Teacher’s anti-bullying lesson using two red apples goes viral

A middle-school teacher’s simple but powerful lesson to young children is so brilliant even adults are paying attention.

Victoria Caverhill | Adore Photography | Getty Images

Kids who’ve been bullied don’t often look different from other children—after all, bullying is something we internalize, something that affects feelings, not appearances. And those cuts and bruises to a person’s ego have hard-to-see effects.

As parents, we often teach kids to brush off bullying remarks, and rise above. We teach resiliency and self-worth. But Rosie Dutton, a U.K.-based teacher who focuses on improving children’s emotional well-being, may have found an even more effective lesson, that helps get at the core of the issue.

In this Facebook post on Rosie Dutton’s page, she describes a classroom demonstration she did on bullying, using two apples. One apple was pristine—red, juicy, beautiful. The other looked the same, but unbeknownst to the students, Dutton had dropped it several times before the lesson.

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Relax Kids Tamworth | Facebook

The students passed around the two apples, noting that they looked pretty much identical. Dutton then encouraged the kids to call the (secretly dropped) apple names—”you’re a smelly apple,” was just one of the many mean remarks—while praising the other apple with words like, “you’re a lovely apple.” Naturally, the kids thought she was nuts, but most of them cooperated.

After each apple was done being passed around, Dutton called attention to the fact that the two apples still looked identical. But then she cut open the apples for her class to reveal what was inside: the “praised” apple was just as unblemished and perfect as it had looked from the outside. The other, the one they’d called names, was bruised and mushy and seemed like, well, an apple that had been mistreated.

Dutton reports: “I think there was a lightbulb moment for the children immediately. They really got it, what we saw inside that apple, the bruises, the mush and the broken bits is what is happening inside every one of us when someone mistreats us with their words or actions.”

Her Facebook post has since gone viral, spreading across Facebook walls and sites like Mashable—not just for the simplicity and efficacy of the demonstration, but for the lesson on the responsibility of onlookers to intervene when they see another child being bullied, and how our own words can hurt someone else. There was even a child who refused—brave girl!—to say mean things about the apple.

As Dutton says: “Unlike an apple, we have the ability to stop this from happening. We can teach children that it’s not OK to say unkind things to each other and discuss how it makes others feel. We can teach our children to stand up for each other and to stop any form of bullying, just as one little girl did today when she refused to say unkind words to the apple.”

It’s not hard to imagine why this post has struck such a chord with so many people: many adults live with the invisible scars of being bullied—and with the memories of not standing up for other victims. (And some still deal with other forms of bullying, like gossip in the workplace.) Others are parents, struggling to help their children navigate bullying in schools. Perhaps Dutton’s lesson will resonate not only with the kids who witness it, but with adults, too, and encourage us all to treat everyone just a little more gently.

Leigh Anderson
Leigh Anderson
Leigh Anderson is the author of "The Games Bible: The Rules, The Gear, The Strategies" (Workman, 2010) and has written for Vox, Newsweek.com, and Popular Science, among others.

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