Writing with my students always teaches me something. Making the moves I ask them to make, I uncover ideas about writing and myself.
Recently we finished a memoir unit. When I do this work, I always tell the stories of myself when I was about their age. One of the memories I shared shocked my kiddos. I didn’t think much of their reaction. It was a typical sibling tale.
I wrote my story alongside them. Making the moves with my piece as a demonstration. Finally, I got to one of the last revision lesson. One where I asked them to look back and reflect on what the moment meant. In the past, when I had shared this story, I had always told it in the spirit of the moment. Coming up with the reflection on it brought me to something I hadn’t considered.
When my brother jumped onto the sofa he said, “What do you want to watch?” His big brown eyes were asking for more than a television show. He was asking for my approval.
This was before the remote control. Changing the channel required getting up, out of a comfortable position, that was usually lying down on the couch. Being a lazy eight-year old, I didn’t want to move. Especially with an eager little brother close at hand.
“Stephen, would you change the channel for me? I’ll give you a penny if you do it.”
He probably would have done it for me without the bribe, but I really wanted the channel changed and I didn’t want to move. I knew he loved money, why not offer the incentive.
As predicted, he jumped up and changed the channel. This process went on for a while. Every time I wanted the channel changed, I just had to say, “I’ll give you a penny…”
I never did give him the money.
It was so easy and when I did it, I felt clever, not bad. Maybe this explains how other people feel when they use their power over other weaker people. It’s easy to take advantage of someone who looks up to you.
In the end, I agreed with my students. I was shocked with my eight-year-old self. By teaching my students, I uncovered an uncomfortable truth.
I hope my brother doesn’t hold it against me.