Amanda's Epistle

The continuing story of my life in Thailand

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What is a “tattle-tale” and why is it supposed to be discouraged?


“Teacher! She is eating chips in class!”
“No eating in class. Put those back outside.”

The offender takes her bag of chips out of the classroom and then returns. The other students snicker a bit, but then class resumes as normal.

And I am totally confused.

My Chinese students will “tattle” on each other all the time, mostly on those breaking the “no food or drink in the classroom” rule. And yet all of them are good sports about it and it doesn’t bother them at all if a “squealer” spills the beans.

I scratch my head. After all, when I was in school, we were told that it was wrong to be a “tattle-tale.” You’re not supposed to purposely try to get your classmates in trouble. I accepted this and would say nothing, even if I saw a classmate breaking the rules.

Now I’m a teacher and I’m beginning to question this practice. It doesn’t seem to be indoctrinated here in Asia. Kids seem to think that they are EXPECTED to point out rule-breakers. They must be the eyes and ears for the teacher. After all, there’s only one teacher and two dozen kids.

So why do Americans discourage tattling?

What I was told was that it’s wrong to “purposely get your classmate into trouble.” This seems to be an attitude check. A kid purposely squeals on another kid because he doesn’t like him and this is not a good attitude for a student to have.

But when a kid tattles on another kid, how do you know he’s doing it out of spite? In my class, they seem to be doing it more out of a sense of fairness, rather than just to get others in trouble. “I can’t eat chips in class and you shouldn’t either.” And even the kid who was tattled on seems to accept this. “I broke the rules and I should face the consequences. It’s not your fault if I’m the one not following the rules.”

Even if it is done out of spite, does this mean the teacher has to ignore the transgression and punish the tattler instead? This doesn’t make sense to me. If a student is breaking the rules, regardless of how the teacher finds out about it, the student needs to be held responsible for his actions, be it detention, a lecture, or whatever consequence is in place for said rule.

I do not believe in letting ANY of my students get away with breaking the rules. It undermines the authority of the teacher and teaches them that rules don’t mean anything. Big rules or small rules, they should be treated the same, as you can’t expect kids to follow the big rules if they think they don’t have to follow the small ones at all.

If a teacher puts too much stress on “don’t be a tattle-tale,” what will happen if a student witnesses a bully taking a smaller child’s lunch money? Is he going to report it? Or is he going to keep his mouth shut for fear of being labeled a “squealer?” If a fight breaks out on the playground, are the kids surrounding the fight going to stand there and watch? Or is one of them going to report it to the principal?

On the other hand, I do see where tattling can get a little bit annoying. But this just means specific rules should be in place. One student reported to me that a classmate was doodling. I have no rule against doodling. I do have a rule against being out of your chair without permission. I told the “tattler” he needed to go and sit down, as he had no reason to be out of his seat.

When my four-year-old neice comes to visit us, I had to put some limits on Ben, my eight-year-old. He doesn’t like his cousin and is constantly running in to “tattle” on her and try to get me to punish her. But in this case, as it’s my kid, I know what he’s up to. Again, I lay out specific rules. If his cousin breaks one of those rules, feel free to tell me. But those rules do not include her staying away from your stuff and not eating any of the food in the house. If you don’t like her playing with your toys, PUT YOUR TOYS AWAY SO SHE CAN’T GET INTO THEM!

If you follow the rules, you won’t get tattled on. Simple as that.

Does the “don’t be a tattle-tale” idea apply in adulthood? Are not convicted criminals given lighter sentences if they help the police locate the ringleaders, the mafia bosses, and the crooked dealers? If you witness a drive-by and take note of the liscense plate, is it not your duty to report what you saw to the police, even though it’s “none of your business?”

It seems to me we ENCOURAGE people to “tattle” on lawbreakers when we’re adults.

Back on the flip-side, consider Nazi Germany, where an “informant” is one of the enemy. Why is this? Because the governing authority was, in fact, the enemy. What the government was doing was flat-out wrong. They were hunting down Jews who had NOT broken any rules or laws. They were simply Jewish. Last I checked, a Jew cannot change the fact that he was born that way. Now those hiding the Jews WERE breaking the rules, but they were doing so because they deemed the rules to be unjust and the ruling authority to be wrong.

Perhaps that’s an extreme example. But the point is, most of the time, the authority over the situation is not the enemy. Be it the government, the police, the parent, or the teacher, the person in authority needs to know when transgressions are taking place and who is doing them. If someone takes it upon himself to alert the authorities when a criminal has been sighted, a child is being bullied, a sex-offender is on the prowl in a family neighborhood, I see no reason to discourage him.

Perhaps being a “tattle-tale” should be a GOOD thing.

What do you think?


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And he calls me “Mommy.”

It’s confusing when I introduce my family to people. My nephew has lived with us since he was five years old, and I’ve been in charge of his care since he was three (when I married his uncle). In his native language, Lisu, he calls me Anyiche (a combination of Anya, which means Aunt, and Okay, the English word I was saying all the time and that he assumed was my name).

In English, he calls me Mommy.

After all, his own mother hasn’t taken care of him since he was six-months old. She left him with his grandparents so she could re-marry, something that is not uncommon here. When we had our son, we wanted Johnny to call me “Mommy”, so Ben also started calling me Mommy.

Ben would also point out in English class that Johnny is his “brother.” Lisu has no word for “cousin” anyway.

When we moved to the city, Ben started using more Thai, as he actually had friends who only spoke Thai and not Lisu. So with his friends, and also at school, he refers to me as his mother.

Ben doesn’t know the word for Aunt in Thai anyway.

I guess I can come to terms with it. Ben is my son, more than my husband’s nephew. Sometimes, it feels like Ben is my son more than Johnny is. I didn’t give birth to him, but I have treated numerous injuries, picked him up, chased him down, enforced discipline, given out rewards, and taught him to speak in English.

That…and he calls me Mommy.