Ewww. (Moral Relativism in 7th grade.)

Posted on April 15, 2009Filed Under Emily Dickinson, Monsters on Maple Street, Romeo and Juliet | Leave a Comment

Poem #435 by that strange duck (really) Emily Dickinson is a pretty good intro for Bradbury’s “The Earth Men.”  And the idea that the majority decides who’s normal and who’s not (and everything else) really gets some of the kids angry. Seventh graders are strange ducks as well. They like to think of themselves as unique (If I ask, “How many of you are weird?” every hand will go up), but their biggest fear is not fitting in. And they all like think of themselves as  rugged individualists.

“The majority doesn’t decide EVERYTHING!”

“Like what do they not decide?”

Lots of hemming and hawing.

“Coolness? Weirdness? Lameness? What?”

More hemming and hawing.

“How about things like murder and child abuse and racism?”

“Racism is an easy one. Even in the time Tom Sawyer is set, you would hear sermons in churches about how slavery was God’s will. But, hmmm. You might be right about the murder one; some things are probably built into us. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that the majority of us think that now. Hmmm. But…well, let’s talk about Romeo and Juliet again (we talked about it before when we had soliloquy as a vocabulary word during Tom Sawyer) – as I said, you guys will read it in 9th grade… if you make it that far.”

“That’s hurtful.” This from my sensitive artist. His twin brother in another period (the first time they had ever been apart was the first day of seventh grade, when they had different classes) thinks he’s Fabio, but this one should hold workshops at Esalen.

“I’m sorry Andrew. I think you know I was joking.”

“I was too.”

D’oh.

“Anyway, at the time that R/J was written, the majority of people at that time thought it was OK for a man or 40-something (Paris) to marry a girl of 12-14 (Juliet’s estimated age). Obviously, Juliet didn’t like the idea, but it was done all the time. So guess what? It was OK.”

“Ewwwww.”

“Exactly. So now, the majority of us go ewww at that thought. So now it’s not OK. In fact it’s a crime. But as you can see, the majority does play a huge role in deciding…things.”

Now, moral relativism is a tricky to topic to explore with seventh graders, so I steer the conversation to the problem the Earth men face on Mars: a world with a lot of insane people (duh) and telepathy, which makes your hallucinations visible to me too. So showing me your rocket won’t help. But even on Earth, how would you prove you’re not insane? The more you protest, the more we think you’re demonstrating your insanity. And etc. It’s a lot like the discussion we have during “The Monsters are due on Maple Street,” about trying to prove you’re not the alien.

“Let’s just say, just for the purposes of speculation, that ‘Cheese‘ is starting to ‘lose it,’ and is now hallucinating. Let’s say he thinks he sees a large pink elephant over there by the cage.”

“Cool!”

“But if we were all telepathic, and could see into his mind, and see what he ‘thought’ he was seeing…that would mean what?”

“We would see it too. Whoa.” The realization for some of them is similar to that of the Captain’s men when he explains their situation in the asylum, “Oh.”

“I don’t think I would want to be telepathic.”

“Me neither. I know enough about what’s in your heads to know I don’t want to know any more.”

“Hey!”

(I forgot that most of you already had spring break. I’m just now on vacation here. That’s why I’m so laggy.)

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