The “Yab-ba’s”

The Flintstones are not forgotten. They are resurrected everyday in the conversations between middle school students and their teachers, coaches, and administrators. Several times a day, I hear my inner voice sounding like Fred Flintstone as it trumpets “Yabba-Dabba-Do!”

But wait, the middle school rediscoveries of The Flintstones have a different twist to it. It’s said at the beginning of a response from the student to his teacher concerning the recent bad decision he made, such as jumping up hallway walls or breaking a pencil in two. Fred also re-appears right after a coach asks one of his players why she made a pass to a teammate who was sandwiched between two defenders, like salami slapped between two pieces of French bread.


“Yab-ba” is the shortened, uncompleted form of “Yes, but!” It’s the preface to the soon revealed excuse for irrational decisions. It’s one of the inherited curses that gets passed from one generation to the other. We said it! Remember?

“Yab-ba…he started it!”

“Yab-ba…I had it first and she took it away from me!”

“Yab-ba…it’s not my fault. My dog ate my homework because we ran out of dog food and he was really hungry.”

“Yab-ba…Yab-ba…Yab-ba…” Dab-ba Do!”

Admittedly, we were guilty in our adventures and escapades. Today’s culture has become proficient in not accepting responsibility. So often, it’s somebody else’s fault or simply a ripple effect of an unjust society that the person has been forced to be a part of and, therefore, can’t be held responsible for the lame decisions that bubble out of the person’s actions.

I guess I showed my hand in those last couple of sentences. The “Yab-bas” of life symbolize our resistance to being wrong, or falling short, of being held accountable for the errors of our ways. Whereas, on the basketball court not setting a screen for a teammate can result in a turnover or a missed shot (In other words, a momentary wrong decision that can be corrected in the next possession.), in the classroom of life, the “Yab-bas” lead to the passing of the buck to someone else.

I have one young man that I teach, the wall-jumper, who tends to make split-second bad decisions. A gifted athlete, I keep him accountable and do not let him get away with a “Yab-ba” excuse. His first response is that Fred Flintstone re-enactment, and I refuse to let him slide by. I keep on him until he faces up to his lunacy, until he says the words, “I’m sorry, Mr. Wolfe. I won’t do it again.” There are things going on in his life that weigh on him, disrupt his ability to have balance and peace, but jumping up a wall in a school hallway can’t be blamed on what he ate, his family, the weather, or the fact that he just wanted to see how far up the wall he could go before his descent back down to earth.

I talk a lot to my students about grace and also responsibility. Sometimes a “Yab-ba” moment can be talked about and I then choose to extend grace to the Barney in front of me. But grace that is always extended, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say, becomes “cheap grace”, grace that becomes the expected reply by an entitled offender.

One last thing! I allow my students to eat in my classroom, but when they don’t clean up after themselves we have a “Food Fast” for a day, a week, however long I decide upon. After all, I have our room hand vacuum, “George Cleany”, readily available. Yesterday, there was a piece of chewed gum on the classroom carpet. I told the class we’d be having a “Gum Fast” next week. Their response. You guessed it! “Yab-ba, Yab-ba, Yab-ba…that’s not fair! It was the other class.”

I wish I would have thought about saying this, but it didn’t come to me until I was writing about the moment of the discovered crime. I wished I would have said, “If someone pulls the emergency cord on a train, it affects everyone riding on that locomotive, not just the puller.”

But, alas, I didn’t think of those words that would fit neatly into a movie script until I pondered the situation more. Of course, they would have stared at me with cold-hearted, steely expressions on their faces, considering a classroom coup. That would be great drama, something that was never a part of each Flintstone episode.


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