By Judy Arnold
Who Are We to Judge?
How Some Schools are Teaching Children to Resist the Judgment Game
Snap judgment stems from a belief that you are right—and everyone else is wrong.
The urge to quickly form strong opinions is an automatic response encouraged in a world where spectators and users of social media are constantly enticed to weigh in on everything from cupcake colors to the latest news. It happens swiftly, quietly, and often leads to a caustic outcome. With very little evidence or knowledge, a passing image or phrase may translate into a thought, which can spread like blight after opinions have already been set.
While most schools incorporate some form of character education into their curriculum, teaching children to resist passing quick judgment is something more nuanced that takes place over time. It is part of a culture of the school, woven in with organic and intentional learning experiences, and modeled in the classroom by teachers, on the courts and fields in athletic settings, and by the overall school community. It is part of a school’s constant, steady, and ever-present ethos, spanning students’ grade school careers, and emerging in the way lessons are approached.
So what do schools look like when they teach children to seek perspective? Students as young as pre-kindergarteners are encouraged, through daily activities, to recognize their own feelings and eventually, to recognize the feelings of their peers. As younger students mature, they learn the fundamentals of conflict resolution in as early as the third and fourth grade.
It carries into middle school, when students begin to truly understand others’ perspectives and participate in bullying role plays. As they learn to practice empathy and compassion, adolescents are able to understand another person’s story and express empathy for what they might be going through—all rungs in the ladder that lead to perspective.
The lesson to help children appreciate seeking multiple points may also come in the abstract with the way a literature teacher encourages his students to explore the different points of view of several characters in Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.” It may even emerge in the intentional way a pre-algebra teacher asks students to carefully work through steps to come to a particular outcome.
Ultimately, children who learn to study a situation, dig for multiple perspectives, and process the information are children who grow up to be adults who are more equipped with the tools needed to solve problems and help others.
This slow-down philosophy, that can help students in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, encourages kids to take the time to carefully consider different points of view during a situation. With awareness, they learn that they have control over jumping to conclusions and can mindfully avoid doing so. There are lots of different ways to solve problems but they all involve being willing to hear the perspective of someone else.
Judy Arnold is the director of school counseling at The Seven Hills School in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a counselor who has served young students for more than three decades, Arnold infuses her classroom visits with thoughtful considerations, brain-based activities, and encourages students of all ages to constantly be aware of empathy and perspective.