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The Power of Language

I have recently begun working with a third grade boy who attends an elite private school in my area. Usually, I do a joint session with him and his older brother, but the brother is away on a school trip, so I just worked with the third grader. He'd been assigned to memorize and recite a poem by Langston Hughes at school, so I had suggested that he put the poem into his own words so that he could understand it better. He was not able to do this by himself, so we devoted part of our lesson time to paraphrasing the poem. Then, something unexpected happened. This third grade boy began talking about a boy in his class who has several times insulted his Indian identity, the Hindu religion, and the vegan food my student brings for lunch. I had several questions: Had he complained to anyone at school? Were his parents aware of the situation? What procedures are in place at school for dealing with bullying and hate speech?

My student explained that there was a "bully box" into which students could request help with situations such as this one. With very little guidance from me, my student wrote an articulate, grammatically correct, and well spelled letter to the Principal in his school. He identified the bully by name, gave examples of what he has said to my student in the past, and asked for "arbitration" to resolve the matter.

I didn't feel comfortable with simple leaving the process up to my student who is, after all, only eight years old, so we shared the letter with his father, who was unaware of how bad the situation had become for his son. This experience was a poignant reminder that our words do have the impact to hurt others, but that our words can also empower us when we speak up for ourselves in difficult circumstances. In short, I hope the little guy gets the assistance he needs so that his bully will stop belittling him and even, possibly, become friends.

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