Richard Weissbourd is a lecturer in education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His work focuses on vulnerability and resilience in childhood, the achievement gap, moral development, and effective schools and services for children.
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"A lot of my work is on adult development and how adult development is related to kids’ moral development-- adult moral development is related to kids’ moral development. And that we have this idea out there that we can just deposit our values in our kids and that as adults we're sort of fully morally formed; when, in fact, as adults we're always in the process of moral growth. And that our capacity to morally grow, or not morally regress, is very important to kids’ capacity to morally grow, or not morally regress. And, you know, so in a story like this, you know, it’s, again, it's not clear exactly what the different responses were of teachers or parents or whatever, but there's a tendency of some adults to become very self-righteous in cases like this. You know, that they just get angry at the perpetrators or they just get angry at the kid who wouldn’t snitch, as if they're not vulnerable to dishonesty sometimes; as if they don’t shade the truth sometimes; as if they're not capable, at times, of being cruel to other people, even if it’s in much more subtle ways.
And, you know, I think a lot of this can be mitigated if adults, in fact, are able to have very honest and authentic conversations with kids about things like when do you tell the truth and when do you not tell the truth, what are the challenges to telling the truth or to snitching, and how do you manage those challenges in various circumstances. Why do we sometimes feel the impulse to be cruel, or how can that make us feel powerful. And, you know, not just as a kid issue, as an adult issue too. You know, just very authentic conversations about these things. And it wasn’t clear to me that that was happening in this case—it may have been-- but from the case study it wasn’t clear it was happening.
And just one other thing: and, I think that there is also an issue here of adult conceptions of adolescence. And that sometimes adults get angry at kids because they expect kids to act like mini-adults. And in fact, you know, kids are not adults and adolescence is a particular developmental stage where kids are very interpersonal, and very affected by their peer relations, and it’s very important to understand that and to have some identification and be able to take the perspective of adolescents... But I think there's another myth about adolescents, and that's that adolescents are like this separate species and they’ve spun out of our orbit, they're alien creatures, their brains are wired differently. And tf you believe that, then you have a very hands-off attitude about adolescents. And I think the irony of adolescence is that both things are true. They're both developing a conscience and very adult in some ways, and very interpersonal and very regressed in some ways because they're interpersonal. And if adults can hold in their heads that irony, or that essential contradiction in dynamic, and both empathize with the degree to which adolescents are dependent on peer approval and interpersonal, and developing a conscience and appeal to that higher conscience, they're going to get a lot farther. And my sense is that adults fall into one of the two camps rather than holding on to the contradiction."