Growing up, one of the truly exciting days of the year was the day the mailman would deliver the newest collection of “Charlie Brown” cartoons. That’s right, once upon a time, whoever is …
Growing up, one of the truly exciting days of the year was the day the mailman would deliver the newest collection of “Charlie Brown” cartoons. That’s right, once upon a time, whoever is responsible for “The Peanuts” would package the last year’s worth of daily comic strips in a nice little paperback book for consumption apart from the newspapers. And, in their wisdom, Mom and Dad would make sure that we received a copy of it.
Charlie Brown, for those of you who don’t know, has always been the archetype of the lovable loser kid. He loved baseball, but was terrible at it; had a decades-long crush on the little red-headed girl, but never managed to actually talk to her; and, by my rough estimate, was oh-for-63 trying to kick the football when Lucy held it for him. Charlie never got invited to the parties, was frequently called names ( “blockhead”), and was constantly being upstaged by his pet beagle.
In this day and age, Charlie Brown would probably be on anti-depressants, in counseling, and on the hush-hush school “watch list” for suicide or worse. Somehow, I suspect that the occasional visit to Lucy’s five-cent psychiatry booth just wouldn’t be enough for him.
Apparently, Charles M. Schultz modeled his protagonist after his own experiences in life. Schultz was unpopular in school, not good at sports, and, in the face of voluminous rejections, maintained an almost delusional belief in his own ability as an artist. And, of course, we all know now that that belief was well-founded.
But it begs the question: how did Charles M. Schultz, and his alter ego, Charlie Brown, manage to survive difficult, disappointing childhoods and go on to success?
I passed a small jest up above about the ubiquity of pharmaceutical and psychiatric intervention in our children’s lives these days, but I do so to draw a contrast. Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, the author of “Wonderful Life,” and Schultz all faced rejection and disappointment time after time; but, just one year ago, two different Ivy League colleges — the sine qua non of the American education system — had to safe-space “cry rooms” and cancel finals for their students … because of the results of an election.
That’s not even a personal rejection — that’s just a disappointment. And, yet, our best and brightest needed to be coddled through that time. God forbid that those students ever face actual bullying or tormenting.
As an employee of the school system, I am aware of the lengths we go to to prevent bullying. But, in spite of that, bullying still happens. In fact, if you haven’t seen the movie “Wonder” yet, I can’t recommend it strongly enough, if for no other reason than to have a glimpse into the world of children. If you think all the effort we’ve gone to in the past 20 years to make kids be nicer to each other has produced unqualified results, you’re crazy. No doubt, things are better — but, just like in the movie, the problem is that mean kids are still mean kids, and if they are clever enough, then they know just how to bully and make other kids’ lives miserable. And, in the meantime, all the nice kids who follow the rules are now in a position with no recourse — when they stand up for themselves, they are often in just as much trouble as the bully. Doubt me? Check out the statistics of teenage suicide lately. Heck, just check on Jefferson County, alone — it’ll disturb you.
I think one of the sad, unintended consequences of all our “be nice” efforts is that the good kids, the nice kids, the 97 percent of all kids, assume that everybody else is going to play by the same rules, and that their smiley-face stickers and participation awards are going to make everything all right. I never get the impression from Charlie Brown that he struggled under the same delusions. Sure, he had an unhealthy overabundance of hope that he worked from … but I believe he knew that life was supposed to be hard.
I worry that our children do not have the same understanding, which means that they won’t have the opportunity to develop the tools necessary to deal with disappointments and confrontation. So, maybe in a break from designing their participation trophies, we should do more to give them those tools.
Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at MichaelJAlcorn.com