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And In This Corner

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Every once in a while, I find myself stuck in situations and I can’t figure out what I’m doing there. 

This is one of them.  I have no idea why so many of you seem to have assumed that, because I presented the case I did yesterday, I wanted to school to be involved with it.

For what it’s worth, I spent the most of the blog post the day before yesterday saying I didn’t approve, or appreciate, the new school anti-bullying initiatives.

But just to clear up my position here:

1) I gave the case I did for two reasons.

First, it is obviously egregious.  As far as I know, all the students and all the kids knew that Marnie’s party was a deliberate attempt to destroy Carla’s, and that included Marnie’s own mother.  There was no ambiguity there about what was going on or why.

Second, because this particular case is much more similar to what girls to do each other than the usual definitions of “bullying.”

Cathy F says that the psychological definition of “bullying” would now include this under something called “relational aggression,” but I assumed there would be a way to shoehorn the incident into the definition.

If there hadn’t been, the schools would be pretty much precluded from addressing MOST of the adolescent cruelty occuring on their campuses.

2) I’m on record here of being opposed to the entire “whole child” view of education. 

And this kind of thing is an example of that.

“Whole child” education is first and foremost an attack on the child’s right to privacy, or even right to be left alone.

In a ‘whole child” environment, the school owns the child body and soul.  Every aspect of the child’s life is available for scrutiny and reprogramming.  No private space is left for the child to develop on his own, think on his own, believe on his own, be himself.

And the purpose of that education is assumed to be therapeutic.

What I want is schools that teach reading, writing, arithmatic and then higher education subjects, and that leave their students alone otherwise.

3) That having been said, there is no way that an incident such as this could have taken place entirely off school grounds.  Kids will talk about the situation.   They’ll talk about it at lunch.  They’ll talk about it at recess.  Everybody in the class will know, and everybody in the class will talk.

I still don’t think the school should be involved, but we need to get past the fantasy that anything that happens among a bunch of kids who go to school together will be entirely ignored once they get onto school grounds.

4)  When I say that teachers collaborate in the construction of “popular” and “in crowd” cliques in school, I don’t mean that they taunt “unpopular” kids.

In fact, running an anti-bullying initiative could–and I think most often will–be a form of “relational aggression” in itself.   No matter how the programs are run, everybody will know immediately who they are supposed to be “helping,” and the bad news will proceed from there.

But the more usual thing is simply in the body language and automatic choices of teachers, and, in my experience, especially of female teachers.  

Who gets chosen to run the class when the teacher is out of the room?  Who gets picked to go out and throw erasers at the wall (a big one when I was in elementary school)?  When a teacher has a great new idea for a project, who does she pick to help her start it?

When I was in junior high, the most popular teacher in our school–very young, taught Spanish–decided it would be a really great idea if we had a Tri-Y club, a Four-H thing for teenagers focussed on charitable projects, like working in the local Goodwill Thrift Store.

To get the club started, she picked the girls I think she was honestly convinced would be the ones who would really participate and get things done–it was just that ALL of them were card carrying members of the class’s “in crowd.” 

If you’d told her she was shoring up junior high status cliques, she’d probably have been indignant. She was just calling on the girls who participated most often and energetically at school!

High school status cliques affect everybody in a school, including teachers, and in ways no anti-bullying program ever could, or would, address.

5) When I said that Carla’s mother was trying to help her to be more “popular,” I didn’t mean what a number of you seem to think I meant.

I meant that Carla’s mother was trying to help her not be the one kid in the class who gets left out of everything.  That’s a painful position to be in.  And I don’t think any parent wants that for her child.

But I also have to admit that I always wondered why we call the people in a high school’s top status clique “popular.”  In my experience, such people are often the least popular–in terms of being ‘well liked”–people in a high school class, generating mostly recentment and anger rather than admiration and good will. 

(Drum roll here–anybody remember Molly Ringwald’s little speech in The Breakfast Club?)

6) The whole status clique thing last for many people far beyond high school.   It’s the basis of “clubs” without membership lists that leave who gets in to the discretion of the bouncer at the door.   It’s the basis for clubs with blackball rituals.  It’s the basis for the endless “who’s in and who’s out” features on entertainment television.

I don’t think we’re every going to get rid of it, and I don’t think we should inflict school “experts” on our children in an attempt to do so, no matter how egregious the case.

Yes, not even in that egregious a case.

Written by janeh

June 26th, 2011 at 8:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses to 'And In This Corner'

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  1. I disagree with your idea that schools should essentially only teach the proverbial three Rs and otherwise leave the kids alone to develop by themselves (or whatever). Not that I disagree in principle, because in an ideal world that would be an ideal situation. But we don’t live in an ideal world and, whether we like it or not, our schools are in loco parentis for a large slice of their students’ days, and many of these kids are unfit to be left to their own devices or to be trusted out of sight on a dark night.

    The issue then becomes not whether it ought to be so, because for a host of practical reasons it has to be so. Rather the question should be how best to manage the situation to strike a fair balance between the needs of the school and its community and the needs of the individual kids.

    I just don’t see how schools can ignore behaviour of their students whether on or off campus that impinges on the ability of the school to perform its function, ie to teach, adequately. And kids whose minds are obsessed with their status in the school’s student social hierarchy are not going to learn much no matter where they stand in that hierarchy.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that the schools should act to protect the powerless from the powerful. The question ought not to be whether they should do it, but how they should do it. I don’t have sufficient wisdom to figure that conundrum.


    26 Jun 11 at 9:50 am

  2. Yes, Mique!

    No, the schools ought not be prying into out-of-school stuff. But they can certainly enforce standards of behavior at school, and teach those behaviors if necessary.

    And I’m not talking about the kids talking about it at school, or that kind of carryover. I mean that schools can, and do, and I believe should, enforce things like “you can’t distribute invitations at school unless you include the whole class.”

    The research literature does distinguish popular from well liked, as Jane does. And I agree that using the word popular makes no sense, but that’s how people use it.

    And I’d really like to get Jane’s definition of “expert,” since she insists on putting it in scare quotes. I have spent a lot of time and money developing expertise, and I hate to see expert used as an epithet.

    Cathy F


    26 Jun 11 at 12:01 pm

  3. If we were discussing a boarding school or a college campus, I’d be all in favor of the in loco parentis thing. However, I have no interest in schools imposing their prejudices–even when I agree with them–on students with real and present parents.

    “Expert” is often rightly an epithet, which is a pity. I will use it as a mark of respect when (1) diagnosis is not a matter of opinion, and (2) the expert can be demonstrated to be wrong.
    (1) lets out most of the “mental health” professionals. People used to play games with them by sending sane people in with a single faked symptom, or by telling them that X percent of the new arrivals in the asylum were faking it. The experts would them commit the graduate student with the single faked symptom, and promptly “find” the X percent of sane people in the new intake. A good deal more modesty on the part of the professionals seems to be called for.
    (2) puts the kibosh on most of the social sciences–and a good percentage of the humanities. The architect, the engineer or the chemist–or for taht matter, the financial advisor–makes very real and specific predictions-“the bridge will hold a 50 ton vehicle.” “The compound will not react with salt water.” A layman can see whether or not this is the case. The expert can be, and expects to be, held accountable. May I see the names of the sociologists, political scientists and economists dismissed for their assessments of the political and econmic health of the Soviet state? How about the historians who denied the Ukraine famine and the Katyn Massacre?

    Edmund Wilson is virtually worshipped by a certain type of liberal for his dacedes of book reviews. He dismissed the entire field of mysteries (“Who Cares Who Killed Cock Robin?”) thought Tolkien “balderdash (“Ooh, those Awful Orcs!”) and worse of HP Lovecraft. He wrote through the golden age of science fiction seemingly without noticing it. I regard him as laughable–but how can he be PROVEN wrong? Hence his place in the Library of America–alongside HP Lovecraft.

    If you want to be an expert without the scare quotes, you have to take the chances the real experts take.


    26 Jun 11 at 2:47 pm

  4. Oh, and I should note that this puts me sideways to Jane who can see the mote in the psychologist’s eye, but who has a naive, touching faith in “objective literary merit” as discerned by literature experts. Kelvin may not have been entirely right, but he made a very serious point.


    26 Jun 11 at 2:51 pm

  5. If I were King of the School Systems, schools would not only be prohibited from interfering in at-home activities, they’d be off-limits to parents or students who use them as locations-of-convenience for passing out invitations therefor. If you want to invite a wad of fellow students to something, get their addresses and use the post to send out invites the old-fashioned way. Don’t pass them out at school, spend the postage. Or email or post on Facebook, or whatever but do not involve the school in any way.

    You can’t stop kids from talking about what they’re doing, but you can prevent giving ANY color of approval from the school by not allowing it to happen on school grounds.

    As for at-school birthdays, when Daniel was in 1st grade, I pulled up stakes and moved from one school district to another specifically to avoid those and every other spurious occasion for cake, candy, and ruining the holidays the room mothers at the first district could come up with. These women ran amuck, I swear, co-opting class time weekly. You want to go trick or treating with your kid on Halloween? He’s already worn his costume and gotten stuffed with treats at school. Celebrate Easter or Thanksgiving or Christmas? He’s already had the gifts and the meal, done the egg-hunt, wassailed the tree, etc. All Christian holidays, of course, in a district heavily Asian and Middle-Eastern. Go figure.

    The new district forbade ANY holiday celebration of any type, and nixed in-class birthday celebrations. They spent their class-time teaching. Oddly, they covered a lot more ground.

    I went through middle school with my son and with my stepdaughter, who is 8 months younger than Daniel. The girls were *savage* in ways the boys never were. Julie solved it by finding her own little group of misfits who stuck together all the way through high-school…just because you’re not one of the “popular” kids doesn’t mean you have to be alone.

    Around here lots of parents sport really repulsive “My kid was Student of the Month at Whoopie-Pie Elementary” bumperstickers. Perhaps if they gave such awards out for acts of integrity and honesty, instead of grades or ass-kissing, they might be worth something. Schools, like parents, can teach a great deal by example. Perhaps they ought to think what they’re teaching today… paranoia, bureaucracy, suspicion, dehumanization, conformity, and an aversion to innovation or original thinking. Who says kids aren’t paying attention?


    26 Jun 11 at 5:35 pm

  6. I don’t think it’s so much that we all think you want to discuss the role of the school in this kind of behaviour as it is our tendency to pick something we want to say something about and run with it. It’s like thread drift in Usenet.

    I think schools should focus on the academics, personally, but you can’t avoid teaching standards of behaviour as well. A school can avoid this particular type of behaviour by simply not allowing itself to be the medium for distribution of birthday party invitations, but any group spending time together has to have certain norms of behaviour, and with a group consisting of basically the entire general public of a particular age, it’s guaranteed that some members will arrive not having learned appropriate behaviour and needing to be taught it.

    I know, I know, this way lies the dreaded behaviour manipulation by teachers and social workers, but without going that far, any time you are part of a group, said group has to have certain rules about appropriate manners and courtesy, who speaks when, what exactly you do if you want to speak and no one asks you and Not Starting Trouble by insulting your co-workers or co-students.

    Girls can be quite ingenious at being rude while Not Starting Trouble, whereas a lot of boys seem to Start Trouble (eg a physical fight) quite quickly after rudeness.


    27 Jun 11 at 8:05 am

  7. Where to begin…
    Okay, here’s a good place to start.
    Before you try to decide what should or should not have been done, you have to first understand what actually happened, which is –
    Carla and Marnie and almost all their classmates acted like junior-high students. This is normal. They’re in junior high. Most (not all) students in junior high act like junior high students.
    How do most junior high students act? Not only are they frequently cruel, but they also place way too much importance on being “popular.” In addition, they like to quantify popularity: “You’re my best friend, and Suzie is my second-best friend, and Candace is my third-best friend…” This means that even within the cliques there is a definite pecking order, with all the girls doing nasty little things to undermine each other so that they can rise to the top, i.e. become the first-best friend of the most popular girl, and if they achieve that goal, then they will, of course, go into covert competition with the top girl to take over her spot and be numero uno. Secret alliances, manipulation… hmmm… it’s all starting to sound rather like politics.
    The problem re the parties is that all the parents involved, even Carla’s, also acted like junior-high students. This is rather pathetic and extremely sad.
    Carla’s mother, quite frankly, started the whole ugly mess by trying to buy popularity for her daughter. The phrase “boughten friendship” from Robert Frost’s poem “Provide, Provide,” comes to mind, although Frost used it in a different context.
    Did Carla’s mother actually think she could buy her daughter’s way into the in-crowd? Apparently so.
    Reality: The more desperately a child (or adult) tries to get into the in-group (in whatever manifestation it takes), the more power the in-group has to hurt the person trying to join them. So who is at fault in this situation? Clearly it is Carla’s mother… except…
    Can we actually blame Carla’s mother because she has never grown up and become an adult? After all, if Carla’s mother’s mother had done a better job of helping Carla’s mother grow into an adult, then Carla’s mother would not now be behaving like a junior high student. But wait, that’s not the fault of Carla’s mother’s mother – obviously it must be the fault of Carla’s mother’s mother’s mother who didn’t do a good enough job of parenting Carla’s mother’s mother…
    I am reminded of a Jay Leno show I happened to see once. I don’t remember the year, but it was about the 4th or 5th of January, and his main guest was Tom Hanks. Leno asked Hanks if he’d made any New Year’s resolutions, and Hanks replied that he thought that instead of New Year’s resolutions, people should have New Year’s mottos, and his motto for this particular New Year was “Deal with it.”
    Hanks went on, “Men are from Earth and women are from Earth—deal with it! You had a rotten childhood—deal with it! Your job sucks—deal with it!” [Slight paraphrasing, but that’s essentially what he said so I’m using quotation marks—deal with it!]
    So how could Carla’s mother have dealt with the fact that her daughter was not part of the in-crowd? She could have helped Carla realize how shallow the in-crowd was (yea, right, as if Carla would believe that!), how having one or two friends who were real friends was better than being “popular.” Inviting one or two students (the most likely to accept Carla, not the most popular) to do activities with Carla might work. She could have helped Carla join other, outside-of-school groups where she might be able to form friendships with girls who were not caught up in the whole poisonous, I’m in, you’re out charade. She could have found a different school for Carla rather than throwing a boy-girl party and thereby teaching Carla that sex was the answer. She could have helped Carla realize that there are other goals in life that are more important than being popular. There are any number of things she could have done, but all of them require Carla’s mother herself to exhibit behavior higher than junior-high level.
    So what could the school have done?
    It’s not that there is no way to help junior high students out-grow junior high behavior, it’s just that there’s no quick fix. Helping a child grow up is a very long process. Basically it starts when the child is still in diapers, and if a parent is lucky, it ends when the child graduates from college. It is not doing or saying that one perfect thing that makes a child suddenly “get it.” It’s the accumulation of hundreds of deeds and hundreds of thousands of words, piling up like grains of sand, some being blown away by the wind and so lost, until eventually the child is an independent, functioning adult, able not only to take care of herself/himself, but also able to take care of other people. This is why parents who think spending two or three hours of “quality time” a week with their child is the equivalent of spending several hours a day interacting with their child are only deluding themselves.
    Back to the Carla and Marnie and the two parties. Could the school have done anything about the parents? They could have had seminars for the parents or group therapy or whatever to help parents learn how to act like adults, or they could have sent home letters asking the parents to grow up (expressed in a more polite way, of course). Would any of this have helped? Probably not. The longer a person is stuck at an inappropriate level of behavior, the harder it is for them to progress to an age-appropriate level.
    Freud talked a lot about adults who were stuck at the anal-retentive stage, but I think there are a lot more people in this country who are stuck at the junior-high stage.
    Slight digression: Junior high is particularly difficult for children who are too intelligent or too mature to buy into the whole junior-high-behavior scenario. I was lucky because I had brilliant parents plus three brothers and one sister who were likewise brilliant. As odd a duck as I was in junior high, at least at home I was “normal.” I also had one good friend in junior high, which makes an incredible difference. I had someone to walk to school with, someone to sit with in the cafeteria, etc. Did she understand me? Not really. Did she like me anyway? Yes. I told her about whatever great idea I was thinking about, like the meaning of life or why people behaved in certain ways or where civilization was headed and what the future looked like for mankind. She would give me a blank look, and then we would go watch American Bandstand together, and she would tell me at length about who was going steady with whom, and who had broken up with whom, and who might be getting serious about whom. For my part I wasn’t able to name a single person on American Bandstand other than Dick Clark. I didn’t criticize her for liking to watch a mindless (in my opinion) TV show, and she didn’t laugh at me for talking about ideas that didn’t matter (to her). Neither one of us had a cruel streak, and both of us were trustworthy, which is a good trait to have in a friend. Plus neither one of us in our wildest fantasies thought we had the slightest chance of getting accepted by the in-crowd, which made it easier for us to just ignore them and get on with our own lives.
    The “whole child” view of education. Wow, am I glad I missed out on that! And my kids missed out on that. And it looks as if my grandchildren are going to miss out on that. There apparently was never enough money in the Midwest for school districts to try to put that theory into operation, which has limited the damage it can do.
    “In a ‘whole child” environment, the school owns the child body and soul. Every aspect of the child’s life is available for scrutiny and reprogramming. No private space is left for the child to develop on his own, think on his own, believe on his own, be himself.”
    When I read Jane’s description above, I did recognize the syndrome. It is alive and well in the Midwest and in the Inter-Mountain West, and I expect it is just as prevalent in the South and on both coasts. All you have to do to make it true everywhere in the country, in fact, is just change the word “school” to “parent.” Then it becomes, “The parent owns the child body and soul. Every aspect of the child’s life is available for scrutiny and reprogramming. No private space is left for the child to develop on his own, think on his own, believe on his own, be himself.” Recognize any parents you know?
    A Mother’s [or Father’s] Oath:
    I am your mother. It is my right to know every thought you have so I can tell you when you are wrong and when you are right to think something. You must share every feeling with me because I am your mother. I have the right as your mother to make you stop feeling things that are wrong or inappropriate or feelings things that make me uncomfortable. I own your thoughts and your feelings and your dreams and your problems. As your mother I get to make all your decisions for you. I know better than you what you should wear, what you should eat, who you should play with, when you should go to bed and when you should get up, when you should poop [“whole child” control starts at an early age], and how you will talk to me. You have no problem that is so big that I cannot fix it for you. If someone does something that upsets you, I will step in between you and that person and protect you, even if you don’t ask for or want or need my protection. I will always throw myself into the breach for you even if there was no breach before I threw myself.
    Yes, it’s a human tragedy happening over and over, in family after family, all across our country, and all in the name of “good parenting.” Speaking of which…
    When my sons were in grade school, Dr. Haim G. Ginott’s book, BETWEEN PARENT AND CHILD came out. It was going to teach all of us less-than-adequate parents (and face it, ever parent, even me and thee, is less than adequate) how to raise our children with “empathy and understanding” rather than with “love and patience,” which latter obviously has been failing. Hmmm…
    Among other things, Dr. Ginott explained that we should let our child know that we empathize with him by mirroring his emotions back to them (forgive me if I don’t remember all the buzz words he used—I’m not going to go back and re-read this book), by saying something like, “I understand you are angry with me.” This will make the child realize that we have heard him. My husband decided to use this technique. Two days later my older son, who was in the fourth grade, came running into the kitchen yelling at me, “Mom! Dad’s repeating everything I say! He’s being a total jerk! Make him stop!”
    Ah, yes, once again reality has squashed what was a really nice-sounding theory.
    The books on how to parent continued to flood out, all through the years I was raising my children, each one purporting to give us parents the right technique(s) that would enable us to enter that magical place where we are the perfect parents who can raise our children to be perfect.
    –Don’t use punishments to correct your child’s behavior, use rewards. / Don’t use rewards to manipulate your child, use incentives. [And the difference between a reward and an incentive is…?]
    –Whatever you do, don’t resort to bribing your child. [Yeah, right—that author has pretty much proved he’s never been a stay-at-home parent in desperate need of a couple more hours of sleep.]
    –Make your child save part of his allowance. / Don’t make your child save part of his allowance. / Don’t give your child an allowance.
    –Here’s how to get your child to make his own bed so he will grow up with the skills he needs to be neat. / Let your child be a slob, it’s the only way he’s ever going to learn to be neat.
    They go on and on and on. The best that can be said about them is that some of them do less harm than others.
    My daughter, in her tireless efforts to find a how-to-parent book that does actually give good advice (she defines good advice as that which fits the real world of parents and children as she has observed it since she was about ten years old), has actually found a couple.
    First of all, she discovered PARENTING WITH LOVE AND LOGIC: TEACHING CHILDREN RESPONSIBILITY, by Foster Cline and Jim Fay.
    Moving on from there, my daughter discovered a series of talks by Barbara Coloroso (available on DVD) called “Winning at Parenting…without beating your kids.”
    Inspired, delighted, and thoroughly awed by the quality of Barbara Coloroso’s advice, my daughter bought Coloroso’s book, KIDS ARE WORTH IT! GIVING YOUR CHILD THE GIFT OF INNER DISCIPLINE.
    And just to bring us back full circle…
    I was checking exact spelling of author’s names and exact titles of books, and I discovered (drum roll) that Ms. Coloroso has also written a book about bullying!
    The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to HighSchool–How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle (Updated Edition) by Barbara Coloroso (May 12, 2009)
    I have not read her book on bullying, but based on the quality of the books of hers that I have read, I would predict that Ms. Coloroso has got better advice about how to deal with bullying than any of us have come up with.
    And with that, I think I’ll go eat some lunch.


    4 Jul 11 at 3:45 pm

  8. Very interesting post, Charlou. Thanks. I was amused by your story about your son’s reaction to the PC drivel being channelled by his father. Back in the day when I was working, we had a Social Worker based in our division to develop social work policy for (Australian) Air Force. He showed me a book on conflict resolution in the home which he recommended ought to be available right throughout the organisation. It was filled with exactly that sort of rubbish: “I understand that you are angry with me for (repeat verbatim spouse’s, child’s or whoever’s accusation)”. And so on and on ad nauseam. It was so ridiculous that I struggled to keep a straight face.


    4 Jul 11 at 10:54 pm

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