Do you remember that book, “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawethorne? Maybe for you tweenys out there, you more easily recall the Emma Stone movie “Easy A”. I think it was “an ol’ school story with a new school flava”. I had to read “The Scarlet Letter” in high school. The main character, Hester Prynne, bears an extramarital child and, for her crimes, must wear a red “A” on her clothes to signify to the world that she had committed adultery. And it was Reverend Dimmesdale’s baby all along! Let me tell you, as a 10th grader with poor reading comprehension, I did not see that coming!
Let me say, I am glad we don’t have public shaming, but it does bring up an interesting question. If we lived in a society that allowed such a thing, how would it effect crime rates? In a world where “respect” is something so craved that entire songs and Jerry Springer episodes have been written about it, would the exact opposite of respect be severe enough negative reinforcement to influence the decisions that people make?
I submit to you that it can.
Last year, my oldest daughter, the most rule-loving of all my children, stole a cell phone from her teacher! I was shocked. If we had a vote in our house as to who was most likely not to steal a cell phone, I think she would beat even me and the dogs. But she did. She snagged it when the teacher wasn’t looking, and after getting caught acted very caviler about the whole thing… even in the vice-principal’s office.
Fast forward to this year. Same teacher, new child o’ mine. This time it was my youngest son and the items of choice were little rubber dinosaurs. Along with the many teaching aids made to make learning fun, this teacher had a box full of little rubber dinosaurs that she used for various activities. My boy, over the course of several days, created an underground railroad to ferry these neon-colored creatures to safety (i.e. our house). When ten or so turned up in one of his bins during a not-so surprise inspection, his comment was “They were a prize from my teacher.” Teacher was called. Claim was busted.
Middle son’s turn, but thankfully a different teacher! His teacher sat a camera on her desk before walking to the other side of the room to help a student. On the return trip, the cap to the camera was off and two young men (of which, one was my boy) were at the scene of the crime. I don’t know if you recall the scene from “Austin Powers” when Will Ferrell’s character has to tell the truth after being asked three times, but from what the teacher tells us, a similar event unfolded. After she explained that it wasn’t a big deal to her, but she just wanted the truth, my boy finally admitted guilt.
There have been more cases, but those are the big ones that I remember.
In all cases, we backed the teachers up 100% (God bless the women that educate my kids) and augmented any discipline that they received at school with discipline at home. We are believers in natural consequences, so if property was destroyed, they have to earn money to replace what was broken (It’s happened before, but fortunately not in these three cases). We also emphasized that problems only get worse when you lie about them, never better. To reinforce that point, we explained, “You are getting X punishment because of what you did. You are getting Y punishment because you lied about it”.
However, the part that seems to resonate most with our children is facing their teacher, admitting guilt, and apologizing. We usually have them make a note or card apologizing and we do the “walk of shame” to class with them the next day to apologize. Bearing their shame before their victims is so hard, but it is also so important.
I think it is twofold.
1. People, even (and possibly more so) adults, hate admitting fault. It is the ultimate swallowing of pride that we can do.
But, if I don’t ask my kids to admit fault to a teacher, how do I expect them to admit fault before a Holy God. I John 1:9 says that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins”. James 5:16 goes a step further and says that we are to confess our sins to one another! It seems to make sense that the person we wronged should be the first stop on that confession train.
2. Kids, even though they can’t articulate it so eloquently, know the value of a good name.
Psalms 22:1 says a “good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Our integrity is so fragile. You can spend a lifetime building it up, and one wrong decision will tear it apart. As one of my top-five favorite movies (V for Vendetta) says, our integrity is the “last inch of us that we must never let them take” and “never give away”. This was the number-one lesson that my father taught me growing up. When people hear our last name, I hope they know that we (not just I) are people of integrity. We demonstrate it a thousand times with the little stuff such that our word and our actions are trusted with the big stuff too. Trust and respect comes from a good name. Suspicion and shame comes from a bad one.
With the exception of the cell phone, our crimes against humanity are relatively small. Thank goodness. Again, I’m learning as the age of my kids slowly inches up, so do the stakes. Rubber dinosaurs today, credit cards and car keys tomorrow.
To be fair, they really are great kids most of the time, and we love them to death. Also, the dinosaur whisperer asked Jesus into his heart a few weeks ago. If we accomplish nothing else as parents, I can be happy with that. 4 down. 1 to go!
At the dinnermesa,