101. Tattling

There are countless hours spent in courtrooms and dollars paid to lawyers because we want things to be fair. Someone else has done something that shouldn’t have been done or gotten something that we should have gotten, and we want justice. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just go up to some taller person who would settle it in a few minutes? I think it’s no coincidence that judges sit higher up than plaintiffs, defendants, and lawyers.
The first time a child tattled to me in school, I thought I was supposed to be the detective, lawyer, judge, jury, and lord high executioner. I didn’t want anything unfair to ever happen under my jurisdiction. I wanted to be King Solomon the Wise. I summoned the suspect. With both children present, I heard their arguments. I deliberated for a minute, and then handed down my ruling. I don’t remember what my ruling was, but I’m sure it was very just.
After a few weeks of this foolishness, I got a note from the child’s mother. She wanted to talk with me. I knew I had failed. I had tried to establish justice in my classroom, and this child was living proof that I hadn’t done it. I was ready to defend myself. I was ready to list the strategies I had tried to protect this child from the forces of evil.
That’s not what the mother wanted to talk about. She liked justice, too, but she had another concern in mind. At home, her child was a chronic tattle-tale, and she was trying to teach her child to solve some of her own problems. All the attention I was giving her daughter was working against this goal. Could I please ask her daughter to solve some of her own problems?
A word to Solomon the Wise was sufficient. I spent that evening rethinking my approach to the justice issue. I decided to listen to complaints – just listen. At least until I’d had time to decide whether the complaint warranted action, was a plea for attention, or perhaps was an attempt to improve a child’s self-image: “That child over there did something terrible, and I didn’t. I’m pretty good, huh?”
Justice must prevail. But when it comes to tattling, that may only be part of the story. It’s a delicate balancing act. We want children to know that they can come to us with their problems, but we also want them to know when to do that – that they can solve many of their problems on their own.

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