Financial Slavery

Monday, November 14, 2011

Week Two in Our Year of Respect

Week Two has commenced with the anti-bullying project and our Year of Respect.  It has been interesting to see what the students have retained so far and to see what stereotypes they hold.  We started with a simple discussion of what they've noticed in their community since we last spoke.  I asked them what, if anything, they noticed about bullying in our school, on the busses, in the community.  Many mentioned an ongoing story that we have airing on WANT TV (our school announcement and news television program).  The story is called "Freshman Frenzy" and concerns a freshman who can't find his classroom (our school is very large).  Along the way to trying to find his room, he meets a variety of characters, one of whom bullies him.  The students mentioned the fact that this young character was being bullied on WANT TV.  (The story hasn't yet been resolved.) 

They noticed some posters in the halls.  And many spoke of a fight that had broken out in the cafeteria earlier in the week.  That was a big topic of discussion.  When I brought up the fact that by the end of the year, I was hoping they would be more aware of what was occurring around them; they would be more aware of words coming out of their mouths; they would be more cognizant of their community as a whole because they were going to be in this community for the next FOUR years -- they seemed stunned by the realization.  Four years!  That's forever.  I don't think it had occurred to them.

We then moved on to the human barometer game which provoked a lot of lively discussion and some out and out contention.  Especially when it came to issues like are men more likely to bully than women and whether poor are more prone to violent acts than people with money.  They were very passionate about their views.  Interestingly, the girls felt they were far more viscious than the boys.  The boys persisted with a view that girls were "sensitive" and more "delicate," while boys were more prone to physical altercations.  Girls brought up the fact that many physical fights are girl on girl and include hair pulling, scratching and slapping.  They also mentioned that girls are viscious with their verbal attacks while boys are more likely to let it roll off their backs.  It was interesting to see the positions from each side and to see them try to articulate why they perceived one gender as more aggressive than another.  There was one group that stood out as being different than the rest of the students.  Our ESL students (primarily Hispanic but some African) were also divided by gender but in what we would consider in a more traditional sense.  The girls spoke of how boys considered all things possessions, including their girlfriends, and that through a sense of bravado they would sometimes use physical force to impose their rules or opinions.  The boys spoke of how girls were delicate and boys weren't "allowed" to hit them but girls were allowed to hit each other and boys.  Plus girls were "more prone to drama" than boys.  Their gender divide was the most pronounced of all groups.

When we spoke of the economic divide, the debate grew heated and intense.  Some students were very committed and intense in their belief that money and power corrupts...absolutely.  That the more money people get, the more they want and they'll do ANYTHING to do get what they want.  Since they have money and power, they believe they can buy their way out of the situation.  Others felt that although people with money may be corrupt, they wouldn't resort to violence, but rather theft and extortion (i.e. ponsy schemes) to achieve their goals.  Violence wasn't necessary in their world.  Students were incensed by the thought that this didn't qualify as "violence," which necessitated a discussion about how to define the word.  Some felt it was any act that induced pain and suffering, where others felt there must be physical aggression involved.  The students who felt the poor were more likely to commit acts of violence felt that desperate times called for desperate measures... ergo, since poor people needed things -- food, money, shelter -- they would resort to anything to achieve their means.  This was a hotly debated argument.  One student asked me, "which answer is right?"  I think he was a bit frustrated to discover...that I wouldn't give him statistics to back one opinion.  The point of the discussion was to explore where the student stood and to listen to opposing views.  It is always fascinating for me to hear how students justify their beliefs.  I heard that "rich people lie better," "poor people are maladjusted and rich people are insecure."

We moved onto a bullying quiz, which exposed many stereotypes young people held.  For example, most felt that bullies were misunderstood, unhappy, insecure individuals who were just "lashing out."  When they heard that statistically, most bullies were confident, secure with a core group of friends, it puzzled and I think frustrated them.  We need to feel there is a reason behind people's actions.  But this quote from a young man who has participated in bullying gives a lot of justification:

"As the bully, it's different.  It's's power.  It's the greatest high you can feel.  Sure you feel bad after, but the rush.  It's enough to drive anyone to any lengths.  The high it gives you just transforms you.  It becomes the only drive you need to get through.  It's a twisted and disturbed high, but nothing can beat those moments."
We continued to tackle the stereotypes and the students had some really wonderful moments as they argued, debated, discussed and pondered the issues.  They questioned me; they questioned each other; and they questioned themselves.  This is the groundwork I think we need to lay in order to go forward and start to create more empathy for victims and a safer environment to stand up and say, "it's not cool to hassle that kid...back off."  We shall see.  The questions always remain... will this have an impact?  The fact they remember our last discussion and were ready to go further this week, to me, is a positive sign.  It is making them evaluate their beliefs.  Now, let's see if we can get them to change their actions...
For those of you interested, the following is the lesson plan I introduced this week to the freshmen here at our school:

·        The teacher will then lead a Human Barometer Game – where the students will have an opportunity to discuss and evaluate their perceptions about bullying.  There will three zones – Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, Not Sure.  The teacher will read a list of statements – students need to choose a zone based on whether they personally agree, disagree with the statements.  If they’re not sure how they feel, they choose “not sure.”  After choosing their zone, groups in each zone discuss why they chose that zone and choosing one speaker (a different speaker for each time we have a statement), they must find a way to say in one sentence why their group is standing there.  After all three groups present their arguments, an opportunity is given for students to move to a different group, (to reassess if you will).
o       In today’s world, bullying is expected and often rewarded.
o       Sometimes violence is a necessary solution.
o       Teasing and rough play is not that serious.
o       Bullying and harassment are the same thing.
o       Cyber bullying can easily be prevented.
o       Poor people commit more acts of violence than people with money.
o       Men are more likely to be bullies than women.
o       The family is where we first learn to bully.
o       We can someday live in a non-violent world.
·        Students will take a piece of paper and crumple it up, stamp on it and really mess it up but NOT rip it.  Then the teacher will have them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty it is.
o       Teacher will then have the students apologize to the paper.  Even though the students say “they’re sorry,” and try to straighten out the paper, the teacher will point out all the scars left behind.  Those scars will never go away, no matter how hard they try to fix it.
o       The teacher will point out that is what happens when we use words like “ho,” “fag,” “loser,” “stupid,” “retard,” and “fat.”  They may say they’re sorry but the damage is done.  I discovered that this activity wasn't effective with some of the students -- especially those who were more vocal in their beliefs that victims bring bullying on themselves.  For that group, I ended switching things up a bit and brought in's/ quiz on bullying.  It created some great discussions about stereotypes about bullies and victims.
·        After the human barometer game and discussion, students will be split into groups of four to five students in a group.  They will be given a large piece of paper to share.  They’ll be instructed to brainstorm on the following:
o       A Public Service Announcement idea for WANT TV.  Explain that a PSA must inform, educate and inspire change.  The PSA should be short, can contain dialogue (but doesn't have to), and must contain some important message or action the students want the viewer to know or take. 
o       Students will create their idea for a PSA for consideration for WANT TV.  The winning 3 or 4 concepts will be produced and aired on WANT TV.
o       Give students about ten to fifteen minutes to brainstorm and discuss, write up their concept (with dialogue if appropriate) and hand in. Collect the PSA ideas at the end of the period.

·        Wrap up with a brief discussion about whether any perceptions changed during the human barometer game.  Did anything surprise the groups about the brainstorming session?  Any observations or discussions come out that they didn’t expect?  (For example, my students got into an active debate about “intent” and the definition of bullying.)

Content/Concepts/Skills students will be learning
Students will start to redefine and analyze their perceptions on violence and bullying, its roots and its future.  Students will work on their own observations, sharing stories and start to look at the school community.

Student Assessment
Students will be assessed on written PSA idea (handed in).  Students are assessed on participation in the human barometer game, verbal responses to the questions from the brainstorming session.

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