Offending Kids

Personalization in PQA means actually talking with the students about real or imagined things in their lives. It is just a free-form conversation. We can always avoid conversation that may possibly offend a child by simply steering discussion away from anything too personal.

We talk about their socks, and how they score five goals in hockey games, and how they are the best cheerleaders in the world.

But, in stories, the instructor must be constantly alert to possibly offensive words or situations. The instructor has less control over content during stories, because they are always trying to pull cute answers from the class. The instructor must not forget how much power there is in words, especially with children whose minds have not yet developed discriminatory capacities, and especially when they are in groups.

That is one reason why the experts in TPRS tell us to build stories around the popular culture, where there is so much room for free language. It is also why they tell us to always compare our students in a favorable way with celebrities. We can insult Hannah Montana in a story, but never our own students, who are the best at everything.

However, what if one our students is playing the role of Hannah Montana in a story? Do we allow Amanda, a real student in our class, to insult the student playing the role of Hannah Montana? Absolutely not. Kids don’t often see the lines as easily as mature adults.

Even adults can be offended by poor choices during story. I once did a demo class with a group of teachers in which a teacher playing the role of Mark Anthony was accused of being a bad dancer. I saw an opening for a chant, and asked the class to actually point their fingers and chant at the teacher who was playing the role of Mark Anthony – “Tu danses mal! Tu danses mal!” etc.

Mark was able to play if off, as a mature adult, but I could feel, standing next to him, that on some deeper level the chanting was hurtful to him. And what if he had not been acting the role of a celebrity, but of himself? The whole scene would have been just too personally attacking.

Isn’t that true in life? I certainly have been guilty of saying things that I thought innocuous to friends that actually offended them.

So, in stories, we remember to avoid anything that could be interpreted as personally attacking, whether to a student playing a role or playing themselves. The best stories always seem to include a combination of real kids interacting with celebrities – they are the ones that generate the most interest. We should keep the format, but avoid any embarrassing situation that may offend the child.


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