayim Bialk), but I don’t hang out much in that school. I realize that apologies may not spring forth naturally from a child but to me it’s just part of learning to use your manners. We say please, we say thank you and we also say sorry when we hit a kid over the head with a shovel — that would be me, age 3, in a sandbox somewhere in South Pasadena, by the way.
So I hadn’t really thought much about my position on the forced apology until now. My son is ten and he’s starting to question things. Okay, he’s always questioned things but all of a sudden his arguments are actually starting to make sense. As my son sees it, the teachers always make the students apologize when they do something wrong but no one ever means it. So why bother? Why should anyone accept an empty apology?
Later that night, one of his favorite television shows didn’t record in its entirety. He got upset. It was late. Without thinking I said — I’m sorry that your show didn’t tape but it’s time to go to bed anyway. What did he come back with? You’re not really sorry because you don’t really care about my TV show at all.
Damn. I mean, it’s not that I’m not sorry at all. I’m not heartless. But do I really care whether or not he ever sees that last five minutes of Teen Titans? Well, not really. So I said, Look, I care that you’re upset but I admit that this isn’t my top concern at the moment. Hell, it’s Teen Titans. It’ll come on again — probably tomorrow! And while he was still pissed that the episode cut off at what was apparently THE BEST MOMENT EVER, he did appreciate my honesty.
So I wrote an email to the teacher explaining that while we have reminded our son to be calm and respectful (e.g., please don’t throw furniture, don’t yell, always use extremely un-colorful language, etc.), we support his decision not to accept an apology that he doesn’t feel is sincere.
And then I went one step further — Look, If you disagree with this practice, why don’t you do something about it? Email the school administration! Tell your teachers why you disagree with the practice of requiring students to apologize. Here’s your chance to do something on your own!
It may not be one of those exciting and potentially illegal walks alone on the streets of DC, but it is an opportunity to voice his concerns independently. Today he told me he got the vice principal’s email address and will be working on his email soon. I’m sure everyone at the school will be thrilled.