The Experiment


One student constantly disrupted my class—until we came up with an idea.

After graduating from BYU–Hawaii, I began teaching at Kahuku Elementary School. My first class was a combination of fifth- and sixth-graders. One student spent most of his time in special education but came to my class for a couple of hours each day. He was quite disruptive and had no friends. He ate by himself in the cafeteria and walked around the playground alone during recess. He was never chosen to play on a team, and the other students laughed at him and picked on him.

One day he disrupted my class with several irrelevant comments, and the other students were laughing at him. I told him I wanted him to write down all his “inventive” ideas and suggested to the class that he might write a special movie script someday and hire some of them to work for him. That quieted their laughing, and it started him writing.

After he left for his special-education classes that day, we decided to try an experiment. The students would go out of their way to be nice to him. They would even sit with him in the cafeteria and invite him to join them on the playground. No one would tease or laugh at him.

As the days went by, his shock turned to great joy. The students found that he was a very good athlete, so they always chose him first when picking teams. I watched him walking on the playground with his arm over another student’s shoulder. His attitude changed in the classroom. When he made irrelevant comments, no one laughed. He began completing his assignments, just as the other students did. Soon he begged me to let him stay in my classroom the whole day. He didn’t want to go to his special-education classes. I told him the only way he could do that was to listen, not be disruptive, and complete all his assignments. He promised, and we got special permission to try this. He did well.

One day I was called into the principal’s office because one of my boys had been in a playground scuffle. He explained to us that students from other classes were teasing his new friend and classmate. When the principal began to explain that this was no excuse, I told her about our experiment. She was very familiar with our special student, having had him in her office every week for the past five years. I suggested that we send word out to all the classes to leave him alone because my students would defend him, even if it meant we would be in her office every week.

The school psychologist came to my class to observe. She could not believe the difference in him and in his IQ scores, which are not supposed to vary by more than two points either way. His scores had soared. She wanted to know what had happened to make these changes. I simply introduced her to a very special group of children who had tried a life-altering experiment.

Every month our school held an awards assembly at which one boy and one girl from each class were honored. None of the other students knew who would be honored until the names were read, but the school notified their parents so they could be at the assembly. In January of that school year, our special student was honored because of the great progress he had made. When his name was announced, there was a collective gasp in the auditorium. Other teachers looked at me as if I didn’t know what I was doing. Then, one by one, each of my students stood up and started clapping. The whole auditorium erupted in applause, and an astonished little boy turned to me with tears in his eyes and asked, “Me?” With tears running down my face, I nodded yes.

His parents met me after the assembly. They were overcome with emotion for their son and his accomplishments. They said they had waited each week for the call from the school to come and pick up their son. But the call never came. One day when they did receive a call from the school, it was an invitation to celebrate his accomplishments. They told me he had been a normal child until he started kindergarten. But he was placed in the lowest groups, was ignored, and seemed to always be getting in trouble. The problems escalated each year, and he was placed in the special-education program.

Our family moved shortly after this. When I had a chance to visit Hawaii a few months later, I drove through his neighborhood and found him playing basketball with other children from our class. He was laughing and happy. He showed me how he could make a basket from almost any point on the court. He was far different from the frustrated little boy who had walked into my room less than a year before.

This young man became captain of the football team in high school and graduated with many friends, taking only regular classes—all because a group of children had decided to see the worth of one soul.

[illustration] Illustrated by Richard Hull