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Kelly Spencer's Blog


Mr. Hutton on respect

Published: February 11, 2009 4:19 pm ET

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If you think the current racing industry has nothing to learn from Mr. Hutton’s Grade 5 class, think again. We may be more sophisticated than his awkward pre-teens, but even the most vicious schoolyard bully pales in comparison to the way we treat one another sometimes.

Mr. Hutton was a renegade teacher. He was flamboyant and creative and his tactics were unconventional for a tiny rural school. He was a gay author who moonlighted as a ventriloquist and magician, and although he once made me chew a piece of someone else’s chewed gum, I thought he was really, really groovy.

About halfway through the school year, the class dynamic became intolerable. There were a few incorrigible clowns, a few brutal bullies, and a few pansies that were violently consumed by the bullies every day. The rest of us suffered in the crossfire.

The culture within the classroom was stifling and Mr. Hutton was fed up.

When all traditional fixes failed to make the space tolerable for everyone, he tried something drastic and spent the entirety of one winter day teaching us about respect.

For six hours, he lectured about real-world instances where a rampant lack of respect resulted in catastrophe. Then, he made us stick notes to one another’s backs. On each note, we wrote a single word or sentence detailing what we respected about one another. The result was a stack of 30 notes per child with scribbles ranging from, “pretty hair” to “kind and smart”. More than two decades later, I still have my 30 notes.

Think about the kids in this classroom: drivers, trainers, caretakers, breeders, owners, track operators, racetrack executives, fans, regulators, etc. Think of how we treat one another, and ask yourself how much respect is demonstrated on a daily basis.

Can you muster any kind words to scribble on a note to stick to the backs of ALL of them?

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