Category Archives: managing behavior

Maine denies LGBT families rights; where does this leave youth?

Two Grooms wedding cake topper

Yesterday, Maine voters narrowly repealed our recent law allowing same-sex marriage.

It is a travesty of human rights for some people to define how other families should live, and I am suffering an election hangover this morning. Lots of us are. But, according to poll data, not quite enough of us. It is heart breaking and such a shame that, essentially, one minority in Maine — the supposedly religiously fervent — have led the stripping of an essential right (or, perhaps more accurately, a bundle of rights) from another minority of the population. I am appalled; I had such hope for this to be upheld in Maine…..

As much as it directly affects those who want their families to be recognized like everyone else’s, I worry about how it will affect youth: will homophobic youth be emboldened in schools to increase homophobic language and behaviors? Will LGBTQI youth feel more persecuted than usual? Will the children of same-sex couples be targeted more than they have been?

Equally important is whether schools will be on the lookout for this. The kids will know what’s going on; will the adults charged with protecting them?

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The ethics of TV ‘experiments’

Macon, over at Stuff White People Do, picked up on the ABC show “What Would You Do?“, specifically an episode on racism in public settings and how people respond. It is in some ways reminiscent of some early ‘instigation research’ where researchers purposefully instigated some conflict to see how people would respond.

Macon tackles the issues of racism and white apathy, so I’ll largely leave that aspect to him, even though it is germane to this blog also.

Beyond that obvious issue, however, the concerns I immediately hit upon were those of human subjects in a research setting. All research that takes place which involves human subjects must be approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). IRBs function under the Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP), which basically is checking to be sure that researchers are not doing anything unethical, as in the classic Tuskegee Siphilis Case (which ran from 1932 to 1972 and, interestingly, the last widow to receive reparation payments after the Tuskegee case just died about two months ago). So if all research has to have oversight when human subjects are used, several questions arise about what the host of this TV program describes as an “experiment”:

  • Who approved this ‘study’? Does it have any IRB oversight?
  • Have they even thought about informed consent? Doubtful considering how upset several participants were.
  • What about debriefing? Every time I watched the film crew follow one set of people out on the street to do a post-interview, I wondered about all the other customers who were not interviewed and debriefed and who just slipped out the side and wandered off into their lives, unaware that what they’d been through was a con.
  • What about the effect on people of color? This ‘experiment’ is ostensibly to see how people would (or would not) respond, but people of color have no need to have this sort of store-front racism shoved in their faces since they are, in fact, living this reality every day.
  • Were participants compensated for their time, their discomfort, their trauma?

One of the questions IRBs consider when looking at a potential piece of research that involves human subjects is whether it stands to increase knowledge. Aside from the fact that most all people of color can testify that this is the reality in stores everywhere, upscale or down, there is also quite a lot of research that shows this as well. So what do we learn from ABC’s ‘experiment’ that we didn’t know before?

Another IRB question is whether a given piece of research does harm. Watching the responses by some participants (and only the ones that they chose to show, even thought the voiceover cites ‘more than a hundred’ people they filmed), I think it’s fair to say that, yes, it did harm: many people were really upset with what they witnessed. And what about the people who left the store but didn’t get caught by the film crew…. many of them may be left with the idea that this behavior is acceptable and appropriate, especially by someone with authority (the store security guard), because that’s what the silence of bystanders encourages.

And by silence of bystanders, I mean both the white people in the store who said and did nothing, but also those people accosted by the film crew who said and did nothing to stop this sham.

Unfortunately, the silence of bystanders is one of the strongest reinforcements for bullies, domestic and dating violence perpetrators, and people everywhere who would hold power over others.

This is the reason why all schools should be talking about talking: what do you say or do when you see or hear bullying? If we’re not talking about it in schools, youths grow up to be the callous adults who say nothing in episodes of “What Would You Do?”, as well as in the pre-production meetings of shows like “What Would You Do?”, as well as in their day-to-day lives.

So how are we talking to youth about their moral and ethical responsibilities to each other in our culture?

Boys of Color

The Rand Corporation, subcontracted to the California Endowment, has released a big study of inequities for boys and young men of color in California. Much of it is statistical evidence of what we already know: compared to white boys, boys of color have much lower educational attainment, grow up around more violence (exposure to violence outside of the home? Latinos are 2.1 times, African-Americans are 3 times more likely (p.19)), are more likely to die by homicide (Latinos are 5.1 times, African-Americans are 16.4 times more likely (p.19)), are more likely to be incarcerated (Latinos 2.1 times, African-Americans 5.5 times more likely (p.19)), have worse health (PTSD? Latinos are 4.1 times, African-Americans are 2.5 times more likely; HIV and AIDS? Latinos are 3.1 times, African-Americans are 6.9 times more likely), etc. etc. etc.

So much for a post-racial country.

These boys and young men are growing up in a world dramatically different than what the average white boy grows up in. Which is not to say that no white boys grow up like this, nor to say that all boys of color grow up like this, just that many more boys of color grow up like this than white boys, and these boys tend to struggle in school.

Teachers have, off and on, been known to write off some of these students: “I can’t get to him,” “he’s just too disruptive for my classroom,” or “if his parents are not going support his schooling and homework and studying, what can I do?” I am not arguing that there are not cases of students who simply cannot function in school, but many of these ‘excluded students’ can be taught, just not necessarily in the way their school functions. Many of these excluded students are students of color, judging in part from the statistics in the Rand Corporation report.

Learner-centered teaching and other related theories over the past couple of decades have talked about changing teaching dynamics to meet more students where they are (also see Howard Gardner’s theories), and this Rand Report echoes some of these changes in education:

Learning Using Non-Didactic Approaches. A final example of a practice that is represented among many of the effective program models is the recognition that participant learning should take place through experiential approaches, such as role-playing, rather than through didactic approaches, such as straight lecturing. (page 26)

One of the reasons we need to fund our schools fully is that, once we make the needed repairs to the physical structures of many schools so they are physically safe places, we need to focus on supporting teachers in redeveloping curricula to meet students where they are. In Teacher Man, Frank McCourt talks of having five classes of forty students each, and a 200 student load is simply too much to allow a teacher to give students feedback on their work, challenge each student appropriately, and return work in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, too many of those boys of color are being taught by this sort of over-worked teacher who can barely keep up with the grading and testing requirements, let alone engaging each student individually.

Political Meddling in Youth

When the economy tanks, some people work on helping each other out, and some look for how to mask their agendas.

In Georgia, some State House members are questioning why Georgia’s University System is supporting faculty with listed expertise in topics they don’t understand or maybe agree with, like oral sex. Aside from the fact that this is a terrific example of why we need the institution of tenure to protect faculty from meddling politicians, I have a major issue with this particular example.

In today’s youth culture, much has been made of changing attitudes in sex among youth, and how oral sex is not seen by many youth as being ‘real sex’. Georgia does not apparently collect sexual activity data, but here in Maine, 17% of 8th grade students have had sex, and in Alabama, which I picked just because it’s next door to Georgia, nearly 51% of 6-12th graders have had sex.

The reality is that nearly a third of 15-17 year-olds in this country have had sex. According to 2002 numbers from the CDC, 49.1% of 15-19 year-old males have had vaginal intercourse with females, and 55.2% have either given or received oral sex with females (they don’t seem to break out same-sex data with as much detail). For 15-19 year-old females, the numbers are slightly higher (53% vaginal, 54.3% oral).

The one other set of numbers (from the same source) that could be kinda scary is this: of 18-19 year-olds who have never had vaginal sex, 35.3% of females and 30.6% of males have given or received oral sex.

This means that there are tons of sexually active youth out there who may consider themselves “virgins” and, therefore, may ignore information about STDs.

Damn right I want experts in oral sex studying the topic. Ignoring things doesn’t make them go away, and often makes them worse. If we’d only talked about AIDS before it became the AIDS epidemic….

Privilege of sleep

Last night I woke to use the bathroom at about 1:30 and had some trouble falling back to sleep because one of the fire alarms in the hall was emiting periodic chirps to announce a dead battery. This was frustrating because I didn’t want to change the battery then, but also because the chirps were infrequent and irregularly timed, so, even after standing in the hall for 5 minutes, I couldn’t figure out which one was making the infernal sound. I drifted back off, but at 4:00 I was back in the hall changing batteries for both of them just to be sure.

This lack of sleep is affecting me today in both my concentration and brain power; I’m just not firing all cylinders today. It has gotten me thinking (to the degree that I can) about how simply having the quiet space to sleep a full night is a privilege that not everyone has. I think many students who come to school and fall asleep in class or are cranky or who can’t concentrate are likely suffering from other stuff going on in their homes. An abusive household is certainly not conducive to the sense of safety required to allow yourself to drift off to sleep, and fighting parents, lack of heat, having to put your siblings to bed, or having to care for a parent can all put a young person off their sleep patterns.

It’s worth remembering that many of these lives we come in contact with are complex and that their behavior in the classroom is not necessarily a reflection on their teacher or the school. Coping mechanisms developed to respond to home life may not be terribly well suited to school life, and we need to be aware of this and respond from that knowledge. This is also one more reason why so-called zero-tolerance programs are not necessarily effective since they tend to punish students for things that may be beyond their immediate control.

Keeping students safe from each other

These things happen daily at schools everywhere: Boys inappropriately touching girls in the hallway. Often it’s bumping or brushing up against unexpecting and unwilling recipients, but sometimes it’s more overt. In class, a student who gets frustrated by another, might angrily blurt out “you’re a fag!”. Other students might exclaim “don’t be gay!” Any conversation about gender or biology at any point is greeted by nervous laughter and dismissive “jokes.”

On any given day, this is all before lunch.

Welcome to middle school, where being called gay is one of the worst things that can happen and where human biology is something to be ridiculed for and embarrassed by. Much of the rest of the day may be spent figuring out what consequences are appropriate for any of these situations and, of course, trying to figure out what else is going on in these volatile lives to prompt these behaviors and keep them out of further downward spiral.

How do students (at any school) learn in this environment? How do gay and lesbian students concentrate on anything except their own safety in this environment? How does anyone in schools concentrate on content with all this going on in the background? How does anybody survive adolescence?