Monthly Archives: December 2010

Scarecrows? Really?

Okay, so I have been writing a lot of serious blogs lately and feel like we need a light one. So here goes.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, my co-teacher and I like to change things up from time to time and act out what we are teaching. Early last week, for example, we were reinforcing main idea sentences, detail sentences, and what we call strangers; sentences that do not belong in a paragraph because they aren’t about the main idea. My co-teacher was the main idea. She dressed in black and white, I was the detail sentences so I dressed with scarves and gobs of jewelry because detail sentences provide color and description, and our paraprofessional dressed in a bright yellow safety patrol parka and sunglasses because she was the stranger.

My co-teacher talked about the beauty of main ideas and then made the statement, “Let’s talk in main ideas today. For instance, main idea: I went to the movies yesterday with my girlfriend.” Then I came into the room with all of my jewelry on and a diary, and I acted as though I was telling all of the fun details about going to the movies with my girlfriend from my journal. Periodically, my co-teacher would say. “Let’s get back to the main idea, shall we?” Meanwhile, our paraprofessional would intermittently throw out totally random sentences that had nothing whatsoever to do with the main idea.

We continued this for about ten minutes to our students’ delight. When we took our bows, the students begged us for more. I tell you this not to brag but to reinforce how much our children love it when we act out our lessons for them.

Well, two days later, we were teaching a lesson on probability when one of our students raised his hand. We were in the middle of a difficult concept, so my co-teacher asked him if he had a question. He said yes, so we gave him the opportunity to make his inquiry. Imagine our surprise when, very seriously, he asked, “Are you two dressed as scarecrows for a play later?” We looked at each other in complete confusion. At this point, we realized that we were each in plaid shirts over which I had a brown fashionably frayed-looking blazer and she had on a tan sweater. We started laughing as did the whole class. Later, when we were able to talk without laughing, we pointed out the audacity of sitting there through a lesson unfocused and then admitting his lack of focus in front of all of us.

Since then, from time to time one of our students will call us scarecrows. We laugh because we know that the question came from hopeful anticipation of another one of our silly teaching moments. And we don’t mind being a little silly if it increases our students’ enthusiasm for learning.

By the way, the rest of the day I had to fight the urge to break out with, “If I only had a brain…”

Media Might Play a Role in Copycat Suicides

This will be my last blog on the subject of Tyler Clementi until more news breaks regarding Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei. I mentioned in a previous blog that one of the repercussions of Tyler’s apparent suicide is the fear of copycat suicides. Let’s explore what this means.

Since Tyler’s apparent suicide, according to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, there have been at least six suicides of young people who were either gay or tormented for being gay. One of these was a teenager from Pennsylvania who stepped in front of a tractor-trailer after leaving behind a note saying he was tired of being called “faggot” and “sissy” and he wanted to make people aware of the problem of bullying. The fear is that these suicides may have been spurred by Tyler’s tragic story.

Therefore, the dilemma is how does the media report on these tragedies, which of course they must, without inadvertently romanticizing or even encouraging other teenagers who are unstable to follow a similar path. Experts say that some youth who are struggling with comparable issues may feel that the suicide of someone like Tyler Clementi gives them the attention and sympathy which they never got in life. This makes the suicide appear glamorous to them. Other youth might begin to debate the fact that if someone like Tyler couldn’t make it, they can’t either. A youth who is struggling with mental illness may even consider this to be a reasonable option because it stops the pain.

The Internet has increased the likelihood of these kinds of responses. In an age when people are able to read news from all over the world with a simple click of the computer, phone, or Ipad, it becomes impossible to pinpoint whether a suicide is directly related to a news report because news no longer has geographical boundaries. Ann Haas, the director of prevention programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention said that Clementi’s story reached farther than most suicide stories do. Additionally, as reported by Geoff Mulvihill and Meghan Barr at Associated Press: “Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth are more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts. And bullied youths are more likely to try suicide than those who aren’t.” The spokeswoman for The Trevor Project, which provides a hot line specifically aimed at crisis intervention and suicide prevention for gay youths, reported that their hot line handled about 75 percent more calls than usual after Clementi’s death.

So what advice do those who deal with teen suicide have for the media to encourage responsible reporting of these events? Primarily, they ask that the media refrain from stating or concluding that the suicide was the result of one factor or event. They emphasize that most people who kill themselves are suffering from depression or are struggling with other mental health issues. Responsible reporting then should include statements of these pre-existing conditions that were contributing factors to the suicide. If more responsible reporting by the media could help reduce the number of copycat suicides, then this should clearly be their goal in the future as they report on stories similar to Tyler’s.

Rutgers University Addresses Bullying

Do you appreciate the ironic? Well, here is the tragically ironic follow-up of the Tyler Clementi blogs. It couldn’t have been scripted better in a movie than the way it played out in real life. Here goes!

The tragic news of Tyler Clementi’s apparent suicide came out on the same day that Rutgers University, the university he attended, launched “Project Civility”,  a campus-wide, two-year project “to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to the use and abuse of new technology”, as reported by The New York Times. After the initial event that spearheaded “Project Civility”, almost 100 demonstrators gathered at the site of the university president’s speech and chanted, “Civility without safety — over our queer bodies!”

In spite of the obvious irony of the timing of this event, clearly this university is attempting to be proactive and deal directly with a serious issue, and we should commend them for their efforts. The project, which “will involve panel discussions, lectures, workshops and other events to raise awareness about the importance of respect, compassion and courtesy in everyday interactions”, is a worthy venture which I hope will be widely attended. Additionally, workshops were scheduled for students and administrators on residential life on campus, and a panel discussion, “Uncivil Gadgets? Changing Technologies and Civil Behavior” was also in place. Timely, or what?

Now, as far as I see it, there are two ways to look at the timeliness or untimeliness of this campaign which followed so closely on the heels of Tyler Clementi’s death. The pessimists out there might consider this attempt on the university’s part to create a more civil climate on campus as a waste of time, especially in light of this recent tragedy. Their attitude would mirror many who say that bullying has always been a part of the fabric of our society, and no amount of discussing, debating, or developing policies to deal with bullying will be successful, so why try? There is within all of us a little voice that tells us that this may be so.

But, lucky for us, there are optimistic fighters out there who are unwilling to accept the inevitability of bullying. They struggle to force this issue into the limelight and attack it head-on because they refuse to accept the tragic ramifications of bullying which we have seen so much of in recent years. The administration and faculty of Rutgers University should be commended for being in this group. In the kickoff ceremonies for “Project Civility”, the university’s president, Richard L. McCormick boldly stated the following: “It is more clear than ever that we need strongly to reassert our call for civility and responsibility for each other.”

Hat’s off to you, Rutgers University, and to all those who, like you, refuse to believe that bullying and harassment are here to stay! Thank you, in spite of your own tragic losses this fall, for boldly making a stand and fighting for civility and respect. And may we all take a lesson from you, and launch our own bold campaigns in our own spheres of influence to rise up and refuse to accept bullying, in or out of the classroom!

Ohio Reduces Snow Days

With a snowstorm imminent, I am concerned, as many teachers and parents probably are tonight in the state of Ohio, about the new decision by our governor to reduce our snow days from our usual five a year to only three a year. Worse yet, next year we will get no snow days at all. Are you kidding me?

We live in a state that receives its fair amount of snow and an occasional lake effect snow that can be a true nightmare. So what are the leaders of our state thinking when they reduce or do away with our snow days? We have pretty much been told not to expect a snow day this year at all. The plan is to call for a two-hour delay instead. Now, that’s just fine if those two hours are productive and the roads have been well-cleared in the interim. But what happens when the snow doesn’t cooperate during those two hours and continues to reign down its fury? All it will take is for a bus full of students or a parent trying to drive their child into school to be involved in a major accident for this new policy to receive the scrutiny it deserves. My hope is that cooler heads will prevail before such a tragic incident occurs and snow days will be reinstituted to protect children rather than forcing them to be placed in harm’s way.

Let’s reverse this ridiculous policy before it puts children at risk! Is the loss of one to five days of school more important than the safety of our children?

The Future for Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei?

My first follow-up of the Tyler Clementi blog posted this weekend deals with the two young people whose poor judgment and malicious bullying were indirectly responsible for this young man’s apparent suicide. If you recall, Dharun Ravi, Tyler’s roommate, was allegedly responsible for using the webcam on his computer to tape a private moment Tyler had with a man. Then, he and Molly Wei allegedly streamed this intimate video on the Internet for other students to see. So what has happened to these two Rutgers students and how have their precipitous actions affected their lives? That is the subject of this blog.

First, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, both residents of New Jersey, have each been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for using a camera to view and then transmit live images of Tyler during this intimate encounter. They face the possibility of up to five years in prison which is the maximum sentence if found guilty. Additionally, Dharun faces two more counts of invasion of privacy for trying to send a similar live feed on the Internet the day before Tyler’s suicide on September 21.

The investigation is ongoing and could possibly involve additional charges. Some people are going so far is to call the death of Tyler Clementi a result of a hate crime. Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay rights group, made the following statement about Ravi and Wei’s actions: “We are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others’ lives as a sport,”

Molly Wei was released on her own recognizance, and Dharun Ravi was freed on bail. And what has happened to their lives since then? Apparently they both faced some major repercussions for their actions, to the extent that they were “shunned and vilified”. They also faced disciplinary action if they had stayed at Rutgers. Therefore, Ravi transferred to another school, and according to Molly’s lawyer, she quit out of fear for her own life. She is studying to take her SAT’s again in order to go back to school at some future time.

Now, here is the sad truth. These two people made a terrible decision meant to humiliate and publicly destroy another person. No one with an ounce of decency would treat another human being in such a devastatingly hateful manner. Whether this was a hate crime or not, it has certainly been about hate. Either they hated Tyler, hated what he was doing, or have no respect for other people’s privacy as long as they get a laugh. Are they really surprised that they are being “shunned and vilified”? Hate tends to beget hate. That old adage comes to mind that you reap what you sow. I surmise that it isn’t so funny to them now, and I would hazard a guess that if given the same opportunity now, their actions would be very different.

So, two more lives have forever been altered due to this tragic incident. The difference is that Tyler’s life is over, but Ravi and Wei’s futures still hang in the balance. I can only hope that they use this tragedy to grow, to take responsibility for their actions, and to learn from their terrible mistakes. Moving on, even if they do not go to prison, will not be easy for these two.

May this tragic event and it’s equally tragic repercussions send a strong message to our young people to stop using the Internet to bully and harass others.

Tyler Clementi’s Story Revisited

I’m sure you all remember September’s sad news reports about Tyler Clementi, his roommate’s betrayal, and Tyler’s resultant suicide. Such a terrible loss in and of itself, but apparently, a rash of teenage suicides are being linked to this case, so I am going to revisit Tyler’s sad story in this blog and will talk about the national ramifications of his suicide in a future one.

What happened to Tyler is one of the most brutal forms of high-tech bullying I have ever heard about. On September 19, Tyler Clementi, a quiet, shy Rutgers University student with a love for and a talent for violin, was videoed by his roommate in the privacy of Tyler’s room as he engaged in an intimate moment with another male. Allegedly, Dharun Ravi, Tyler’s roommate, used a webcam on his computer to make the video and then posted a message on his Twitter account telling his friends what he had seen. Although Ravi and Molly Wei, another student accused of involvement in Tyler’s harassment, claim they only watched the video for a few minutes in private, they are being accused of streaming the video on the internet for their friends to view as well. Ravi is also being accused of trying a similar live feed on the Internet on September 21, the day before the suicide.

Whatever the extent of the cyber bullying, the effect was tragic as only three days after the original internet posting, Clementi wrote the following note on his Facebook page: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” And that is exactly what he did! On September 22, Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River in an apparent suicide. A life lost due to on-line bullying by two misguided teenagers who decided that they had the right to tell the world something Tyler wasn’t ready for the world to know in the most humiliating way possible. How sad that these young people felt the need to judge someone who had never hurt them out of some misguided sense of power! And three lives have been forever altered due to ignorance and intolerance.

But it doesn’t end here. And that is the topic of a future blog…

Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act Passes

Great news! Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. So what does this mean?

According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “Today, Congress approved a bill that will make the most significant investment in the National School Lunch program in more than 30 years. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will increase healthy choices in school cafeterias across the country. These changes will help schools fight our country’s childhood obesity epidemic and give students access to the nutritional food they need to help them learn. “

What specifically does this act hope to accomplish? Well, as I listed in a previous blog, the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act will:

* Increase access to meal programs
* Improve nutrition standards
* Establish standards for competitive foods sold in schools
* Increase physical activity
* Train people who prepare school meals
* Enhance food safety programs

In an earlier blog, I expressed my hope that this act would pass. We are often astounded by the food that our students are offered in our school cafeteria on a regular basis. Carbohydrates and sugar abound, and this at a time when we are very conscious of the increase in child obesity. Good nutrition is a lost concept in many schools as food service personnel deliberately attract students to buy school lunches by providing foods that students prefer but that are clearly not healthy.

Teachers have clamored for this change for a very long time. I for one can’t wait to see how the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act impacts our school’s cafeteria!

Tough Questions to Be Answered in Marinette, Wisconsin

What tragic news out of Wisconsin Monday and Tuesday! I’m sure you have already heard by now of the tragedy in Marinette, a city of about 12,000 people which lies about 50 miles north of Green Bay on the border of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where sophomore Samuel Hengel shot himself after holding a class of high school students and their teacher hostage for about six and a half hours. It has got to be one of the most unusual school hostage situations we have ever heard about.

If you read or listened to coverage of this strange story, Samuel did not come into class with the weapons but left to go to the restroom and returned with a duffel bag containing two guns and ammunition. Zach Campbell, a hostage who was interviewed, reported that Samuel began this nightmare event by shooting at the projector as the class was watching a movie in the dark. He reported that at no time did Samuel shoot at any students although he did fire other shots. Zach said he appeared depressed and yet the students maintained a conversation with him during this stand-off where they discussed hunting and fishing. Apparently Samuel was laughing and chatting, and Zach said he didn’t think that Samuel meant to hurt anyone.

Another unusual piece to this puzzle was that Samuel let a girl leave after her mother tried to call her and was unable to get through. And later, Zach asked if he could use the bathroom, and Samuel let him go. It was at this point that Zach escaped to be followed a little later by four more students who asked to use the bathroom as well. It sure doesn’t sound like this young man planned to harm his fellow classmates, which leads you to wonder what the heck his plan was, if he even had one.

How tragic that this boy killed himself when the police battered down the door after more random shots were fired! But thankfully, no one else was hurt and all of the students and the teacher who had been held for so many hours got out safely. Now the tough question will need to be answered: What made Samuel crack in such a dreadful way? Was this tragedy the result of bullying or harassment at school? Or did Samuel’s break from reality have roots in problems at home or something psychological? Some terrible questions will have to be asked and answered which will cause more pain for the students and families of the city of Marinette. And the residual effects of being held hostage and fearing for your life will require much counseling and healing.

I’m sure all of our thoughts and prayers go out to this community. We can only hope that swift answers will come and with those answers, healing may occur.