Editor’s note: content warning for animal cruelty and childhood bullying.
It was back in my god-forsaken elementary school, in fifth grade.
The second graders were following the yearly tradition of raising butterflies and releasing them. They were starting a “buddies” program where older elementary schoolers and younger ones were paired up once every few months. The actual point of this was unclear. The teachers used the idea of us mentoring them to be the reason, but it seemed much more like activities that we were simply doing somewhat with them.
During this same time frame I was being bullied by my class, as I had been throughout the entire elementary experience. Adults involved rarely took notice, and I for one had too much pride to snitch. A few times they did notice momentarily, but from my point of view I was punished alongside the bullies anyway, and then it would get worse for a while.
Some of the kids would take small insects they found around, spiders, flies, anything, and bring them over to me with the knowledge I had a soft heart for animals and was even a vegetarian. They would kill them in front of me just to get my reaction.
The worst of it perhaps, is when out on the field at recess one day, they found a toad, and they did just the same with blood, and guts, and real gore.
Some of these kids were truly cruel.
Even as children, they could sense differences in people and seek to destroy them for it.
The time came that the second grade’s butterflies were finally ready to be released. The students had been carefully raising them since they were very tiny caterpillars, inside little plastic cups. Now they were all fully grown, had been drying their wings in the last few days and eating sugar water from sponges.
It was spring, the sun was out this particular day and it was warm, though I was still wearing a heavy winter coat as I always did all year round at the time.
We met with their class that day and went out to the field for them to be released. They started flying off when I noticed two that weren’t flying off with the rest, they had just flopped to the ground with bent wings.
I sat down with them, took them a bit away from the loud kids and let them climb on me. I watched them and thought of how I could set up a space for them with sugar water.
Then I asked the teacher about bringing them in.
She said no. She said that it was the circle of life that they died out there because of their misshapen wings.
I argued with her, but only a bit because I was scared of the teachers. Obviously I was angry and upset. I ended up making a plan to try to come back for them after school.
When I came back for them, they were gone.
Looking back on this, I see things I didn’t then.
I see where my classmates were picking up their signals on how to treat me, for instance.
This was one screwed up scene looking back, of a disabled kid being told disabled things naturally should die rather than be helped, done by one of the people responsible for teaching values to young kids.
Kids see these values seep through in other ways, and yet should anyone be surprised when they acted on them towards me and others? It was modeled for them, regardless of whether the teachers meant to or not. They likely picked up these messages in other places in life also, from other possible influences on a kid’s life inside and outside of school.
These kids had been taught that treating others poorly for differences was only natural.