Monday, March 5, 2012

Brawling and bystanders

My school definitely has its fair share of fights. Usually the week before the week before a vacation, a few fights will break out, and some of them have been pretty nasty. What is just as troubling, though, is the fact that the students get so excited about them. They stand up to watch, making noise like they're at a WWE fight, and won't stop talking about it for the rest of the day. Before February break, there was a brawl between two boys that, after it was broken up, ended with a racial slur being spit out. I was the first person to spot the fight and beckon for the male teachers to come over (since they just stand in the corner of the caf and gossip, oblivious to the world), and after it was over I shouted at the lower level of the caf to sit back down, as they were all standing up and gawking. 

My next class was all excited: "Ms. Greene broke up a fight!" "Who won the fight?!" I told them that nobody wins that kind of a fight, that both people make themselves losers. But the class would not stop buzzing about it until I finally had to raise my voice. I told them that this was not something to get excited about, that it was disgusting, and that I do not want them creating a culture of excitement and sensationalism around violence. These kids are so thrilled to be the bystanders at a fight, and that is the breeding ground for this kind of violence.

Today, I read a little editorial from the Boston Globe : "Schoolyard brawl: Essay beats suspension."  It talks about how after a fight at Lynn English High School, school officials didn't just punish the girls involved; they also punished the bystanders. They chose to make these students write an essay about Kitty Genovese, who in 1964 was stabbed to death and raped on a public street, her cries for help ignored by dozens of neighbors for approximately half an hour. I remember learning about this in a psychology class in high school, as this case led to the investigation of the "bystander effect," which says that the more bystanders there are, the less likely anyone is to intervene. The article points out that Genovese's case and the fight in Lynn are not exactly the same, but the idea behind the essay assignment is admirable. I don't expect my students to stop a fight. But I do want them to be responsible and alert a teacher about one, and I want them to stop watching fights with such giddiness, egging the fighters on. The next time this sort of situation arises in the school, I think I may just do a little lesson on Miss Genovese, and hopefully get them to reconsider their attitudes.

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