The Nation's Pulse

“A Special Kind of Me”

Want to know why schools are turning little children into monsters?

By 10.5.07

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My younger son read me a dozen or so poems last night, part of his homework assignment. Joe read well, and he obviously enjoyed the rhythms and the rhymes.

The poems covered the usual kiddie subjects: The alphabet, the changing of the seasons, and so forth. Then came this one, the like of which parents have been seeing now for about two decades. It's titled "A Special Kind of Me."

I have a special kind of smile,
A special kind of talk,
I hold my head a special way,
And I have a special walk.
My laughing always sounds like me,
No one sings like I sing,
I have a special kind of way,
Of doing everything.
For I am a special person
There's no one quite like me,
And if I had a choice,
I'd just choose being me!

(Ruth Dana Pederson, Weekly Reader Poets' Corner)

As I typed up the verse, it occurred to me I should look it up via Google. It had obviously been written by a professional (I use the term advisedly) versifier, because it scanned. (Ms. Pederson originally wrote "For I'm a special person" in the ninth line, not "For I am." I figure some local authority made the tin-eared change.) I found it in a Google cached page, copyrighted 2007.

Our older son Bud used to come home with similar material, and, sad to say, we mostly ignored it for the balderdash it is. We probably figured that we were traditional people, we actively practiced humility, we went to church, and felt confident that our message would prevail.

But it didn't. Bud definitely got the idea that he was special, and he behaved that way. Now he's going to a very good and very hard boarding school, and he's having to learn the hard way that he's not special at all, that he's going to have to work his butt off just to keep up.

RUSH LIMBAUGH CALLS CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS "young skulls full of mush." I remember getting into a heated discussion with Bud about some of his problems getting along with other kids, when he was in grade school, and I reminded him of the term. (Bud had listened to a lot of Rush.) I remember telling him how rotten kids' behavior could be, and I did not except him from the general condemnation.

We have never been shy about telling our kids "no," about making our authority very clear. Both our boys have done years of taekwondo with an outstanding master, which will make you humble in a hurry. As will wrestling. And, as I say, there was always church and Sunday school.

But nothing earned us any bed of roses. Both our boys have awful tempers, which come out when they're frustrated. And when do they get frustrated? Mainly when they don't know how to do something, or when they're frightened at the prospect (or the reality) of a new experience. We have learned to "pave the way," which is our phrase: "Bud, it's time to do something that sometimes makes you mad. Let's get ready for it this way..." "Joe, before I play checkers with you, I want you to remember that you get mad if you lose. Instead, I want you to hold out your hand, shake, and say, 'Good game.'"

THIS "SPECIAL" MESSAGE IS PERNICIOUS. Life presents problems, constantly: How do I do this? How can I learn that? How can I understand how I'm feeling? How do I handle hardship and difficulty? A child who thinks he is "special" won't be willing to dig in and do the real work of learning how to live. He'll take the easy way out, blow up, run away, or hide. At the same time, he'll feel awful because of his inadequacy.

"Special" just ends up creating especially tormented people, because they are out of touch with reality.

I am frankly puzzled what to do about this first blatant appearance of the "special" theme in Joe's schoolwork. I think I am going to have a talk with him about "A Special Kind of Me." I think I'm going to have to take the risk of Joe saying to his teacher, "Dad says this poem is nonsense."

Dad's going to have a lot more to say than that. Dad would use a lot stronger words than "nonsense." But Joe is only eight years old.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.