Friday, April 20, 2007

No kidding

It was the scariest afternoon of all my years of relief-teaching.

I was taking a class of 4- to 5-year-olds, an age group that is usually a delight to teach. They are attentive, sufficiently scared of the teacher, lively and get involved in almost anything you teach them. So I was really looking forward to the class.

However, amongst the little ones was a certain kid (let's call him Danny) who actually freaked the living daylights out of me. At first I did not notice anything strange about him - he looked like a regular bespectacled Singaporean kid - but I realised after a while that he was unusually quiet. After the kids had matched the young of animals to the parents, I asked them if they wanted to colour the animals. All of them gleefully attacked the crayons.

Except this one.

"Danny, don't you want to colour the animals?" I asked.


"Why not?"


"Danny, teacher said - colour the animals." One of his classmates said.


"You say 'No' to everything."


By then, I was in another corner of the class, trying to explain to a kid why she couldn't colour a calf blue and the corresponding mother-cow purple. I could hear the banter between Danny and the other kid, but I thought it was one of the meaningless conversations that kids have when they have finished their work and are waiting for their classmates to stop colouring.

"Is your name Danny?" The other kid was laughing away, obviously having fun asking all these questions and getting negative responses to all of them.

"No." Danny said, still with a straight face.

I've seen kids play this game, but it's always accompanied by laughter. This time, it wasn't.

"Do you wear glasses?"


When I turned to them, I realised that Danny had moved about four chairs away from the other kid, and was looking at him with what could only be described as hatred. At the same time, he seemed to be kind of enjoying answering the questions in a masochistic kind of way, and waiting for the next one. The other kid, however, was getting tired of teasing Danny, and was also running out of questions.

"Danny, get back to your seat." I said.

"No." he glared at me.

A 5-year-old glared at me, and for a second I was afraid. I was afraid of a 5-year-old.

So I realised that the best thing to do was to move on to the next topic. As I explained something on the whiteboard, he kept staring into space with a very steely look in his eyes. And he still sat four seats away from the rest of the class. He was not one of those cheeky kids trying to be funny. I've come across plenty of those kinds, but this one was different. In a weird sort of way, in a way that would make you forget his age. And I knew it wasn't my imagination.

At the end of the lesson, I asked the kids to go to the computer room to watch a video on marine animals. All of them cheerfully ran to the computer room, but Danny stayed put.

"Danny, don't you want to watch the video?" I asked.


"Look, everyone else has gone. Shall we go too?"


"It's a very interesting video, Danny. I'm sure you'll like it. Come, let's go."


"Okay, if you won't go, I won't go either." I dragged a chair and sat next to him. He did not say a word or look at me.

A few minutes later, I noticed him looking at me every now and then.

"What is the matter, Danny? Is there something you want to tell me?"


"Are you angry, Danny?"

For a second it seemed like something returned to his steely eyes, but then he looked away again. I could not believe why he was behaving in such a grown up manner.

"Danny, are you angry at someone? You want to tell me?"


Perhaps I'd been reading too much about the Virginia Tech shooter, but the truth was - even though he was at most five years old, Danny was exactly the kind of kid I could see taking up a gun and shooting his classmates. It wasn't funny.

I started to wonder - are these the kind of kids that grow up into violent killers who believe they are merely taking revenge because they have been wronged? Or was I over-reacting? Should I have raised the alarm or was it too early and way of out line? When you are a relief teacher, along with limited responsibilities comes limited power. You're merely covering for a teacher who is ill. You're not responsible for anything beyond the basic lesson itself. You cannot get involved in the character-building of the kids you're teaching. You're probably never going to see the kid again in your life, and what you do, even if your intentions are good, may leave a mess behind for the regular teacher to clean up after you. So there I was, helpless, not knowing what to do, whether to raise the issue, whether to write a note to the parent or even to the regular teacher. She would probably toss it aside with the thought - what does the relief teacher know about the kids in my class? And I'd be blacklisted forever by the school as the paranoid relief teacher with the hyperactive imagination.

For all you know, they could be right.
Perhaps I was indeed over-reacting? I'd probably read too much on the Virginia Tech shooter and other school shootings in the last few days. Perhaps the kid was just having a bad day. But then, do 5-year-olds have bad days? We grown-ups have bad days. I had one myself - I spilt milo on my white top before my job interview, the interview itself didn't go as well as I'd wanted it to, I dropped my favourite black jacket somewhere on the way to the school (and hence almost froze to death in the four hours I spent in the freezing classroom), encountered the naughtiest (and most annoying) little girl I'd ever taught, and ended up with a really bad headache. That was quite a bad day. But I wasn't angry. What can happen in the day of a 5-year-old to make him so angry?

And let's say this kid stayed angry all the way. Perhaps he had a lonely childhood, perhaps his parents did not have time for him, perhaps his classmates ridiculed him. Whatever it was, he had something on his mind, and he had not told anyone. Was it possible that he would do something drastic when he grew up and then blame it on his childhood? Whether it's completely true or not, most offenders do tend to blame their parents, their classmates or their upbringing for their crimes. In a world where psychiatrists would believe anything to create a theory, I guess it's easy to blame someone else to justify your actions. But aren't parents getting too much flak? If their kid turns crazy and kills 30 of his classmates and then himself, they live with the flak that they did not bring up their kid right. As if they really wanted their kid dead. And then, random teachers jump up after the deaths to claim that they saw 'signs' of a 'disturbed childhood' and what not in 'the killer'. But the kid is dead and so are many other innocent ones. Who's the one living with the heartbreak at the end? It's the parents again. Why are they always at the receiving end?

Is it really as easy as looking out for 'signs' in your kid? Is it not possible that due to hyper-vigilance by people around him (including his parents), a normal kid is somehow unnecessarily branded as 'odd' or 'angry' and 'someone who needs help' just because someone noticed something about him that was different from his peers? Is it not possible that the so called 'help' extended to the kid by society is the reason he gets so screwed up that he ends up pointing a gun at the people around him? Doesn't this mean that watching a kid too much may be just as responsible for a school shooting as not watching him?

They say parenting is a joy. 'They' also say that bringing kids up is not easy. But why? Why is parenting so difficult anyway? If having kids is an ability most people are born with, shouldn't parenting be as easy as the rest of the abilities we are born with, such as eating and drinking? And if it's so hard, then how do you know whether you're going to do it right or not? If everything your kid does is a reflection of how you brought him/her up, isn't it too risky? How do you know what - or whether something - is 'wrong' with your kid? What if there are no 'signs'? How do you know which of your littlest actions are going to be blamed for playing a part in a bloodbath many years down the lane?

Whose fault is it really?

If a government has endangered lives by introducing guns into society, is it possible that you could end up endangering lives by introducing, without your own knowledge, a ticking time bomb - your so-called "badly brought up kid" - into the same society, to promptly pick up the gun so freely supplied to him/her?

What is more dangerous really - the gun or the kid?


Black Tulip said...

I read somewhere abt the concept of "Dharma". Its the Dharma of the Sun to shine, the wind to blow, the peacock to dance when it rains, you get the drift.. Its the dharma of a weapon to kill. If you bring home a gun, it comes with the possibility of being used someday. I fail to understand why they are made available so freely to anybody and everybody. A cop having a gun makes sense, but what is a kid/student/layman/ doing with a gun in hand?

Another issue here is of a disturbed childhood/pent up anger. I dont know what one can, or should do on noticing something strange in a kid, or even a grown-up for that matter. Like the way you noticed something weird in that kid..

But something CAN be done about the availability of weapons.

Iday said...

Parenting has been discussed in detail in this book Freakonomics. And the authors say (and prove with statistical data) and parents have near zero impact on the development of the kid. Many of the reasons are compelling...

I myself believe that the kid could probably be more influenced by his friends and the general environment where he grows up, than the parents alone. I mean, with or without the parents - i think the kid will develop the same traits if he meets the same ppl and goes thru similar experiences.

Kids get screwed up - it happens everywhere. I would rather blame the society at large, than blame the parents alone. Most parents love their kids and grow them well. I said "most". So "most" of the world must have good people. It is not the case!!!

The VTech incident is a really sad example of what a society can do to a kid, and what the society can make him do. Right from screwing up his mind, to making the guns available - i believe the society he was a part of has a huge responsibility!!!

Anyways - what happened with the angry young man???

Sowmya said...

What about Danny? Was he alright at the end? Did he speak to you about whats troubling him?...

Incidents like this one really made me sad.. Infact, when I saw Cho's video, for once I wasn't angry about what he did or what happened... I felt sad and sorry for Cho..


Neihal said...

the same questions we all have. But no answers. I wish there was some way of addressing these issues.
And what is more dangerous, neither the Kid nor the gun, its the society that is failing to fulfill it's responsibility.

Manchus said...

Sayesha, I have linked this post in the

Hope you are okay with it.

It is scary that parents bear all the brunt!!

Hope Little Danny opens up his mind and vent it out instead of keeping it in and bursting out one day.

satish said...

I so dont want to comment on this post. Only if I was a bit more intelligent..

Anyway, I will refrain from cracking any jokes. May all rest in peace.

Thisisme said...

for sure..i can say that parents do not have as much impact on the kid as much as frnds n society have.I blv they play a much more impacting role..even if parents spend all quality/quantity time with them ..n abt makin guns avlbl so easily..i blv if u have a sure has a huge potential to get misused! n everything these days is blamed on bad parenting n disturbed childhood..i dunno what to really make of it!
my condolences to the VTech students who suffered.

B o o said...

Manchus - Thanks for the link at the Indianmommies.

Sayesha - Thats a very good post. I have to say that YES, the parents ARE responsible. In the case of Danny, whats his mom and dad doing? Are they in touch with the teacher? Do they know how hes behaving in class? If they are nt doing anything positive for the child, then they are to be blamed. Its another thing when grown ups blame their bad childhood and do stupid things. But theres no denying that bad childhood is because of bad parents not because of bad children.

Parenting is definitely risky. Its like being the captain of a ship. You hope against hope it does nt do a "titanic" on you and if it does, be prepared to go down first! But that did nt stop anyone from traveling by sea, did it?

Sakshi said...

I personally think it's a combination of both. There are lot of angry, depressed kids out there- not all go on a killing rampage. And there are plenty of sane people with guns, who use them sensibly.
We have to start taking care of the mentally disturbed amongst us -and that responsibility is ours, colectively.

Naveen said...

I don't think at this age, the mentioned behavior is a hint or indication of anything related to a psychopath. It's got to do with something naively simple, hence difficult to used-to-handling-complex situations like us. It's quite unfortunate that being a relief teacher you are not in a position to help him, due to the obvious lack of information. May be you could bring this up to the attention of people who could probably help the kid?

Amit said...

Uneasy questions with no answers.

Garam Bheja Fry said...

Woes of a country where you can buy an AK 47 along with a ketchup ka bottle from the grocery store!!

and the jack-asses retort : "self defence my friend !!"

Ahaan!! as if the spartans are coming..Ak 47 for self-defence..are we in la-la land by any chance!!

What do you expect a kid (mentally) to do with a gun in his hand?? to polish the trigger!!!!

Unknown said...

very well written naari.

Unknown said...

Sash, you've scared me to the core and you know it all, don't you? I dont have a single answer to any of your questions but if you get the answers from anyone, please pass them on!

As for the kid, probably he had a fight or something with someone at home and hence he was behaving angry n isolated! Don't think too much dear. And then I'm told that I think a lot and I'm also asked to change! :P

Waiting for you on gtalk.

raghu said...

we should be allowed to grow.. somehow we believe that shedding innocence is itself necessary for growth.. something i strongly disagree with.. we must preserve innocence... it will improve the world around us.

Sharique said...

I agree that children like Danny could become violent but then we as grown ups have the responsibility to mend things. The child imbibes qualities which are taught to him and if parents neglect then he tries to be cynical about things in life. Child upbringing is very important as a child needs to be treated as a child. We should never give up just because we think he is a gone case. C'mon he is only 5 years, he can be nurtured so as to socialize with others. No one is a born killer or criminal but its the circumstances which mould innocent minds.

Saying all these, I would recommend talking to his parents about this. If they are not willing to take care then I suggest that other parents should take their wards off the school or else risk their lives!

soleil said...

I absolutely love kids and I believe it's their ability to tell if you're sincere and their innocence that makes them so endearing. I actually got scared when I read about this "Danny" boy. I personally have not met any child like that and I have no idea what I would have done in your shoes.

As for the question as to whether the gun or the child is more dangerous, one can argue both ways. If the child really had the intention to cause harm to others, it wouldn't matter if the gun was available or not because if it wasn't, then he would've found another weapon, say the knife, to carry out the act. However, the introduction of the gun makes it that much easier to do.

Bivas said...

such a post to begin the weekend was did trigger a stream of thoughts but all I could come to is that no matter what, we're better off here coz of some serious value system ingrained in our upbringing...
The US of A...a country that has such kind of gun control laws needs to rethink a lot on the kind of governance they are doing there...the situation sure scares me further when I think of relatives who are in that country!
it is a screwed up country driven by a retard (just an immediate reaction to the existing system there)

youtham said...

u r amazing


Wanderlust said...

Well certainly the nature of this post was not something I was expecting to read after the crazy Pictionary one...but very very relevant nonetheless.
I think some tragedies are unavoidable no matter how much attention is given to the probable causes. This freak incident too falls in that category in my opinion.

Sayesha said...

#Black Tulip,
Yeah I agree to an extent... there will always be angry people around, the question is - is the govt making it too easy for them to vent it on innocent people?

Hmm... I do believe that parents play the most important role, but I feel that they cannot be held fully responsible if the kid goes off on the wrong track.

About the angry young man, well, nothing happened. The relief teacher taught and came back home. :(

Nope, he wouldn't say a word. He just went home after class.

I saw the Cho video, but somehow did not really feel sympathy for him. Just felt weird that's all.

But what makes up the society exactly? We're always blaming "society" for things, but we are society, aren't we? Man... too many questions, no answers...

Thanks. I hope so too.

Some day, if you have any thoughts, you can always come back to this post and share :)

Exactly, it is totally unfair to blame the parents for everything. A lot of factors go into making a kid what he turns out to be, and blaming the parents for everything just puts pressure on the whole parenting thing. At this rate, no one would wanna have kids anymore!

#B o o,
I just feel that blaming the parents seems to a convenient thing to do. Even though I am not a parent, I really feel for the ones blamed for incidents like this... can you imagine what they go thru? Not all disturbed kids come from broken homes or are ignored in their childhood. But in the end, everyone points fingers at the parents. :(

Hmmm.. true, but then who decides who amongst us is 'mentally disturbed'?

I hope you're right man. I was wishing all the time that it was something simple and not an indication of anything serious. And as a relief teacher, I am not in a position to bring up the matter because I'm not the regular teacher who is constantly in touch with the kids and knows them. An hour's lesson is not enough for me to be able to comment on them, especially if what you and I hope is true - that the matter is really trivial.

Yeah... :(

#Garam Bheja Fry,
Sigh... :(

Thanks. :)

I know bacha... I'm feeling quite scared too. :(
ps: Logged on thrice on gtalk, didn't find ya.

I know what you mean... but the meaning of innocence itself seems to be changing every second...

The problem is that I could be over-reacting about the whole thing you see. I dun wanna do something that will mess up things for Danny and make him even angrier because pple around him look at him funny. You know what I mean?

I agree, it can be argued both ways. But there's no conclusion and that's just scary.

You know, every time I read about school shootings, I feel thankful to live in a country where I feel safe and secure. Will globalisation change that one day? Scary. :|

Heyyy! It's been soooo long since you dropped by my blog! Half a year at least? How have you been?? :)

I just couldn't go to sleep till I had written this post. Once I got it off my chest, I slept well, but it did not solve the problem, it just gave me some peace. Blogging really helps!

qsg said...

Was this guy fluent in English? Sure, he didn't have language issues???

Maybe he is shy. And this is the time a kid like him needs some gentle prodding so that he doesn't go the "wrong" way!

The Girl Who Sold The World said...

Sure, parents do influence kids no matter what a bunch of economists say. I'm also referring to Freakonomics and much as I like the book, I really can't agree with the twisted idea that parents have zero influence on a kid's behaviour. But then, it's also the kid's environment. I know for sure that my views, opinions, ideas have really been influenced by my friends, classmates and all too.
I think people like Cho who end up killing so many others in a few seconds can only be partially blamed. Sure, they refuse to integrate with what we call the "normal" population, they isolate themselves, they show early signs of violence or hatred. Eventually, it's the family which has to take an action. It's not as if Cho was a very jovial, kind-hearted, I-love-everyone sort of guy. Anyone could have seen the signs.

And as for the Danny case, I'm not sure if he was really angry or something, Sayesha. I've seen kids like these with behavioural disorders...for all you know, he might have something like that. There are some kids who throw extremely violent tantrums and all and people end up labelling them as spoilt or something or simply get worried about their tendancy towards violence. But this might be a disorder. Is that how that kid always behaves? Isn't there anything you can do to help?

Sayesha said...

Nope, he had no language issues. In fact, from his performance in the class exercises, he seemed to be a very bright kid who understood and absorbed everything faster than the others.

#Ipanema Girl,
//Is that how that kid always behaves? Isn't there anything you can do to help?

Like I mentioned before, it was the first and only time I met the kid. I'm a relief teacher, I don't have a regular class. It's highly possible I'll never see him again. Which makes it very difficult for me to barge in with my "help" towards a kid I met once and about whom I know nothing! I just hope that his regular teacher is keeping a watchful eye.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

abbe OYE!
mera insulate!!!

Sayesha said...

#Ipanema Gal,
Uh-oh! Sorry sorry, yeh World Girl aajkal bar mein aati nahin hai na, so galti se mistake ho gaya aur apun ne usko Ipanema Girl bula diya! Bole toh sorry! :P

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...


itna bada insulate mera kabhi nahi hua! chih!

Sayesha said...

#Ipanema Girl,
Ufff! Nautanki ki haddddd! :D

raghu said...

innocence is understanding your conscience.. and acting accordingly.. usually works fine :D

raghu said...

and yes i wouldn't be able to walk,talk, eat or comprehend anything if it weren't for my parents.. the reasons they give for the questions you ask(like why is the sun yellow and the moon white) as a kid have a HUGE impact on you..i firmly believe in this.

Sayesha said...

Yeah I agree. But I wonder if it's really possible that parents could stop a kid from growing up to be a criminal, and if that's all that it takes.

raghu said...

thats a very hard question to answer and probably involve lots of generalization.. so ill skip it :D

Sayesha said...

Egg-jactly. That's why am skipping it too! :P

raghu said...

:D yay!
i less thing to wonder about.
dunno if thats a good thing.

raghu said...

1 less thing to wonder about *

Unknown said...

From how you have described 'Danny' boy, I see in him a bit of me. N that is to say, he is not a bad kid as you think. And his real problem was most probably, sorry to say this, you. Just that, am guessing Danny was probably that particular teacher's pet and also may be she was his most favourite teacher. He must've been hoping to meet her and instead saw you. And his way of showing the disappointment of not meeting 'his' teacher would have been to shut down and shut you out. That's all. Nothing for you to worry about. That is what would have also been the reason for his moving away from the other kid. That kid started off by supporting you. To Danny that would be like his 'friend' has also sold out to you too just like everyone else. :D

Even after all these years of growing out of such behaviour, people i am not familiar with often wonder if i open my mouth to eat food atleast. But my friends know how talkative i can get.

If you get to meet his regular teacher, may be you can confirm if he is indeed that teacher's pet.