Spirituality Magazine

Shrewd as Snakes and Innocent as Doves

By Shrinkingthecamel

Shrewd as Snakes and Innocent as DovesWhen I was in third grade, there was a boy named Norman who terrorized the classroom. He was big and dumb, with a scrappy blond head of hair and the vile mouth of a middle-aged truck driver.

One bright Spring morning, Norman ambled into the sun-streaked classroom prior to Mrs. Cunningham’s arrival and announced his presence by drawing a giant swastika on the chalkboard. He then turned around, pointed to the few children gathering at their desks, and shouted, “Yer all a bunch of jews!”

I wasn’t sure what exactly that square-ish symbol on the chalkboard meant, or why the Jewish people whom I learned about in Sunday School would be referred to in such a hateful tone, but it sure sounded bad. I had recently heard about the middle finger, and wondered if this symbol was somehow related. Then, just as our teacher made her way through the classroom door, Norman quickly brushed the swastika off the board and lugged off to his desk chuckling to himself.

So, this was Norman.

Mrs. Cunningham, a worn and weathered veteran of the suburban elementary school system,  eventually decided to discipline Norman by assigning him to a seat in the front row of the class for the remainder of the school year. The seat right next to me. 

No doubt, I was singled out because I was such a smart and obedient boy who would set a fine example for behavior. Instead, Norman, who was a full two years older than me and about a foot taller, took full advantage of his proximity by making a habit of threatening me for correct answers on homework assignments, and copying the answers off of all of my tests.

This was the deal: Whenever a test was handed out, I was to answer the questions correctly, and then casually allow Norman to crane his neck to see my answers, and copy them on to his own test. This arrangement would keep me in Norman’s good graces, allowing me the privilege of avoiding a barrage of shoves and punches and vicious name-calling. I gave in quickly, pretending that Norman and I were really friends, and this would help make him like me more.

This went on for some time, right under Mrs. Cunningham’s nose. But there came a day in my third grade career when I grew tired of Norman’s bullying and cheating and terrorizing. Sure, I was a good boy, but I was also smart – much smarter than Norman, I was certain of that. That had to count for something.

So, I devised a plan.

The next day Mrs. Cunningham passed out a test to the class. I smiled confidently as Norman quietly shifted his position like usual, edging up closer for a better viewing angle.

YOU’RE GOING TO GIVE ME THE ANSWERS,” he hissed under his breath as Mrs. Cunningham made her way down the aisle with the tests.

I smiled and nodded, revealing the scrambled mess of crooked white teeth that passed for my mouth.

Once all the tests were distributed, Mrs. Cunningham turned to face the class. “All right, you can begin.” She sat down at her desk and lowered her head to read something that seemed to interest her a great deal.

I gripped my number two pencil and then proceeded to jot down a series of wrong answers to the multiple choice questions. I put on a brilliant act, straining and squinting, inquisitively gazing up at the ceiling, and then suddenly erupting a deep sigh of relief as I circled an answer. In my peripheral vision, I could make out Norman eagerly straining his head towards my paper to see the answers.


When I had finished, I excused myself to the bathroom, leaving the test in full view for Norman’s consumption. Let him at it, I thought.

A few minutes later, I came back to find Norman sitting back, arms crossed, with a satisfied grin. Then, ever so discreetly, I set about erasing and replacing each wrong answer on the sheet with the correct answer while Norman zoned out, thinking about his afternoon plans for lighting firecrackers in live frogs.

The next day, Mrs. Cunningham walked up and down the aisle of desks, handing out the corrected tests. “Good job, Bradley!” she said as she lay down the 98% score with a big red circled “E” (for Excellent) onto my desk. Norman beamed.

“Allll right!” he said, barely able to contain his cheater’s glee.

“Thanks for your support,” I said. “I’m so glad you’re happy for me.”

She slowly made her way down to the back of the classroom, passing out each students corrected test, then back up to the front, to Norman’s desk.

The moment finally came – she placed his test on the desk with a big red “F” scratched out on the top. Every single answer was wrong.

What happened next, the look on his face, I will never forget.

Norman  frantically looked back and forth from my paper to his, over and over again, stupified. “HEYYY! Wha..?”

That was the last time Norman dared to cheat. With me, anyway.

I may not have been as strong, or as tall, or as mean as Norman, but I did learn something about dealing with intimidating colleagues that day.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  Matthew 10:16


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