Be Afraid, Red Apples Are Dangerous, They Could Kill You
It’s the first day of kindergarten. Parents and guardians arrive with their children at the school gate, wipe tears (off their child’s face and some, off their own), shower kisses and hugs once again before entrusting them into the hands of the patient teachers. Some children bounce indoors, others walk in with a giggle, a few steal wide-eyed glances, and others look back with pleading eyes hoping to be rescued. Soon the children and staff are inside, the teachers escort their wards into respective classes, parents pursue their day, and the school entrance is deserted.
In a classroom, a teacher approaches a child sitting at one of the round tables. The teacher lowers herself on haunches, and looks the child in the eye, and then points at the open book on the table. The child looks at the picture of a red apple and murmurs, “Apple.”
“Good!” says the teacher, “That’s an apple. What colour is it?”
“Excellent. Aren’t you a smart kid?”
The child’s cheeks turn an apple-red and eyes sparkle.
The teacher continues, “Have you eaten a bright red apple before?”
The child nods, the smile is unsullied.
“Are you sure it was a bright red apple?” asks the teacher with an eyebrow arched.
The child pauses and replies, “Mommy gives me apple slices.”
“I am sure she does. But they were not red. Because red apples are poisonous!”
The child’s eyes are now wide circles, the mouth opens and closes a few times. No word escapes.
“Listen carefully,” the teacher leans in, “A Red Apple is very poisonous. You must not eat it, or you will die. Do you understand?”
The child nods. The child stares at the page. The class begins.
An hour into the class, the teacher calls the child to her desk.
“Do you remember what I told you earlier?” the teacher asks. The child looks uncertain. Then it strikes—the child nods.
“What did I tell you about red apples?”
“They are bad.”
“Correct. They are bad and extremely dangerous. They will kill you, your mommy and daddy. Do you have a sister or brother?”
The child nods, mouth sealed, eyes well up.
“Remember! Red apples kill. Everyone, even grandpa and grandma. Stay away and don’t touch them.”
The child sits at the round table and looks at other kids at the table.
“You cannot eat apples. They kill people,” in a loud voice to no one.
Mercy, at the table, isn’t impressed. “I eat apples all the time. They are my favourite.”
“But you don’t eat red apples, do you?”
“I eat red apples. All apples are red.”
“No, that cannot be. You cannot eat red apples. Teacher told me so. You know nothing.”
Another hour passes, and it’s time for lunch. The newly minted apple-hater notices Mercy sitting across the table. She has apple chunks in her lunch box. The child screams at her.
“You shouldn’t eat that. That’s an apple. Is it red?”
The tiny girl pushes herself back into her chair and shakes her head.
“Is that red apple?” the child shrieks again.
Mercy’s lips quiver. She snaps her lunchbox shut. The teacher comes to the table, consoles Mercy, who is now in tears and escorts her away to another table.
“She was about to eat an apple,” the child calls after their teacher, who gives a knowing nod.
If you are with me so far into this story, we will add another hypothetical to this experiment.
Mercy continues eating apples at the other table. The child sneaks nervous glances to see her laughing and chatting. She looks alive. ‘Is that an apple? But teacher said apples are dangerous?’ Doubt creeps in.
Abruptly, Mercy makes weird noises, coughs, gasps and clutches at her neck. A shriek startles the classroom. The teacher rushes to the table. Our apple-hating child watches events unfold with shock and fascination, as other teachers come in. Everyone gathers around Mercy.
The child grips the table and shouts, “Serves her right! I told her not to eat apples.”
Some teachers look at the child and shake their heads. A few classmates whimper softly. They take Mercy away. The teacher tells the class that Mercy will be fine. She goes to every table and checks their lunchboxes. The teacher walks to the child.
“I told her. She won’t listen,” the child says with brimming eyes.
The teacher nods, “I am sure you told her. You are a wonderful kid. What did I tell you?”
“Apples are dangerous. They kill,” the child replies with resolve.
Now in the above experiment, replace apples with skin colour.
As some of you may have guessed, this story is a thought experiment. It is no way meant to suggest that teachers are responsible for prejudices against race or colour. Most educators do a magnificent job in helping us overcome stereotypes, prejudices and ignorance through education. Kudos to the educators who help us envision a better, caring, inclusive future.
The story has a school and a teacher in it to illustrate an impressionable mind and a fertile ground for planting an idea. A child can learn from anywhere – the media, unintentional words, thoughtless actions, labels, and more contribute to this ‘learning’ process. We must take extra care as unfair associations make lasting differences.
On a reality show, the losing contestants heading for an elimination (losing players) wore black aprons, while winners wore white ones. This may not be intentional, but subtle iconography enter our consciousness and vocabulary without us realizing it.
I am not a fan of the PC movement nor of the concept of ‘tolerance.’ I find them an extreme version of insincere politeness that does more to curb expression and on the other end of the fanatic spectrum. I hope to learn, to change and accept differences. I try hard every day. It’s constant learning, unlearning process that requires openness.