Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#stuffmiddleschoolerssay, aka: my social justice fail

After Msgr. Gregory of Mustard Seed Communities spoke at all our masses this weekend, I thought I’d ask the middle schoolers what they thought about it and if they wanted to help somehow.  The conversation went something like this:

“So, who heard Msgr. Gregory at mass this weekend?”

I was greeted by a chorus of, “I didn’t go to mass this weekend”.  
(Insert tangent of, “I know you’re in sixth grade, but you need to remind your parents how important it is to take you to mass on Sunday.  I'm sure you’ve all heard it.)

“Well, if you didn’t hear Msgr. Gregory for yourself, he talked about the children that they take care of in Jamaica, The Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe who don’t have enough to eat.  There’s a program where we can support them called Sustain a Life”. 

At this point, a fifth grade boy excitedly raises his hand and blurts out, “Miss Alison!  You know how you can buy a star?  We could BUY a poor KID!”

This idea is met with great excitement.  A sixth grade girl chimes in, “yeah!  We could keep it here in the youth room.  They could sleep on the couch and you could be it’s MOM!”

This is not going the direction I had hoped, but thinking it was still salvageable, I tried to bring them back to the reality of the situation, asking, “well, that’s really nice of you guys to want to take care of a kid, but don’t you think they’d miss their family, living in the youth room?”

The kids stare at me, blankly.  “No”, they all say.

I persist, “You wouldn’t want to leave your family and live in the youth room, would you?  Even if you had cool stuff, wouldn’t you miss them?” 

Again, a blank stare, “no.”

I have a suggestion for them.  “Well, guys, we can’t keep a kid here” (insert round of disappointed sighs) “but we can send them money each month to help feed the kids in Zimbabwe.  What about if, for the next month, instead of drinking Capri Suns, we drink water and send the money to feed a child in Zimbabwe?”  

“You mean bottled water?” they ask.  

“No, that still costs money.  You’d just drink from the water fountain”, I explain.

“No, I don’t think so…” they all answer.  At this point, I’m rapidly losing faith in humanity and, specifically, the 6th grade.  “You guys, when you die and Jesus asks you how you took care of each other, don’t you want to say that you gave up Capri Suns so kids can eat?”  

“Well, maybe if we could have hot chocolate instead?” they propose.

Then, Mr. “Buy a kid” remembers something.  “Miss Alison!  You can sponsor a puppy for $15 a month!  And they send you a hoodie and a tote bag!  That’s even cheaper!”.

I sigh.  “You know what guys, let’s just put in a movie.”

I realize that sixth graders who have grown up on Hilton Head have a long way to go when thinking about children on the other side of the world.  So, my question is, what have you found to work in teaching kids empathy and compassion for children they have never met or seen?


  1. My pc froze right when I finished typing. ugh.

    Take 2-

    I know you really want to support Sustain a Life, but maybe the kids need a stepping stone like Holt International. ? Holt is $30/month sponsorship and you can choose the child. They send pictures and updates throughout the year. That could be the amount of tangible-ness that they need for now. You could also propose raising the money for the sponsorship by selling those plastic armbands with the child's name on them. They get the constant reminder and raise the money. :) (Or maybe you can talk to the people you know at Mustard Seed about obtaining a child's name and/or picture)

    Not sure how much capri suns cost, but if you could trade to those lemonade things you stir in the 3 gallon jugs- having them make it can also be a good reminder of their "sacrifice".

  2. Oh.My.Lanta. That is really funny and really sad. Please tell me you made up parts of it and those children really aren't that grey-matter challenged!

    On a serious note, the best way to teach any virtue is to live it. Maybe a field trip is in order to visit a poor family right there in the area. Helping the poor across the ocean is nice, but we have poor people we can help right here in our backyard.

    I'll keep you and your students in my prayers ~ ten to one, those children are emotionally and spiritually poor.

  3. Hi, Maybe try giving them an assignment to visit a nursing home, shelter or a food pantry at least a few times during the year? Not sure about your school rules, but they really do need to get out and see opportunities for charity to begin to want to give charity.
    You may want to have them talk to their parents, who probably give to several charities and may not have discussed it with their kids.
    Best of luck with this!