I have been touring Prince Edward Island from up West to down East, north shore to south shore, red sands to white...meeting Island kids from 4th to 12th grade. We have laughed alot, cried some, prayed and shouted. I have found some of the most talented, creative and caring kids in the world.
Last week, a fifth grader from Stratford called me out.
I am spending three weeks doing three presentations to students a day to find talent for our @youthsummitpei International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit being held in Prince Edward Island, Canada. It is less about them understanding the different names for the five cyberbullying methods and privacy settings but more about how they think, approach problems and communicate their ideas. The ones I select will be helping me run the summit, not just attend.
I was presenting to a few hundred 5th and 6th graders in Stratford (a connected and more affluent community near Charlottetown that mirrors US communities more than others I have discovered on the Island). I was provoking them to see how they stand up for their opinions.
"Take out your paper and pens," I instructed them. "This is the most important thing I will teach you. If you only learn one thing from me, this is it. AND, it will be on the test!" All eyes turned to me, ready to capture the utlimate truth about cyberbullying.
"If you are ever cyberbullied," I began, waiting for them to capture these golden words. "The first thing you must do..." giving them time to catch up. They looked up expectantly, and I continued. "is to cyberbully them back worse than they cyberbullied you!" I folded my arms and looked smug and confident.
The students had been briefed on my bio, how often I am on Dr. Phil, CNN and the like. They learned that I was a NY lawyer and one of five members of Facebook's International Safety Advisory Board. Everything they were told by their principal and school told them to trust me and learn from me. That created a problem for them. How could someone with my credentials be so wrong? They began looking at their classmates and sneaking glances at me to see if I was serious.
I waited them out. I was looking for some of them confident enough to challenge me. To stand up for what they knew was right.
A little girl, with Anne of Green Gables coloring lost it first. She balled her hands into tight fists, and slammed them down twice on her notebook balanced on her lap. "No! No!" she shouted as she leapt to her feet. "That's wrong, it's just wrong!" she said.
I looked at my Islander husband, trying not to grin. He had to look away to avoid breaking into laughter.
"What do you mean 'no'," I asked her. "Why is it wrong?"
She looked be straight in the eyes, her little hands balled on her hips, glaring and purple with rage. "It's wrong to cyberbully someone back. If it's wrong for them to do it to you, it's just as wrong for you to do it back!" Her friends nodded in support. The rest of the kids looked at me in terror, not sure what I would do.
"Well, it;s how we do it in NY!" I responded, holding my breath.
She stood up taller, jutted out her fifth grade chest, planted her feet firmly on the gym floor and shouted, "Well, this - isn't - NY!" (She punctuated every syllable.) "This is Canada! And Canada is the nicest country in the world!" She turned to make sure the crowd of 5th and 6th graders were with her. They all nodded in a worried way.
"And Prince Edward Island is the nicest province in Canada!" She gave me a "so-there" glare and sat down. The students burst into applause.
That's why I am on the Island. To live among people who appreciate niceness and take pride in being the nicest community in the nicest country in the world. Now you know why I am hosting a massive international summit on cyberbullying in Prince Edward Island.
To my friends and family in the NY metropolitan area, I think you are very nice too. :-)