“That’s not good. It isn’t giving the children the tools to learn how to control these feelings themselves. Instead, it’s making them think we’re different from what they are. Relentlessly cheerful people aren’t real.”
Julie sighed. “You’re the only person who’s ever made me feel that being cheerful is wrong,” she said.
“There’s a deeper level to this too,” I said. “It has to do with right and wrong. I know it’s important to show acceptance and tolerance, to make people feel good about themselves, but the plain truth remains: if we don’t actively teach right and wrong, children don’t learn it. It’s our responsibility to teach the children how they should behave. Not everything they do is right. They need to be actively shown the difference between right and wrong behavior and shown ways to behave better that will eventually allow them to grow into happier, more fulfilled people.”
“Which is your opinion,” Julie responded.
“Yes, my opinion. And it’s also my opinion that this is the way to good self-esteem. We feel better about ourselves when we behave in ways that make others respond positively toward us. We feel better about ourselves when we have a sense of being in control of ourselves. Self-esteem doesn’t come about by people always telling you good things about yourself. How would all these good words even carry any weight, unless you knew the same people would also tell you not-good things about yourself when the need arose? Self-esteem isn’t passive. It’s active. It comes from mastering your world, from being competent and in control. And how can you achieve those things if people do not help you learn the behaviors involved?”
“But who are we to say what those are?” Julie countered. “I’m not comfortable making all these value judgments. What is right and wrong, Torey? I’m not God, so how do I know? And I’m not willing to set myself up as God. There are too many narrow-minded people in this country already as it is, and I’m not going to be one of them. I don’t think that’s our place. Values should be taught in church. Not in school.”
“Values should be taught everywhere.”
“Yes, but whose? We don’t have the right to judge these things,” Julie replied. “This is a diverse school. We have different cultures here. Different ethnic backgrounds. Different religions. Different socioeconomic levels. This matters, Torey, and we can’t make value judgments for people whose lives are different from ours. I’m not African-American. I’m not Latino. Yet most of the kids in this school come out of those cultures. I’m not living below the poverty line. I’m not developmentally delayed. Yet most of the kids in our class are from one of those groups.”
I hesitated. Again, I was aware of having to fight the opposite side to what I normally did and, again, I felt uncomfortable with this. “There are still some basic values,” I said. “Basic values that have nothing to do with what color you are or what language you speak,” I said, “or how high your IQ is or how much money you have. Human values. One of them says everyone has rights. So anytime you are doing something that takes away someone else’s rights, that’s wrong.”