The other day I was subbing in the 6th grade. During reading groups one group finished a story about a teenage boy who was a bit troubled, so his family sent him to live with his uncle in the mountains of Colorado. He didn't like his uncle's rules, ran away, spend a couple of nights lost in the mountains, and then it snowed. Just when we thought he was a goner for sure, you know, going in and out of consciousness, he spotted an orange tent, and started dragging himself toward it.
Next thing we know, he's waking up dry and warm inside a sleeping bag in the orange tent, while a stranger brings him soup and dries his clothes by the fire. The boy's uncle comes to find him and thanks the stranger profusely for not letting his nephew die of hypothermia.
So after we finished the story, we were supposed to have a discussion to make connections between real life and what we had just read. I asked, "Has anyone in this group ever helped a stranger in trouble?"
There was a resounding and very proud "NO!"
Oh. Puzzled, I asked, "OK, why not?"
"Because the stranger could be a kidnapper." "Or a mass murderer." " Or a child molester," the group replied.
It became clear to me what was going on. I then asked, "If your parents were with you, do you think it would be a good idea to help someone who was about to freeze to death?"
Again the answer - "NO!" "What if they were faking being frozen?" "What if you helped them, and then when they got their strength back, they turned out to be a mass murderer?"
The list of reasons NOT to help went on and on. When asked what they thought SHOULD happen, the answers ranged from calling 911, to just leaving the person to die.
Now, as a teacher - and a substitute at that, it's not my job to undermine what parents have determined to teach their children. I did try to leave them with the thought that occasionally people really do need help. Their job as a child is to GET AN ADULT to help them. Their job when they are adults is to make sure people get help. Even if that means sometimes it's you doing the helping.
And I thought about what a scary world we live in. Scary because we have to teach our children to be constantly on guard from this kind of stuff. But really for me, even scarier that we have taught them so well to protect themselves, that there is no room in their heads or hearts for idea that maybe others need protection and help, too.
It's getting scarier all the time, people.