Politicians need to take a strategy used in many early childhood classrooms. They need to have a “Tattle Ear”. I think Earl is the name of the one across the hall. This has proven to be an effective response to the endless tattling that some children enjoy engaging in. The tattling that doesn’t lead to any important information about bleeding, shattered glass, or bone breakage. It’s little whiney stuff. Sometimes, apparently, the simplest solutions are the most effective. Just draw an ear on a piece of paper. It becomes a symbol of caring and patience. The ear never swivels and says "Talk to the hand." It never hurries, judges or shushes the troubled. Children find weird solace in knowing that when Mrs. Busyteacher doesn’t have time to listen to their rantings, Earl will.
Wouldn’t it be good for politicians and pundits too? Instead of passing off a string of tattles as news or commentary, they could dish it all to Earl and we wouldn‘t have to listen to it. It would clear the way for conversation about things other than lapel pins, whiskey, and recipes. If you want to wonder if a politician’s tears have been evoked as a matter of strategy, ask the ear. If you want to whisper gossip about the other candidates, tell the ear and spare the rest of us. If you want to indict someone for the bad choices made by a surrogate, hash it out with Earl. This technique can also be adapted for use by real people with ears. As a classroom job along with emptying the recycled paper or line leader, make “listener” one of the ways kids can contribute to the smooth running of the day. Every week someone will be appointed to stand and listen to whoever wants to complain, tattle, rant, rave or vent. Make sure everyone gets a turn or you may still have students who are unclear about just how irritating it can be to be tattled at.
Funny how that tattling thing never leaves us. Shoe sizes increase, wrinkles appear, candles on cakes multiply but still we never seem to shake that primordial urge to stick somebody we are consciously or even subconsciously intimidated by.
If kids in school tattle or whine, they become the “nobody wants to play with them” kids. Hear that candidates? We’re doing our best as educators, to make clear to children what is and isn’t tattle worthy. It will help the next generation of voters discern issues from game playing if we adults make the difference clear right from the start. Let’s unite and accept no more tattling from any aged child. Here are some replies, if putting off people isn’t your forte:
“So, what can you do about that? “
“That must have been annoying (or frightening, or frustrating, or …)”
“How did you handle that?”
“What strategy did you use to cope with that?”
“It must have taken a lot of self control not to punch him out when he said that.”
If we can do it in our schools, it may just trickle up to cable TV and talk shows. After last night’s debate, I’m sure I am not the only one thinking realizing just how much that old tattle bug has seeped into our political lives. It must be squished.