An Ode to Entitlement

Last Monday was “Bat Day” at my daughter’s school. She had been talking about seeing these bats for days so after school I was expecting her to bound over like she usually does, talking one hundred miles a minutes about bats. What I got instead was a subdued child, chewing on her bottom lip.

“Not the bottom lip!” I thought. My girl has been chewing on her bottom lip since she was about six months old. She does it when her lips are dry—and when she’s upset about something.

“What’s up?” I asked.

She shook her head without saying a word. But something was clearly off. She was moody and petulant in the car, picking silly fights with her little brother and behaving unreasonably. It got so bad I had to pull over.

“What is going on with you?” I demanded again.

This time she burst into tears. The story came out in heartbreaking sobs. Two kindergarten classes had consolidated to look at the bats together. Mina’s little friend had gotten up to hang her jacket. Mina got up to do the same. The teacher from the other kindergarten class had yelled at Mina: “Sit down! You don’t get to get up!” Mina had sat back down, scared.

“Well was she far away so she had to yell for you to hear?” I inquired.

“She was right in front of my face, mama.”

“Were you doing something that you were not supposed to be doing?”

“No, I was hot and I wanted to hang up my jacket.”

“I’m sorry you had your feelings hurt, sweetie.”

“I felt scared mommy. When she yelled at me, I got scared!”

I gave a her a hug and a kiss and that was the end of it for me.

Before you judge, let me explain myself here: I come from a LOUD family. If you are a Star Trek fan and have ever seen an episode involving Klingons talking, then you’ve pretty much seen a casual conversation between my family members. We all sound mad all the time—even when we’re not. That’s just us.

And let me give you a little more context: I remember getting slapped by a school administrator in maybe second or third grade. Not a little tap. A hard slap that left a mark on my face for a good couple of hours. I think my crime was giving a hug of support to a first grader who had gotten in trouble somehow. He looked so little and scared. I felt bad. My sympathy earned me one heck of a slap.

So with all this in mind, you will perhaps understand that the idea of a teacher yelling at my five year old didn’t exactly faze me. I thought the insult would pass. My daughter thought otherwise. She brought it up the next day. And the day after that.

On the third day, she said: “Mommy I want to explain something to you. I don’t think you understand that my teacher had told us that we don’t ever need to ask permission to get up to hang our jackets. That we can do it anytime we choose without asking.”

“Was your teacher there when you were yelled at?”

“Yes, she was sitting right there.”

“Did she say anything?”

“No.”

This was clearly going to be a problem and I was out of my depth. I brought it up to a few of my mommy friends.

One said: “This is a public school. If you go around looking for issues, you’re going to find them.”

Another said: “If this had happened to one of my daughters, I would not have been able to get them to go to school for a week or two.”

I got to thinking about how hard my husband and I work to draw my daughter out of her shell. She’s bright, she’s thoughtful and she’s sometimes shy. And so we encourage her to look doctors, store owners and other adults in the eye, to ask questions, to order her own meals, to pay sometimes (with our money, of course!)

My husband, who is Latino and who works in education reform, never stops talking about how the underlying sense of entitlement that white children feel about some of the most mundane things in life helps propel them in very significant ways later in life. That white kids are often encouraged to question and demand, while Hispanic and African American kids are taught the opposite.

My take-away from my husband’s quite frequent rants is that I need to raise some entitled children if I want them to succeed. No problem! I grew up in Iran. America’s baggage about color wasn’t handed to me until a little later in life. I’m loud and I’m proud, and can act entitled with the best of them!

But wasn’t I sending my child the exact opposite message here? You were yelled at unfairly. Hug, kiss and now drop it!

What about raising children who feel entitled to respect and fair treatment? Children who deserve not to feel scared because of a teacher yelling at them? Listen, I do yell at my kids (and quite often), and I can see circumstances where it would be more than warranted to yell like a banshee. But I also like to think I’m fair and appropriate—at least most of the time.

So I sat down with my daughter and I told her I could see that she was very upset. What did she think we could do to correct this situation? She wanted to write a letter to the principal. “Fine,” I said, “you dictate and I’ll write.” She expressed herself quite eloquently while I typed. She signed her name with great pride, and after we dropped off her letter on Monday, she finally seemed satisfied and resolved.

Today’s Thursday and we haven’t had a call from school yet to discuss the matter. That annoys me but I’m giving it a few more days and then going in like the crazy Klingon I was raised to be.

Here’s to raising some entitled brown and black kids. Are you in?