Will the Supreme Court get to know Kara Kowalski?

Remember Kara Kowalski?  Maybe not.  2005 was almost 7 years ago, and sadly, so many instances of cyberbullying like hers have been in the news since then.  Kara, a cheerleader and reigning “Queen of Charm” at Musselman HS, created a MySpace page called S.A.S.H. and invited a number of her friends to check it out.  In her deposition, Kara claimed that S.A.S.H. stood for Students Against Sluts Herpes, but her peers said  otherwise.  What it really stood for was Students Against Shay’s Herpes, Shay being a fellow student who was pictured on the page.  Students posted photos, photoshopped them, left derogatory messages, and were, in general, demeaning and hateful.  Kowalski , found guilty by the school officials of creating a ‘hate website’ which was against school anti-bullying policies, was suspended for 5 days, kicked off the cheerleading squad, and (ironically) prevented from crowning the next “Queen of Charm.”
Kowalski sued the school, claiming they violated her free speech and due process rights, and claiming the school had no authority to punish her, as she had created the website from her home.

She lost her case, and just this summer, lost her appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  This has not deterred her. She is now seeking Supreme Court Review—and, sooner rather than later, the Supreme Court is going to need to revisit the issue of student’s freedom of speech, which they ruled on in Tinker vs. Des Moines in 1969 (see my earlier blogs on cyberbullying).

Julie Hilden, writing for CounterPunch, is hoping she does not get it.  Hilden discusses the complexities in the case, most notably the  fact that legal remedies already exist to address Shay’s rights, a fact which fritters away her need for school authorities to intervene on her behalf, and the blurring of lines distinguishing a bullying case from a First Amendment case.  While Hilden’s arguments are convincing, Kowalski’s behavior was heinous, and surely bullying behaviors which the courts will need to address will be complicated, and involve Freedom of Speech issues.  AND, for precisely that reason, the court will need to sift the complex set of factors which are involved in this claim, and determine which to prioritize in setting legal precedent.  That would seem to be half the battle in such cases—‘seem to be’ from the perspective of a concerned citizen, not a lawyer.  Refresh your memory of the case  Would you want your school to be able to sanction Kowalski if she created a MySpace page about your daughter, turning her into a social pariah at school?  Would it be reasonable to claim such a page would interfere with her ability to learn?  (Are my pandering, emotional appeals going to be left to dangle off a legal chessboard?  Should they be?)

Bullying—action or Reaction?

Guidance counselors, parents, and concerned teachers have often consoled victims by saying  “s/he only picks on you because s/he’s insecure”.  Perhaps.  But is this the whole picture?  Maybe bullies aren’t acting out of their insecurity, but reacting to some other factor— physical or psychological.

In a 1988 study, Jack Katz interviewed hundreds of prisoners, and analyzed hundreds of criminal acts (from property damage to extreme violence against individuals).  In a majority of cases, he discovered that the perpetrator felt humiliated, and that the crime was caught up with this feeling.  That is, their angry, violent actions were reactions.  They were responses to the ‘inadequacies’ (and their shame over them) that the bully felt—by being ‘dis’ed’ (by their victim, or by some other, unrelated event).  Perhaps this initial action  ‘triggers’ an insecurity, a belief of how others ‘must see them’ –especially if they don’t react and ‘set the record straight’–publicly.

Bert Baruch Wylen’s Interview with his bully, in an article entitled “What My Bully Taught Me” http://life.salon.com/topic/interview_with_my_bully/ , seems to support this theory.  Think back on your own experiences—as victim, bystander, or bully.  Does this fit?  Make sense?

Dignity of All Students Act, Seth’s Law and Jamey Rodemeyer.

The  auspicious start to the new School Year—in NY State, the Dignity of All Student’s Act in the process of implementation, Seth’s Law (passed in California in April) on the books, and a host of other anti-bullying initiatives in other states– was overshadowed by the tragic  suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer.    An early test of that law would be to pose a rhetorical question:  could it have helped Jamey Rodemeyer?

Seth’s Law is California’s response to the ‘bullying-related’ September 2010 suicide of 13 yr old Seth Walsh.  http://nclrights.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/seth%E2%80%99s-law-passes-key-california-legislative-committee/ The passing of the bill certainly would have played into Jamey’s belief that ‘it gets better’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Pb1CaGMdWk and that there actually is support for young people struggling with bullying—especially around sexual identity.  But how would it have translated on a daily basis?  Would it have translated?

Maybe that is the question we need to start asking.  It is certainly the question Boyd and Marwick have posed in their OpEd piece in the NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/23/opinion/why-cyberbullying-rhetoric-misses-the-mark.html and it was refreshing to see a piece that has the potential to move our discussions of bullying forward.  As devastating as Rodemeyer’s suicide was, rehashing the sentiments and outrage put forth over Seth, Tyler, Zach and 8 other young people who took their lives last September –or even worse, becoming inured and deadened to the horror of teen suicide, as it is now ‘commonplace’,–will hardly help us develop perspectives  that will truly be of service to our young people.  We need a new language, a new understanding of the teen psyche around this issue, and new social narratives—ones that make sense of these dynamics on their level.

Perhaps the real question is, could adults have done anything that would have made a difference?  Jamey had support.  He also blogged, repeatedly, about his torment.  Do we have anything close to an answer that could have changed his social reality?  Given him more hope than his surprising belief ‘it will get better’ –a belief he seemed to have, and shared in order to be a support for others.

Apologies and Forgiveness: The Casey Hines Incident Revisited

Ever since I saw the ‘follow-up’ video interview of Casey Hines bully Richard Gale,  I have been bothered by the ‘what next’ question.  What is the next step for the bully?
Richard Gale is not initially sorry, and claims to be as much of a victim of bullying as Casey.
This honesty on his part cuts both ways:
On the one hand, it makes it easy to take sides,  to continue to find fault with Richard, and to  understand the  “I hate Richard Gale” websites vilifying  the young boy.
On the other hand, it creates complexity.  He wasn’t sorry―as many bullies are not.
Should Richard (and all the other bullies) repudiate their actions anyway?
(I can already hear the automatic, unfelt “Sorry” ringing in my ears.)
Which value do we emphasize in this situation―honesty (which seems inappropriate, as attested to by Richard’s interview) or civility (you must go through the motions of apologizing even if you are not sorry).

Surely we expected Richard to   apologize, perhaps weep, become self-deprecating―even if only to get out from underneath the ‘most hated kid on the internet’ status by repenting―and providing us, his judges, the option to forgive him.  But he gave us little satisfaction on this front.

Is he not sorry because he simply does not understand that what he did was wrong―because we, as a culture, have turned a blind eye to it for so long?

Is the subsequent cyber- vigilante justice we all mete out to him OK?  Are we all now entitled to become bullies  ourselves,  targeting, and harassing someone else who did not live up to our expectations (Gale himself) ?  Aren’t we, the BYSTANDERS around the world, ‘speaking up for the victim’ here?  Isn’t this what all the ant-bullying experts are encouraging us to do?

Lady Gaga and the "Bullied" Bandwagon

Lady Gaga is just one of the latest media personalities to jump on the bullying bandwagon and reveal her long-buried childhood pain.

But come to think of it, Who hasn’t been bullied?  Who hasn’t committed a social gaffe at which everyone laughed, or been excluded from a coveted event?  That laughter or the exclusion may still sting, but in most instances it has been long long forgotten by peers and onlookers.

Was that long-ago laughter cruelty, or simply socialization?   Adults laugh at the mistakes of children, using laughter to “correct” a behavior  that is inappropriate.  Laughter communicates to the child that s/he has done something ‘differently’ –e.g. incorrectly.  This gentle form of admonishment teaches children to, in turn, chuckle at the ‘differences’ they observe in other’s behaviors.  And chuckles can readily turn into (or be heard as) derogatory, humiliating snickers.

Unfortunately, the responses I have heard to Lady Gaga’s revelations are more along the lines of cruel, derogatory snickering than anything else.  Reactions  ranging from “And???”  to “She will do or say anything to get attention” to “if, back then, she was like what she is now, then she deserved it” to “She liked beinga freak even then.”

Even if Lady Gaga is simply jumping on a bandwagon, most of the responses I have heard  do not center around her  experiences  as a victim, or take issue with her ‘jumping on’ the bandwagon.  Instead, they  ‘blame the victim’ for being a freak.  Freaks are different, and undeserving of compassion.  They are to be laughed at, because laughter is the appropriate response to people acting ‘differently.’    The question  we must pause to consider is whether  it is possible to be socialized by laughter, then come to respect behaviors and actions which fall outside what we are taught are “normal”  responses.

THE BEST Cyber-Resource

Thinking about Formspring.  Looking for personal experiences so that I could write a post and keep the site front and center in everyone’s consciousness.  “Everyone” knows about Formspring, but loses sight of it, because in the end, Formspring is just another unpleasant fact of cyber-life.

Unexpectedly, I came upon a cyber-resource which is much, much more important to share than a formspring story.  Any and everything you could want to know about cyberlaw, cyberstalking, cyberbullying, teen suicides (understanding their individual cases), malware, formspring, and so many more insidious cyber-abilities ―which proliferate at a rate almost impossible to keep abreast of (unless, of course, you are a teen being taunted).
Take a look.
Bookmark it.
Use it to keep on top of cyber-reality.

A Public Hearing in NYC–??

On Monday in NYC the City Council’s Education Committee held an oversight hearing on the DOE’s (Department of Education) Efforts to Combat Bullying―e.g. their implementation of the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) and the Impact of “Respect for All” .  Numerous assemblymen and women were present, shared their personal stories of childhood bullying (e.g. had their name read into the public record), then left―-before, even, the DOE testified about the measures it has taken.  The handful of politicians who remained were the only ones allowed to question the DOE testimony (which seemed to indicate the DOE is taking the crucial first steps which such a campaign needs to launch).

It was shocking to learn that only $300,000 was appropriated last year to address bullying in NYC schools, and this year only half that amount― $150,000―has been allocated for the implementation of DOSA.  Seriously?  There are over 1,500 public schools in the New York City ―which means each school will get about  $100 to spend on addressing the problem of bullying.  The spin put on this is that the DOE has already purchased a curriculum, so they are ahead of the curve and don’t need additional funding–??  In other words, they threw money at a one-shot deal, acquired what is probably a one-size-fits-all product (given the amount spent in relation to the number of public schools), and will  apply it.  We (the public) who were still present (over 2.5 hours after the ‘hearing’ began) were not allowed to ask who vetted the curriculum, who will deliver it, who will assess it, and why the all the data stating that only ‘whole school’ approaches are effective was not factored into NYC choices.  Instead, we waited an additional 45 minutes, then were each given 3 minutes to state whatever it is we wanted the committee  (3 politicians and a handful of young staff members) to hear.

Why is Justin Bieber ‘Gay?’

Cory Haim, Cory Feldman, Johnny Depp, Michael J Fox, Backstreet Boys,  New Kids on the Block, Jason Priestly, and Luke Perry were all teen idols― before the advent of the internet.  And if we liked them, we joined their fan club, pinned  glossy pictures from Tiger Beat  on our door, wrote their name on our binders, folders, and bookcovers, bought T-shirts and beach towels with their photos or shows emblazoned on them, and spent entirely too much time learning everything we could about their fav foods, fav color, and preferred pastimes, which we gushed over with our friends.

This sharing bonded us.   Teen idols provided a common ground for gossip;  for the sharing of innermost thoughts and feelings,  for the negotiation of opinions, and most importantly, for the building of trust upon which  social relationships are predicated.  We tore up pages of stars we did not like, and that bonded us too.  Maybe we even said they were ‘gay’.  But such a statement was made to others we knew, from whom we wanted to differentiate ourselves.  Michael J. Fox (for example) was gay for a reason:  assertion of his ‘gayness’ created of solidarity with (or distance from) others, while communicating our personal tastes and values to those in our social circle.
But Justin Bieber, why is he gay?  Why have 940,000 individuals visited hate sites and aggressively, even angrily, pronounced him a ‘fag’?
Sharing this opinion is not part of the dance which creates social bonds between people.
Visitors to these sites don’t know each other and rarely, if ever, will.
Sharing their thoughts and feelings has little or no impact on their relationship to other people.
Yet with such an overwhelming response, this cybergossip / hate must be serving some function.
Why is Justin Beiber gay?

Rebecca Black: What’s behind the hate?

Rebecca Black:  what’s behind  all the hate?
Why the collusion between a song (which, admittedly, is not sophisticated) and its teen vocalist?
Why the criticism―vicious criticism― on a personal level?
What is it that Rebecca Black has come to symbolize and personify?  
First and foremost, she represents  that “queen bee” so many of us have a visceral reaction to―that girl who has everything―the car, the clothes, the popularity, the ‘aren’t I cute’ ditziness (“gotta make my mind up, which seat can I take ???”).
And she made herself a public figure, so she is ‘fair game.’ She said “I am this”, and hundreds of thousands of teens safely transferred onto her all  the feelings (envy, anger, frustration, insecurity, need to differentiate, need to fit in, etc.) that they must keep somewhat in check around the ‘Rebecca Black’s’ of their schools.
(Who does she think she is, anyway?  It’s our duty to take her down a peg.   Put her in her place.  She isn’t All That, she’s a wannabe―she’s just like you and me)
Instead of disappearing into the void of cyberspace (something which would mirror ‘you suck’ back to her) , her song went viral, causing unimaginable amount s of  attention to be bestowed upon her.
And attention is endorsement.  Everyone knows who she is.
The bullying and hate mail she began receiving  caused her story to make the 11:00 News.
Which leads to the second point:  Adults got in on the action.
This is a red flag―an eyeroll that can be heard down the block―and  has probably only helped perpetuate her shelf-life.
(It’s all just a joke.  Why do  adults have to  take everything so seriously?  Nobody really cares―saying stuff is just ‘automatic’―no-one ever really thinks about it―it’s just funny.  Can’t you take a joke?
But fine, if you want us to think about Rebecca Black some more, we will―and we still won’t like her, it isn’t cool to like her.)
Opinions are more about posturing to peers (especially now that the adults are on her side) than they are about their referent.

In the end Rebecca Black  seems very Orwellian―Newspeak doublethink:  simultaneously implying  her opposite; containing within her(herself as referent) contradictory beliefs.

Submitted by a teacher….

Over the weekend, the mean girls re-write lyrics to songs—instead of “if you like it put a ring on it” there is “you’re a loser put a bag on it” or   “It’s a quarter after one,  you’re all alone, no-one needs you now.  Said you were so dumb , ugly an no-fun, no one needs you now” or  (to “Bad Romance”) “you are so ugly / you are a disease.  The boys don’t even want what you’re givin’ for free.  No one wants your Love /  Ew, yuck , ew / you’re such a joke”
Every week “Amanda”  was a bigger LLLLLLoser.
When Muse sang  “black holes and revelations” it was about her ‘pathetic hopes and expectations’ or ‘Far away / you can’t be far enough away / far away from the people who don’t care if you live or die’
(And these are just the lyrics that don’t need censoring).
By lunch time, everyone is singing along.  It’s hysterical― Everyone thinks it’s funny.
Funny.  HaHa.  Joke.  Right?  –can’t she take a little joke?
How to respond?
One suggestion is to assign re-writing song lyrics―with the caveat that they must  highlight strengths.  Another is to institute a minute before each class when one student is called on, given the name of another student, about whom s/he must say something positive.  The penalty for “nothing” will be making up this ‘class-work’ with  an additional homework assignment (as creative as the teacher would like to be–a song lyric that highlights strengths?)
What are some other responses that might speak to the issues raised―not the least of which is control of an environment conducive to learning?