Challenged to talk to each other

The new MTV series, If You Really Knew Me, which debuts tonight at 11 pm EDT, takes teachers into our students’ social and emotional worlds, writes Anthony Cody, an Ed Week blogger.  The first episode, shot at a small-town California high school, features Challenge Day, a day of communication exercises pushing students “to open up and share their experiences and feelings.”

In so doing, they discover that one thing they all have in common is a sense of isolation from one another. They also discover that this isolation can be bridged when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

Students are confronted over racism, sexism and homophobia. There is space to apologize, and room for forgiveness and a fresh start.

Challenge Day founders Rich and Yvonne St. John Dutra want students to discover their personal truths and “connect in a deep and honest way with other human beings.” Schools hope getting students in different cliques to talk to each other will prevent bullying.

Here’s a link to the first episode. The trailer is below.

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  1. dangermom says:

    I don’t know, I have a very hard time with this kind of thing. Maybe I’m a grump. But I have a very strong sense of privacy–was much more reserved as a kid than I am now–and I can see myself at 15, hating every second. (At 14 I might simply have run away, despite my good-girl training.) I wouldn’t want to be forced to try to bare my soul and share my feelings in public. I don’t even like to do it with friends. And to have it on TV? Unthinkably tortuous.

    I can see where the atmosphere at high school is toxic and all Lord of the Flies, and the adults want to change that. But OTOH you can’t force people to be friends, and school is supposed to be for academics (isn’t it?). Is this really the way to help kids get along better? *Must* it all be as public as possible? Or am I a backwards reactionary?

  2. Unless the “mean girls” use the information shared as a further bullying tool. I witnessed this at my jr high after an “experiential ed” trip. We were forced to share “a secret” and one classmate confessed she had an eating disorder. Big mistake. The mean girl clique tormented her for months. Think the scene in Heathers where Shannon Dougherty’s character overhears one of the Heathers calling in to a radio advice show: “We’ll crucify her!”

  3. I have deep reservations about Challenge Day.

    Psycho Cry Fest

    A one-day, deeply disturbing is a risky and in the long run, non-productive way to change anyone, let alone something as complex as school culture.

    I’d also like to see quantitative evidence that the Dutras’ Challenge Day has done anything for lasting change in shcools (other than providing them with an income).

  4. Also see the rest of the Rick Ross articles on Challenge Day.

  5. I’m with dangermom and Crimson Wife on this. Maybe it’s a woman thing. Hmmm, telling intimate details or private information about yourself in a emotionally charged manner in front of immature teens and a tv audience so that others can really “know” you? Nope, naagonna do it.

    I imagine there are a lot of good intentions at work here, but forcing intimacy just seems messed-up and undignified.

  6. Cranberry says:

    I agree with Liz Ditz. Our local high school participates in Challenge Day. The reports of its participation stunned us. After investigating further, it became clear to us that either the administrators had an entirely different value system than we do (possible), or/and there was some sort of local political intrigue at the school which allowed a group to bring in this outfit.

    Our children do not attend this high school. It was the last straw. The reports of its actions remind me strongly of reports of EST “seminars.” I see no reason to excuse public school students from academic classes to participate in activities which use such techniques.

    I am glad that this t.v. show will be broadcast. For the last few years, people have been shocked when I tried to explain to them what Challenge Day is. I think some people thought I was pulling their leg. It seems hard to believe that our local public schools don’t want to print the words “Christmas” or “Easter” on any handouts, but have no problem inviting an outside group in to use cult brainwashing tactics on the students.

  7. I think I’d rather our kids learn that they won’t feel isolated if they’d open up and be more vulnerable somewhere else than school. Unfortunately, families aren’t teaching this to children and churches only create an environment where the opposite happens. So I appreciate Challenge Day allowing kids to know that staying isolated is not a good thing.

  8. SuperSub says:

    My middle school holds “Mix-it-up” day which is based upon the same concepts as challenge day – forcing students to interact with each other in hopes that it will alleviate the social stresses that lead to bullying and fighting. All we do, though, is assign student seating at lunch to the students so they can’t sit in their cliques.
    The result? On that day the number of fights, girls running crying into the bathrooms or guidance office, and overall drama increases tenfold.
    There’s a reason students form cliques and stay away from each other. Some just can’t stand each other (heck, I can’t stand them) and forcing them to interact is like putting a raccoon and a skunk together in a barrel.

  9. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Contra the first comment, you *can* force friendships. What you can’t do is force them in a single day.

    Imagine that you’ve taken a gang member from an inner-city high-school-cum-prison out of his environment and put him in the British Museum with a bunch of middle class, educationally motivated students from some mildly named school that ends with “Academy”.

    Not much is going to happen, and the reason that not much is going to happen is that the gang member knows that in a few hours he’s going to be going back to his environment where his survival and coping mechanisms — mechanisms that put him at substantial odds with middle class culture — are going to be fruitful and powerful. Human beings are very adaptable, but we’re also very good about looking after our own survival.

    Taking people out of their environments for a day isn’t good enough: everyone knows that they have to go back from whence they came. If you really want to break up cliques and force friendships, you have to take a bunch of students and lock them in a room with each other and force them to work together, day after day, for months on end. There can’t be an end to the school day either — no going back to one’s world afterwards. Students would have to be prevented from accessing their default social networks, from having parties where other children are excluded, and so forth. Separation cannot be allowed to be the default: if you want to force a social bond, you need to not give the students any choice. You need to rip out from under the student that which they consider to be their default, “home” social environment.

    I’m not advocating this approach, except perhaps in extremely limited circumstances (such as sports teams): In fact, I’m generally against it, and consider it a serious and inappropriate curtailment of freedom. But if you want to get this sort of thing done, that’s what it takes.

  10. Clearly more than a one-day program is needed to address these issues. That said, I think this program has more to offer than it has been credited with in this discussion. We do not need to rely on eight-year-old reports. The TV show, available for immediate viewing online, gives you a front-row seat to what unfolds. I think it is well worth watching. Those who take the time will see some extraordinary things.

  11. Anything that involves more hugging worries me.

  12. Many high schools sponsor optional, extracurricular activities like this. Sometimes even weekend-long retreats. The kids who like to reveal themselves in large groups participate; the ones who don’t, don’t.

  13. Like so many edu-fads, it’s made up of extroverts, run by extroverts, for the benefit of extroverts. The perspective of introverts and others who need emotional boundaries is, once again, ignored. If this is optional, then fine. If it’s mandatory, then a bunch of kids who need privacy are being pressured to give it up to conform to the school’s wishes. Fantastic.

  14. Richard Aubrey says:

    Decades ago, in industrial psychology, there was a fad called “T-group”. That was because the participants sat at tables set up in a T formation. So to speak.
    Starting with that bit of cleverosity, it went downhill. Sort of a self-revelation in public, or some such. Experienced execs were, it was said, reduced to tears and fled the room.
    Coincidentally, I discovered in a book “Sisters”, iirc, about an order of American nuns, they they had been T-grouped into oblivion.
    We got to where we are by putting patches on wounds. Having a bunch of enthuisiastic amateurs pulling the patches off is NOT A GOOD IDEA.
    But maybe that’s just me.
    On the other hand, it could be fun for the adults, a certain percentage of whom no doubt work hard to hide their drooling intensity in a legal deflowering of the underage.

  15. J. Remarque says:

    I find it interesting that some of the teachers and psychotherapists on the EdWeek blog are disheartened by those of us who preemptively object to programs like “Challenge Day,” as if our gut feelings are outside the bounds of respectability. I’m extremely skeptical of anyone who writes off my honest response and insists that I have to participate in soul-baring, or watch someone else writhe in discomfort…because frankly, being someone who hates stuff like “Challenge Day” is who I am. The response of “Challenge Day” defenders tells me right up front that not all opinions or experiences will be deemed valid.

  16. SuperSub says:

    A lot of this is also due to the fairy-tale belief that dislike between individuals has to be due to issues that need to be worked out, including various -isms that children are burdened with by their parents.
    Some people are just jerks. Others just have personalities that clash. As I tell my students every time they need to get something off their chest about another student, get over it.

  17. dangermom says:

    I think you’re right, SuperSub–I talked about this to a friend this morning (who has interest in therapy etc. and who is more of an extrovert than I am). She was surprised to hear my objections and said that our local HS does something similar, though she thinks it’s voluntary. She went on to wonder aloud about bullies’ insecurities and such, whereas I view such public soul-baring as just giving ammunition to mean people. And yep, I have much more of a need for emotional boundaries than she does; she finds it slightly baffling that I want walls and privacy.

  18. Richard Aubrey says:

    Wait until she does a Winston Smith and somebody uses it on her.


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