4th Grade Rude Awakenings
Fourth Grade is a rude awakening for most kids. It’s a time when the innocence of kind, gentle teachers and a world of fairness vanishes. The rose coloured glasses of early childhood are suddenly clouded with the brutal truths of life: competition is rampant—Capitalist and patriarchal societies reward competition amongst humans and thus, with this fierce competition comes bullying, sexism, favouritism, and short tempers.
My youngest daughter Pippi came home from school this week very anxious. She had a lot to tell me about: Grade four was getting her down. Pippi told me through tears that she was tired of there only being two other girls (aside from herself) in the floor hockey finals at school intramurals. She wanted teams with more girls and what really made her despondent, was overhearing one of the boys in floor hockey (who considers himself an ice hockey player) diss the girls in her school (who play ice hockey). Pippi has girl friends who are ice hockey players. She told me that when she heard the boy talk badly about girl hockey players, his words were so mean that they broke her heart.
Furthermore, she was sick of being only one of two girls in intermediate math enrichment and also, she missed her third grade teacher. This year, her 4th grade teacher sometimes talks to Pippi in a “mean” voice and says sarcastic things to her which makes Pippi’s “stomach hurt.”
Pippi’s dad and I encouraged Pippi to take a leadership role: if she wanted more girls to come out to play floor hockey, she needed to talk to more girls and persuade them to join up with her. I also told her that sexism is bullying (putting others down or making fun of them because they are different from you is bullying) and it is not allowed at school. If she ever hears such remarks again, she is to call out the bully for their inappropriate/hurtful words (and tell a teacher if she feels threatened).
Pippi’s older sister, Tabitha joined the discussion, agreeing how difficult the intermediate grades can be.
To try to ease Pippi’s pain, I decided to share a tale of woe from my forth grade. I told my girls, “Fourth grade is tough! I got my first detention in fourth grade.”
In fourth grade, I lied to the teacher about finishing my homework. Mrs. Jorgensen called me to her desk at the front of the classroom. I turned the pages of my scribbler wildly, exclaiming, “I don’t know what happened? It was here last time I looked!”
* Was I crazy or what? As if any teacher would believe me—like my penciled numbers could have suddenly erased themselves!
But the truth was, I was in front of the entire class and Mrs. Jorgensen was shouting at me—I was mortified and lied to save face.
In her defence, Mrs Jorgensen was a sweet lady, well over seventy, who was genuinely crushed when I lied to her about my homework, “I expected better of you, Melissa,” she said to me.
My punishment for lying about my homework was noon hour detention the next day. I was to bring a bag lunch and stay in the classroom all noon hour. The noon break at my elementary school was an hour and a half and all of the students went home—no one stayed at school. I had to bring a bag lunch and eat in the classroom with two of the class’ notorious bad boys: Joel and Jamie—two wild boys who spent many a noon hour detention in Mrs. Jorgensen’s 4th grade class.
As I was remembering my mortifying lie, I suddenly recalled that it was during this first detention that I knocked myself out cold. My daughters were incredulous, “How?” they asked. For the first time since the incident, I recalled the noon hour in my mind. What went down surprised even me: all this time, I thought I was an innocent, put in detention unjustly. But my memory told a different tale. I had to be honest with my girls: I knocked myself out when I dove under a huge, heavy, wooden table. I was in a big hurry and hit the top of my head on a beam that was just beneath the table top.
“What were you doing, diving under tables during detention?” Pippi asked me.
I told my girls the ugly truth about me in fourth grade: “Well—for a part of the detention we were unsupervised…the bad boys and I decided to play hide and seek and then tag throughout the nearly empty school (I attended school in a giant brick building that looked like a castle. We had 4 floors of empty hallways and classrooms and we made the best of it!). At one point, while involved in a chase, I dove under a table in the hallway to hide. That’s when my forehead connected with the solid beam. I remember seeing white dots and then I blacked out for a few minutes before Joel found me. He asked me if I was okay, pointing to a large, blue bump on my forehead. I, of course, was too cool to admit the truth and said I was fine and then continued running all over the school with the boys.
“What, Mother? You knocked yourself out playing tag in the school hallways during detention—with the class bad boys?!” .
That was the first time that it dawned on me, in nearly forty years, that if Jamie and Joel were the class bad boys, then, by default, was I the class bad girl?
So much for trying to tell my kids a story about my woes of fourth grade—I emerged looking like a fourth grade delinquent. I wonder what ever happened to Joel and Jamie?
However, the moral of the story stands: fourth grade is one rude awakening—the loss of primary grade innocence is a brutal blow for any child.