Vulnerability and the Ritz Cracker People

Fraser Valley Elementary School classroom
(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

I only wanted one thing in first grade.  Our teacher would play a memory game with the class where she walked around the room, touching several objects; desk, chair, light switch, aquarium, blackboard.  She would finish her circuit and call up a kid to try and reproduce the exact order.  I can’t tell you how many times we sat on the edge of our seats as kid after kid would fail,  hoping the next kid didn’t figure it out…  I knew if I could only have a go at it, I would do it perfectly.

The majority of that year went by and I was never called, even though I tried really hard to show the teacher how excited I was.

Well, my turn eventually came.  I was sitting with my sweatshirt draped over the back of my chair and the sleeves were tied together in front of me (I called it my seatbelt) when I heard my name.  I had waited all year!  I quickly undid my “buckle,” hardly able to contain my excitement…

As I slid the last sleeve out of the knot, my teacher screamed.

What are you doing!?”

My first grade mind had no clue.

If there was a fire, how could you get out of that if we needed to leave quickly?”

Uh, I didn’t… I don’t…

NO! GO SIT BACK DOWN!”

I was crushed.

I was in first grade and totally crushed by an adult who was there to love me.

Turns out she yelled at us a lot that year.  One time she punished me by giving me a “green card” and I peed my pants.  I used to get reoccurring stomachaches in her class and come home sick at the end of the day.

The turning point for me came when my mom told me that she “went to the teacher and gave her some Ritz Crackers in case I ever get a stomach ache again.”  I was stoked.  I counted on using those crackers all the time… but I ended up never needing them; it wasn’t until sometime later that I realized my first grade teacher needed those “crackers” more than I did.

The ugly truth is that adults can be jaded, stressed out, and downright cruel to children.

In high school, our football team (like many in Southern California) had a tradition at the end of every year where the head coach would call up each senior individually and make some off the cuff comments about their participation.  You can imagine what it looked like.

Some kids were utterly destroyed.  They went from beaming ear to ear in front of their extended families and friends to choking back tears of anger, frustration, and betrayal in the bathroom.

For the most part, our coach had something nice to say about the majority of kids; especially those who started.  When my turn came, he put his arm on my shoulder.  He talked about my older brother going off to the University of New Mexico on scholarship and the fact that my little brother had come into his own that year on the team. He told everyone that he was disappointed I had quit for half of my junior year, that I had had potential. All in all, he barely mentioned me during my time up there on the stage, but that was hardly a bad thing;  many of my brothers and friends were torn up before my eyes.  I was simply glad I made it through relatively unscathed.

“…adult society has contributed to the state of our young by not swiftly and decisively putting a stop to any and all forms of abandonment. We have stood by and allowed a small group of teachers to belittle, authorities to ridicule, coaches to discourage, and parents to neglect and abuse.”[1]

Maybe we should start buying Ritz Crackers.


[1] Clark, Chap (2011-06-01). Hurt 2.0 (Kindle Locations 1440-1442). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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  • Thank you for these pertinent views.

    As a primary school (grade school) teacher, this really resonates. You have to be constantly on top of yourself to make sure you don’t inadvertently play out your life’s problems on them.

    I think the idea of having a reminder to focus on, like some crackers, is fantastic.

    I always try to remember that the children are not our future, they are our present. If we set them back now then we are setting them back for the future too.