America’s Unsung Heros: Spaghetti Defender


“Wilson, would you come up here?”

Mr. Hickey, our well-loved elementary school principal, was standing up in front of my fourth-grade class, beckoning to one of my classmates.

It took Wilson some time to get out from behind his small desk and up to the front of the room. For Wilson was fat. Quite fat.

Well, perhaps not by today’s standards, when grossly-overfed children are not uncommon, and the majority of children are fat, but the very round Wilson stood out in those days.

Fat Boy Winking Retro Cartoon

Adorable, Isn’t He? No One Except Their Mommies Really Think So, Though, Do They?


 

When Willie finally made it to the front, Mr. Hickey, a warm man who was loved by all—despite the well-worn paddle kept on the wall beside his desk—Mr. Hickey stood Willie facing the class and hugged him affectionately with one of his own meaty arms.

For Mr. Hickey himself was fat. He was almost as big around as he was tall.

Mr. Hickey called out to the class:
“Who here likes spaghetti?”

Hands shot up all over the room.

I Like Spaghetti

“I do!” “Me, too!” “I like spaghetti!”


 

Mr. Hickey looked down at Wilson for a moment.
“Willie: Do you like spaghetti?”

Willie was shy, but he was a good, obedient boy, and the principal was asking him a question.
“Yes.”

“Me, too. It looks like you like it a lot! Maybe a little too much!” “Is that true?”
Willie hung his head a little. “Yes.”

Some children laughed.

“Me, too!” (Patting his own belly, smiling, rolling his eyes, and looking at the class.)

Fat Man With Loud Tie Laughing

He Was Nothing If Not Jolly.

Everyone laughed.

Mr. Hickey called out again, smiling just like before:
“Now, who here would want to be made fun of for liking spaghetti?”

No hands were raised.

“And who here thinks it’s okay to make fun of Willie for liking spaghetti?”

The room was dead silent.

“Then I don’t think I need to say anything else to any of you about this ever again, do I?”

Boy In Class Feeling Guilty.

No. He Didn’t.


 

Mr. Hickey asked our teacher if he could borrow Willie. Then, he walked that boy from classroom to classroom and repeated that lesson in each classroom and grade of our entire elementary school. When Willie returned later that day, he was beaming.



God bless you, Mr. Hickey.

Little Girl Kissing Resistant Little Boy

“Aw, Shucks–I Was Just Doin’ My Job, Ma’am.”




This is part one of a multi-part series on bullying.
 
ADDENDUM
 

Chubby Woman in Bathing Suit

Fat Shaming and Misogyny Often Go Hand-in-Hand. Google Returned THIS Image for “Fat Man in Suit”.

If you’ve missed this NPR item, you really ought to take a look. It’s a wowser. I find the misogyny it points out especially notable because the woman being criticized is attractive and not even that overweight. The attitude of some men today is, apparently, “How DARE a woman show her face or body in a public performance venue unless she match a standard no human can meet without starvation and surgery?” It is a given that all the male critics in question look like Adonis.

The Classical World World-Class At Fat-Shaming Women

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12 Comments

  1. All I know about a student’s experience in school these days is what I read on social media and in the press about bullying. That is, I don’t have a child or family member currently enrolled in a classroom. But it is my feeling that Mr. Hickey’s life lesson would not be effective today. What do you think?

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  2. Maggie, I’m revisiting, rethinking, and revising my earlier comment. While everything I said earlier about today’s under-parented children is true, I believe the principal has a great deal of power in setting the tone for an entire school–just as a teacher has a great deal of power in setting the tone for a classroom. There was a world of difference between the two principals I worked under.

    On the practical side, I wanted to webcast my classroom, which would have not only helped nip bullying in the bud, but cheating and a whole lot of other issues. This was not allowed, I was told, by District policy. One could easily see why. If America (and the rest of the world) knew what REALLY went on inside our classrooms: 1) If parents who care saw that their children who try were being stymied at every turn by the other 32 students; and 2) If everyone who blames teachers no longer had a leg upon which to stand;

    Then the whole current (non)educational house of cards WOULD come tumbling down, wouldn’t it?

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  3. What a wonderful story. It doesn’t take much of a critical thinking challenge to get kids talking and to have them realize that their knee jerk, repeated taunts sound ridiculous. I do have a child in school and these issues get discussed quite a bit. Kids have an amazing capacity to learn and contribute to the conversation, if only given the opportunity. Quite often, they’re smarter than some of the adults I’ve met. Mr. Hickey was a creative and kind teacher!

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    • I hope you are right that children today would respond to this. One of the most positive experiences of my last two years of teaching was the entirely student-led classroom meetings/discussions that were held approximately every two weeks. (I sometimes “seeded” a topic.) When the children were given the power, their maturity level increased tremendously, and they were able to work out several problems with their peers for themselves. This included a case where they put their confidence in a bullying peer whom they trusted to improve, he totally let them down, and they all voted to, basically, ostracize him. I allowed them to do this. He himself agreed it was a fair decision. (His behavior had been abysmal.)

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  4. Paul

     /  2014/05/27

    Bullying is a nasty habit that kids pick up from adults. I regularly see adults bullying and, in fact, some workplaces are run by bullying. I even got involved in a politically charged situation in university where the executive director of a masters business program “whipped” the professors into shape by bullying and threatening blackballing if they spoke up or tried to move to another university. The dean was aware of it and turned a blind eye. The whole shebang came to a roaring head when one of Canada’s daily business newpapers got hold of it and did an expose. The exec and the dean were forced to resign. This is a social problem not just a children’s problem. And my feeling is that it is getting worse or at least is going underground where it is harder to dig out.

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  5. You are right that children can learn that lesson well from adults, Paul, although I suspect that the tabula is not always so rasa about pecking order, either, and we might have a little Lord of the Flies in us as well. Your university experience sounds outrageous, but I am not surprised at all, after many years working at a university myself (!) Even in my first “real” job at age 17, as a hotel chambermaid, the supervisor was a bully, forcing us to clock out on time, but continue working afterward under threat of firing.

    Today’s children-in-adult-clothing are less empathetic and more narcissistic ( http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-me-care/ ), so it makes sense that bullying is getting worse. I fear that the same Kyle or Amelia who will feel the warm fuzzies about themselves over forking over pennies from their latte budget to the occasional overseas crisis will purposely cut you off in traffic or lie about you to get the advantage of you in business.

    This all COULD be turned around, via effective preschool intervention and effective preschool television (since that is what non-parenting parents use for babysitting). Children believe what they are told. Tell them moral lessons and they will believe them. Teach them reading through follow-the-bouncing-ball type songs, and they will read. They will be reading moral books, ’cause little kids’ books teach good lessons, and we will have good, empathetic kids.

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    • Paul

       /  2014/05/27

      i agree that focussed programming could help address this with the little ones but (and this is a terrible thing to say) is that preparing them to face real life? It should be a part of the answer but I think, given the widespread use of bullying, that they should also be taught how to most effectively recognize and deal with bullying. In other words, not just stop them from bullying but give them the tools they need to deal others bullying them because they will have to live with it throughout their lives. As a safety manager of a trucking company, a truck with serious cracks in the frame was brought to my attention. I grounded the truck for expensive repairs ($5,00-$10,000 ). The head office called and told me to have it loaded and taken to head office- 300 miles away – for repairs. I told them “No”. and they threatened my job and said that if I wouldn’t do it they would replace me with someone who would . I told them that was fine because if they fired me then I was no longer legally responsible but until then the truck wasn’t moving. They hung up on me. I called them back two hours later to see if I still had a job. They (the fleet manager) called me a bunch of names which I won’t repeat here, and told me to get it fixed. Guess they didn’t like the liability and lack of deniablility if the truck lost control and killed someone after they fired me. Or it could have been all the pictures I’d taken of the broken frame (which I’d e-mailed to them before the conversation) They would have lost the company – and this was a decent sized organization with about 500 employees. I started looking for another job. This kind of shit happens everyday. What if I had had a family and couldn’t afford to lose my job? What if I knew I would lose my house and savings if I disobeyed? What if I knew my kids would go hungry if I disobeyed? And, you know what? The company was otherwise a good place to work. they generally took safety seriously, they respected employees and they paid fair wages with excellent benefits. I changed jobs.

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      • First, thank God you were there and not someone else that day. Second, you are, of course, right about the need for teaching strategies for attempting (note I say “attempting”) to deal with bullies and bullying. Once adulthood is reached, I think these boil down to the two you exercised: documenting the issue, and sharing it outside, or inspiring fear that you will.

        This is why domestic bullies and their social isolation of their victims is so doubly-effective: The abuse victim receives only one input about her(usually)self, chipping away at her self-worth, and she has no one with which to share what is happening in the home as it starts to slide off the rails, sometimes quite subtly at first–no one who will tell her “No–that is NOT normal or okay.” Worked on me when I lived through it, anyhow!

        BTW, I think we are in a honeymoon period as far as documentation goes: Smartphones have made it easy to take discreet digital photos, and video and sound recordings,. Soon, however, and I think remarkably soon, no one will trust anyone’s digital records because these may be too easily altered or even entirely invented, with free over-the-web software. And then where will we be? Old-fashioned dated paper notes are not quite as effective to wave over someone’s head, are they?

        Your other point, about what if you HAD to keep that job, as is so often the case? Scary and sad. This is why I feel so strongly that we need to increase the proportion of more empathetic adults out there, to spread the good ripples in the pond.

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  6. This is EXACTLY what I needed to read before I left on my cruise. Midnight cookies and milk? Don’t mind if I do!

    And the lecture I gave my kids about calling each other “gay”…EPIC. You don’t EVER use “gay” in a pejorative fashion in my presence. EVER. And the kids who use the term f-g or f-gg-t. Yeah..they don’t ever use it again when I’m done.

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  7. Absolutely. Better that, once they graduate from “poopy-head”, they should be forced to come up with their own non-bigoted increasingly-creative pejoratives as they age so as to provide us with more amusement and better blog-fodder!

    (Enjoy your cruise : )

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