This Freedom Writer recalls a humiliating moment in his childhood when his teacher forced him to take his sweater off to play kick ball. Having had no clean shirts at home, this student had come to school without a shirt. After his teacher tried to publicly humiliate him for not wearing a shirt, he simply had to say that he forgot, thinking that was less embarrassing than saying he was poor and didn’t have any clean shirts.
This teacher’s methods rely on public humiliation and punishment, instead of on an effort to understand this young child on his own terms, which would have allowed her to discover that what she was perceiving as rebelliousness and lack of discipline was nothing other than fear.
He recalls telling such stories about his childhood to groups of students when he visits schools. While most students ask him questions about violence and wealth, once a student asked him privately if his dad hit his mom. Since everyone used to lie to him when he was growing up, he now always tells the truth. He told this student that his father did used to beat his mother a lot, and felt that the student found hope in the thought that he, too, could survive his childhood and be okay.
This student uses his past, in which he felt betrayed by adults who lied to him, as an incentive not to repeat the same mistakes. While the truth is not necessarily uplifting, it has the advantage of connecting people with similar experiences and, hopefully, giving them hope that they will one day succeed in changing or escaping them.
He explains that he hates having to mentally return to his childhood, because it still hurts and he hates his younger, desperately insecure self. He tells this student that his father stopped hitting his mother as soon as he was strong enough to beat him up himself. While this is not a happy ending in a traditional sense, he trusts that his story can give people hope.
This Freedom Writer’s experience demonstrates that, however much one might have overcome one’s past, memories can revive past emotions and cause despair in the present. His story demonstrates that, while people like him can embrace non-violent ideals, sometimes violence can be countered pragmatically, through the threat of equal strength.