You’ve got to be Carefully Taught to Hate

Taught to HateYears ago, I taught a young man named Henry.  He was is the seventh grade and stood about 5’ 8” and weighed about 170 pounds.  I stand 5’6”, and weigh 115 pounds.  Henry was a very disturbed young man and came from a very disturbed home-life where his father suffered from both delusions and paranoia.  Henry adored his father and often came to school paranoid and tried to get anyone who would listen to him to believe in all sorts of conspiracy theories about the government, the space program, teachers, dog food and just about anything else you can and cannot imagine.  It was difficult to know if Henry’s emotional disturbance was an inherited mental illness, or something brought on by the environment at home.  All of the professionals in his life believed it was a combination of both, which had the potential to be a very dangerous mixture. He received many services from various agencies and I was in constant contact with them.

He once lived with his mother, step-father and half-siblings, but because of the influence of his father, it became dangerous for the rest of the family for him to continue to live there, and so, sadly, his mother reluctantly signed custody over to his father.

While he was in my class, he did very well on the No Bull 5-Tier Level System.  He loved working hard and being promoted up the system.  He looked forward to taking his promotional certificates home and showing them to his father.  Sometimes, he was such a loving young man.  He was very smart, often reading about physics and other very difficult subjects.  He was so interesting to have conversations with due to his being able to talk about a large variety of subjects.

However, when he felt someone was out to get him, he would refuse to follow the rules and would wreak havoc on the classroom and school.  Many times he tore up the posters in my classroom and in the hallways.  He randomly threw desks, but luckily never at anybody.  Once, he ripped the phone out of the wall.  Twice, he spit on me.  Often, he would yell at me to hit him.  At these times, Henry would have to be put in a restraint hold until the police could get to the school.  Because his father believed the medication was part of the government’s way to watch them, Henry only sporadically took his anti-psychotic medicine, which only made his behavior worse.  He was an extremely difficult person to deal with day in and day out because he was so inconsistent with his medication.

Henry talked about his lack of friends and, at other times, his hatred for certain groups of people; yet, he often could not make a connection between his behaviors and why he had few friends.  He adored Hitler and thought he was a leader to emulate.  At these times, he seldom took his medicine and his paranoia would increase, which would spur a catch-22 cycle for several days.  I often remember thinking, “We are not born knowing how to hate.  What have you been taught in your short lifetime?”  How tragic that Henry’s behaviors appeared on the Pyramid of Hate© so strongly.  The song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught”, by Oscar Hammerstein II, from the musical South Pacific (Collector’s Edition) explains how easily this can be accomplished:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught
From year to Year
It’s got to be drummed
in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught
To be Afraid
Of people whose eyes
are oddly made
And people whose skin
Is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught
Before it’s too late
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
To hate all the people
your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

This song’s lyrics really seemed to be referring directly to students like Henry, who are raised in homes where fear and hatred are manifested daily and are taught more often than appropriate coping skills and the power of kindness.  My experiences with Henry were often frustrating; however, one incident in particular made me realize that even a system as well planned and thorough as the No Bull 5-Tier Level System has its limitations when there is little or no support at home.  That being said, I still believe it is better to have some sort of system in place than to have nothing.

I can clearly remember the week I thought he had definitely taken a turn for the worse. Many of Henry’s paranoid behaviors were demonstrated that week and for him everything was a conspiracy, and everyone was out to get him and his father. I was working after school on Friday afternoon and all of the students and most of the staff had gone home already.  About fifty minutes after the dismissal bell, I heard my classroom door open up.  Thinking it was another teacher or a custodian, I looked up with no fear.  What I saw was Henry walking toward me.  He had a knife in his hand.  I was all alone.

Come back next week to find out what happened that frightful afternoon.

Be kinder than necessary, be grateful, and have a peace-filled week,

Ms. Brown

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