Anti-bullying law stresses NJ schools

A new anti-bullying law requires New Jersey schools to police campuses and online communications to protect students, reports the New York Times. But superintendents and school boards complain they’re being asked to do more with the same resources.

Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.

In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights “demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes,” reports the Times.

Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its Web site. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.

School officials also worry about lawsuits.

Most bullying complaints involve Internet comments that lead to campus confrontations, says Richard Bergacs, an assistant principal at North Hunterdon High. “It’s gossip, innuendo, rumors — and people getting mad about it.”

This summer, thousands of school employees attended training sessions on the new law; more than 200 districts have snapped up a $1,295 package put together by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page manual and a DVD.

Westfield Superintendent Margaret Dolan worries that students and their parents “will find it easier to label minor squabbles bullying than to find ways to work out their differences.”

The law was motivated by the suicide of a Rutgers freshman, Tyler Clementi, whose gay sexual encounter was secretly filmed and aired online by his college roommate.

 

 

 

California textbooks will include gays

California public schools will be required to teach students about the “contributions” of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans — and Americans with disabilities — as part of the social studies curriculum in all grades, under a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

California law already requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor. The Legislature over the years also has prescribed specific lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust, among other topics.

Those helpful legislators!

The state can’t afford to buy new textbooks till 2015 at the earliest, but eventually the requirement could affect social studies textbooks sold nationwide.
Advocates hope teaching students that Walt Whitman and Willa Cather  were gay will prevent bullying and suicides. It’s a real problem, but not a real solution.

 

Violence, sex and 'dark' lit

School reading lists are full of violence, wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a California law barring the sale of violent video games to minors on free-speech grounds. It starts with violent fairy tales, Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.

Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. In The Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. … And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island.”

I wonder how many high school students read Homer or Dante.  Still Lord of the Flies is still big on high school reading lists (no sex) and some complain that teachers are assigning or allowing students to read “dark” novels.

Much of young-adult literature invites teenagers to wallow in ugliness, barbarity, dysfunction and cruelty, writes Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal, defending an earlier commentary.

It is true that so-called problem novels may be helpful to children in anguished circumstances. The larger question is whether books about rape, incest, eating disorders and “cutting” (self-mutilation) help to normalize such behaviors for the vast majority of children who are merely living through the routine ordeals of adolescence.

Siobhan Curious, who teaches 17- and 18-year-olds worried about going too dark in choosing a book list for a class on personal narrative.

When preparing the list last year, I hesitated over a couple of titles, including Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss (about the author’s consensual adult sexual relationship with her father) and Alice Sebold’s Lucky (about the author’s brutal rape and its aftermath).  In the end, I decided to include Lucky on the list, and when I presented the book to the class as one of their choices, I told them about its subject matter and my hesitations.  I warned them that certain passages were very graphic, and that they should keep this in mind when deciding whether they wanted to read the book.

Almost every girl and about half the boys put Lucky on their list.

. . . many readers said that they found the book upsetting but rewarding.  Many of the boys who read it said it helped them understand the effect rape has on a woman; many girls said it allowed them to see how, after a terrible and scarring experience, someone could struggle on and make use of their suffering to help others.  But mostly they said that it was a really good read.

Adolescence is a dark time for some kids, counters Linda Holmes on NPR blog. She “took an entire class in high school where we read books about killing your family, double suicide, drowning, being murdered in your bed … it was called ‘Shakespeare,’ I believe.”

I was troubled by the murder of MacDuff’s family in Macbeth, the tortures of sinners in The Inferno. And poor Piggy.

Violence, sex and ‘dark’ lit

School reading lists are full of violence, wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a California law barring the sale of violent video games to minors on free-speech grounds. It starts with violent fairy tales, Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.

Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. In The Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. … And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island.”

I wonder how many high school students read Homer or Dante.  Still Lord of the Flies is still big on high school reading lists (no sex) and some complain that teachers are assigning or allowing students to read “dark” novels.

Much of young-adult literature invites teenagers to wallow in ugliness, barbarity, dysfunction and cruelty, writes Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal, defending an earlier commentary.

It is true that so-called problem novels may be helpful to children in anguished circumstances. The larger question is whether books about rape, incest, eating disorders and “cutting” (self-mutilation) help to normalize such behaviors for the vast majority of children who are merely living through the routine ordeals of adolescence.

Siobhan Curious, who teaches 17- and 18-year-olds worried about going too dark in choosing a book list for a class on personal narrative.

When preparing the list last year, I hesitated over a couple of titles, including Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss (about the author’s consensual adult sexual relationship with her father) and Alice Sebold’s Lucky (about the author’s brutal rape and its aftermath).  In the end, I decided to include Lucky on the list, and when I presented the book to the class as one of their choices, I told them about its subject matter and my hesitations.  I warned them that certain passages were very graphic, and that they should keep this in mind when deciding whether they wanted to read the book.

Almost every girl and about half the boys put Lucky on their list.

. . . many readers said that they found the book upsetting but rewarding.  Many of the boys who read it said it helped them understand the effect rape has on a woman; many girls said it allowed them to see how, after a terrible and scarring experience, someone could struggle on and make use of their suffering to help others.  But mostly they said that it was a really good read.

Adolescence is a dark time for some kids, counters Linda Holmes on NPR blog. She “took an entire class in high school where we read books about killing your family, double suicide, drowning, being murdered in your bed … it was called ‘Shakespeare,’ I believe.”

I was troubled by the murder of MacDuff’s family in Macbeth, the tortures of sinners in The Inferno. And poor Piggy.

Away from home, Asian students slide

Asian-American students’ grades slide in their first year of college — unless they live at home — concludes a study at University of California at Irvine, where Asian-American students outnumber whites. White students’ grades dropped slightly, compared to their 12th-grade GPA, while Asians’ grades fell dramatically in both natural and social sciences, according to University of Denver psychologist Julia Dmitrieva. From Miller McCune:

. . .  when Esther Chang studied 120 white and 395 Asian-American undergraduates at a large public university in California, she found that while the white students’ GPAs averaged 3.21, all the Asian-American groups’ GPAs were significantly lower — 3.04 for East Asian, 2.99 for Southeast Asians and 2.94 for Filipinos.

The Asian-American students studied less, went to the library and to class less than the white students, says Chang. She and Dmitrieva speculate that Asian-American parents’ involvement in their children’s out-of-school activities leaves the kids unprepared to manage their time in college. Dmitrieva’s study supports that hypothesis, since the grades of that Asian-American freshman who still lived at home, or scored well on a test measuring academic perseverance and diligence, didn’t drop any more than those of the white students.

Dorothy Chin, associate research psychologist at UCLA’S Semel Institute, believes further research will show Asian-American students “find a way to self-regulate and bounce back” by senior year. Graduation rates are strong for Asian-American students.

Also on Miller McCune:

What looks like pushy, high-pressure parenting to Westerners is seen as loving by Asian-American children, says Ruth Chao, a University of California, Riverside, psychologist.

Studies have found that parental behavior that feels controlling to North American and German children feels warm and accepting to Japanese and Korean children.

. . . Western cultures value individuality and independence highly, so Western teenagers feel rejected when their parents exert a great deal of control, explains Gisela Tromssdorff of the Technical University in Aachen, Germany. On the other hand, she writes, “Japanese adolescents … feel rejected by their parents when they experience only little control.”

Asian-American children don’t report more stress, anxiety or depression than white children — until they reach college. Asian-American college students have the highest suicide rate of any ethnicity.

I wonder if that’s also true for Asian-American college students who live at home.

‘Tiger’ kids in community college

Chinese “tiger mothers,” who demand excellence from their children, are superior to Western moms, claims Amy Chua, a Yale law professor with two high-performing daughters.  More tiger children end up at community colleges than the Ivy League, writes a Pasadena Community College professor. And these kids are depressed by their failure to meet their parents’ unreasonable expectations. Some are suicidal.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Laid-off workers in Iowa are turning to community colleges for retraining, but wait lists are long for programs in health care, welding and other high-demand fields.

LA teacher’s suicide linked to ratings

The apparent suicide of a Los Angeles teacher may be linked to the Los Angeles Times’ value-added ratings. Rigoberto Ruelas, 39, a fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School,  was rated “less effective than average” with average value-added scores in English and below-average scores in math.

A teacher for 14 years, Ruelas was stressed by work and upset by his scores, relatives told KABC-TV.

New crime: Insulting a minor

In response to the suicide of a 17-year-old girl who’d been taunted on social networking sites, a New York county would make it a crime to repeatedly insult a minor, writes lawblogger Eugene Volokh. Bad idea.

Under Suffolk County Resolution No. 1390–2010, cyber-bullying includes: “taunting; threatening; intimidating; insulting; tormenting; humiliating; disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs, either actual or modified, of a minor; disseminating the private, personal or sexual information, either factual or false, of a minor; or sending hate mail….”

Volokh, a UCLA law professor, comes up with some examples:

1. You post several items on your Web site about how some juvenile criminal is an awful person. You’re guilty of “repeatedly committing acts of abusive behavior” — namely, “insulting” ” — “against a minor” by “posting statements on the internet.”

2. A 17-year-old finds that her 17-year-old boyfriend is cheating on her. She sends him two e-mails calling him a “lying, cheating scum.” She’s guilty of repeatedly “insulting” the other person, and perhaps “sending hate mail.”

3. A 17-year-old e-mails her friend several times about her having had sex with a 17-year-old boy. She is guilty of “disseminating the private … sexual information” (even though “factual”) “of a minor” — the fact that the boy had had sex with her.

The suicide of Alexis Pilkington doesn’t justify “turning a wide range of normal — and, in some instances, constitutionally protected — behavior into a crime,” argues Volokh. The law must be written much more precisely and narrowly.

Bullies charged after classmate's suicide

Nine Massachusetts teenagers face charges for bullying a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide. Two boys are accused of  statutory rape; a group of Mean Girls are charged with  stalking, criminal harassment and violating the victim’s civil rights.

Insults and threats followed 15-year-old Phoebe Prince almost from her first day at South Hadley High School, targeting the Irish immigrant in the halls, library and in vicious cell phone text messages.

Phoebe, ostracized for having a brief relationship with a popular boy, reached her breaking point and hanged herself after one particularly hellish day in January — a day that, according to officials, included being hounded with slurs and pelted with a beverage container as she walked home from school.

Phoebe’s mother had complained to school officials about the bullying to no avail.

In Massachusetts, public anger was turning from the Mean Girls  — so mean they left vicious comments on Phoebe’s Facebook memorial page — to the teachers who repeatedly failed to protect Phoebe, but were not charged criminally.

District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said Phoebe’s persecution was “common knowledge” at the school, and even witnessed by teachers, who said nothing.

South Hadley parents have formed an anti-bullying group. Massachusetts is considering an anti-bullying law.

It was a dark and stormy life

Young-adult fiction is taking “a dark turn,” writes Katie Roiphe in the Wall Street Journal. But tales of suicide, car wrecks, anorexia and kids fighting to the death for survival aren’t depressing, compared to teens’ other reading choices.

Given the grim story lines, not to mention absence of designer shoes and haircuts that readers of lighter young adult titles are accustomed to, it’s easy to assume that this new batch of young-adult books peddles despair. In fact, the genre is more uplifting than the fizzy escapism that long dominated the young adult marketplace. Today’s bestselling authors are careful to infuse the final scenes of these bleak explorations with an element of hope: The heroine wins the hunger games and does not die, Lia is headed toward recovery at the end of “Wintergirls,” Mia decides to live at the end of “If I Stay,” and Clay reaches out to another desperately unhappy girl in “Thirteen Reasons Why,” in the hope of saving her from Hannah’s fate.

. . . As alarming as these books are, there is in all of this bleakness a wholesome and old-fashioned redemption that involves principles like triumph over adversity and affirmations of integrity. In the end, these investigations of personal disaster are much less depressing than the “Gossip Girl” knockoffs which initially seem frolicky and fun but are actually creepy and morally bereft and leave you feeling utterly hopeless.

I’ve never read any of these books. Are they any good? In my day we had to make do with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.