Start by getting a set of multi-colored permanent markers and a cheap, plastic baby doll from a garage sale or secondhand store. If you aren’t able to get such things, you can also draw (or have someone else draw) the silhouette of a baby on a blackboard or dry erase board.
Hold the baby up to the class (or point to it on the chalkboard) and explain that this is an evil baby. (If any astute students argue with you at this point that a baby can’t be evil, insist that it is for now, we’ll get to that discussion later.) Now take out the magic markers (or colored chalk) and have the kids give you ideas for what needs to be drawn in order to make this baby look evil (Fangs? Devil horns? A biker tattoo?) and draw these things on your baby to make him “evil.”
Once you’re done and have a sufficiently evil-looking baby, engage the kids in a classroom discussion on the following questions:
- Can a baby ever be evil? Why or why not? You want to bend this conversation towards the conclusion that a baby can’t be evil; if they argue a demon possesses it, then that’s the demon’s fault and not the baby’s. If they argue they were born that way, explain that there are no genes that make someone evil, and that even if someone is born with a more aggressive or selfish disposition, these genes can be turned on or off based on what they experience.)
- What does this baby want? What does it need? (Write these things on one side of your blackboard, and point out that none of these things have anything to do with being evil.)
- So if no baby is born evil, what might happen along the way that would turn someone into a mean, cruel, or selfish person? (Write their answers on the other side of the blackboard.)
- How do we define evil? Is a lion evil because it kills and eats a gazelle? (Point out that evil is a matter of perspective, and that what we call bad or evil is usually just about people trying to meet their needs or fulfill desires in ways that interfere with the goals of others. The lion who eats the gazelle isn’t trying to be cruel, he’s simply trying to satisfy his hunger.)
- What about the stereotypes we use to define evil? Point to their creation of the evil baby. How many of these things actually have to do with evil, and how many of them are based on personal bias? What if some children did have fangs or horns or scary tattoos, would that make them bad?
- Let’s take this logic in reverse, and pretend that someone has turned into a mean person who does hurtful things. Based on our list of what makes people cruel versus what makes them good (the list of their needs), how could we turn them nice again? Is this what society does? Or do most of us respond with more of the type of things that tend to turn people cruel in the first place, like rejection, aggression, or punishment? (Introduce kids to the idea of self-perpetuating cycles; someone acts in an inappropriate way, others respond by getting angry, the first person feels hurt and so they act more aggressively, and so on.) What makes it hard to respond in a loving way?
You should prepare for this activity to take up an entire class period, but it’s well worth the time. It reinforces one of the most important concepts in social intelligence: the idea that people are largely a reflection of their environment and the way others have treated them. If you have fun with it and get a lively discussion going, your kids will learn more about social intelligence during this discussion than they’ve previously learned all year.