The Best Model

Recently, I read an article on the Farnam Street blog, “Mental Model: Hanlon’s Razor,” that presented a way of orienting ourselves to others. Hanlon’s Razor is a mental model:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect.

I immediately thought of my 4th graders. They needed this quote. Developmentally, they are prone to think the world revolves around them and that anything negative that happens to them must be intentional and part of some diabolical plan. When they can’t find something: “Someone stole my fidget.” When someone mistakenly bumps them, “He hit me.”  I calmly tell them not to assume someone stole their belongings. “Perhaps, he mistakenly brushed up beside you.” It doesn’t help that he doesn’t immediately apologize after the inadvertent bumping, but that is another lesson. After arming myself with this quote, I share it with my students, explaining each word. I give them examples. As days pass, I often refer to it. It is emblazoned on the board.

One day, I notice my eraser is missing. It is a layered eraser. The soft fabric can be removed when the underside becomes over soiled and ineffective at erasing. There are layers lying around but no eraser. During indoor recess, I recall how certain students love playing teacher using the easel, dry erase markers, and my eraser. I ask one student who loves playing teacher if she knows where it is. I mutter to the class how someone pulled off all the layers and probably threw away my the top. After mentioning the missing eraser one other time, I move on. My eraser is a casualty of one of my students.

A few days later, I escorted my class to the computer lab for. As I was explaining something, I reached for an eraser to clear off the board. The name written on the eraser was mine! Here was my “discarded at the hands of my students” eraser. I immediately picked it up, and basking in my chagrin, I apologized to my students and waved the eraser so they could see. “Oh my, what a great example of Hanlon’s Razor,” I gushed, “It was my neglect that caused this. It wasn’t you!” The class erupted in applause. I’m not entirely sure why they applauded, but I knew in that moment that I had given them the most authentic example of this quote or how not to exemplify it. I, the teacher, modeled the behavior I wanted them to change. I was the best model of what not to do. Maybe they applauded because they had both forgiven me and been transformed in that instant.

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