Implementing Justice in an Unjust Environment

Pattie Sloan and Joan Flora:  challenging the status quo

justiceThe daunting task of managing a classroom of very active students is a juggling act for teachers that makes them part benevolent-dictator,  part subject-guru and part entertainer.  But if we truly want to create an equitable classroom experience for all students, we must move beyond learned procedure and become proactive dispensers of justice to the students in our classrooms that are suffering from the social phenomenon of bullying.  Its insidious results appear on our nightly news and in morning newspapers, but in all honesty, the eyes of many of our students are filled with silent pain from bullying.  It is one of the most difficult experiences for a classroom teacher.

We believe that by using the curriculum, teachers can become proactive in defining bullying and its consequences, and through classroom lessons, students will learn that teachers will not allow it, and students can be actively involved in ending it.  So rather than handing this problem to the administration to handle, by defining its actions by the perpetrator and its  consequences to the victim and to the perpetrator, administrators, teachers and students can work together to end this practice.bullying 5

Coaches, teachers, and administrator since time eternal issue the school 11th school commandment, “Thou shall not bully,” but this top-down approach has not changed the actions or the hearts of students.  However, using the current curriculum as a  tool to teach against bullying not only raises awareness but causes the students to become proactive and protect themselves and others against this destructive action.  Those statistics below do not represent numbers but the faces teachers see every day in their classrooms.

Do Something. Org lists some statistics on bullying that should give every teacher pause:

1.  Over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year.

2. 1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4% of the time.

3. Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of bullying.  bullying boy

4. 17% of American students report being bullied 2 to 3 times a month or more within a school semester.

5. By age 14 less than 30% of boys and 40% of girls will talk to their peers about bullying

6. Over 67% of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.

7. 71% of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.

8. 90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying.

9. 1 in 10 students drop out of school because of repeated bullying.

10. As boys age, they are less and less likely to feel sympathy for victims of bullying. In fact they are more likely to add to the problem than solve it.

 11. Physical bullying increases in elementary school, peaks in middle school and declines in high school. Verbal abuse, on the other hand, remains constant.

The numbers are harsh and represent the discomfort children left in our care feel.  But even more than discomfort, the bully has taken away the educational opportunity of the victim.

Lord of the FliesWe must face this problem in the classroom, and to do this teachers do not need another workshop or a speaker.  They do not have to invent new materials or research; they simply need to look at their current practices with new lenses.  The Lord of the Flies, mandated by almost every school in the nation, is used by teachers to teach the nihilism of the author, the use of literary tools in a novel or even for character studies; however, it is best used as a tool to teach bullying and its tragic results.  Every character in the book is a classic representation of a student in our current classrooms, and the characters’ actions in times of stress demonstrate the need to give our students tools to handle the social situation of bullying.

Teaching the novel in this manner is the simple Into, Through and Beyond, the literacy tool teachers have been using since cave paintings.  Let us explain:

Into:  Beginning with articles and presentations to raise awareness about current bullying events, students read articles that deal with real-life situations on the subject.  Unfortunately, there is no shortage of articles that teachers can use.  Pattie found there were even articles on sports bullying.  So many areas in the lives of students can become arenas for bullying as Pattie found out when the students shared their experiences with bullying.  YouTube was rich with first-hand accounts of bullying, and watching these created an empathy in the classroom students.

Through:  After sharing and reading from articles and life experiences, the students form groups of three and choose a character to follow through the book.   The teachers may assign groups or allow students to self-select.  Remember, the teacher can always move non-productive groups around.

  • The students chronicle what a character says about himself and others but also lists what others say about them.  Chart paper is important on the walls to list each day the new discoveries made about the characters through dialogue.chart paper
  • And then they predict.  Short paragraphs, following the Common Core mapping of the school writing should be used to guide their writing to demonstrate competency.
  • Dotted throughout the reading are article and videos focusing on real-life bullying.
  • Using the articles and the materials from videos and the book, the students can begin to see more than a story set somewhere on an island far away; they see young people making the same mistakes made in school every day.  And through the death of Piggy, they see the importance of taking a stand against bullying by protecting one another.
  • Beyond:  This can be the formal essay, reflective essay, character study, or it may become more than that:

  Pattie’s story:  I was standing in  the long line to use the faculty bathroom when M came to me and said she needed to speak to me.  Grades were close, and I was having the same conversation with other students, so I told her I would talk to her after using the facilities.  Too much coffee and no prep made for a long morning. But M insisted that we talk now because it was urgent!  High school girls live in two time zones: Urgent and NOW! and I knew by her non-verbal communication, we were leaving Urgent and heading into Now!, so  there was going to be little relief for me unless I addressed the issue.  

Watching sadly as someone else took my place in line, I took M to the back of the room, where nervously her story came pouring out: about a text that she received and was circulating the school; about pictures of disabled  and plain students tagged with the most insensitive, cruel remarks; about her need to end this Now!.  I was told, “You have to do something.” 

I love the trust of a student!

A hurried trip to the admin. with M in tow resulted in missing the bathroom break, but I was grateful as I listened to M’s story about the text, about the mean girls, about the poor victims, about how she knew we had to take a stand because of what we had done in class.  Wow!  When lessons become alive, little else matters.  Running back to my room, and missing the my break, I thought of the girls with no arms who were the target for such horrible unkindness; I thought of the plain girl who was the best reader in the class, and the unkind words used to attack her; and I thought of M, who was a delightful average girl who caught it and made a difference.





About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
This entry was posted in Character education, Education, KIPP, Literacy, Social Action, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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