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Bus Monitor, 68, Bullied by Middle Schoolers in Greece, New York-- What is an Appropriate Punishment

Mob Mentality: Reverse it and Use Peer Influence in a Positive Way

Grandmother, Public school bus monitor bullied by students--Greece, New York, A recent article posted by CNN reports about a 68-year-old school bus monitor being verbally abused and harassed by middle schoolers from Greece, New York. Video recorded by a camera phone and later posted online shows students using vulgar language, insults about her weight and income level, taunts, and even physical threats. Initial reaction is total sympathy for this woman mixed with the utter disgust that something so egregious would ever happen to a 68-year-old grandmother. Following these emotions are the thoughts of how these offenders should be punished. And punished they should be.

Their parents may currently not best be suited to handle the situation alone, because they might be part of the problem. This may be an unfair premature judgment—not as unfair as a 68-year-old grandmother being verbally assaulted by students, however. Schools have created policies in attempts to control, or perhaps to simply have a quick reaction for such occurrences, so they are not liable because they can say they have a "strict policy" against such behavior. "Zero Tolerance." What does that even mean? We have zero tolerance for such behavior. Awesome. So we now know that we like this behavior to the level of zero. Now what? With all the that educators are faced with on a daily basis, it is no wonder they are often underequipped to handle these situations. And, honestly, it's not the school's fault. Blame lies with the kids themselves and then their parents need to consider what they have or haven't done. Parents definitely need to be involved. Because schools are illequipped for such occurrences, removal of the perpetrators from school is usually how this starts--whether it is suspension or maybe even expulsion. But, again, what do we do now? The real problem is that these students lack a fundamental understanding of how their actions affect others, what helps and what hurts others--this is known as morality. If you are a moral person, you have high character Immoral, you lack character. These students are clearly lacking character. What they really need is to develop greater character.

Punishment

Simply "sending these kids to their rooms" (or suspending or expelling them) is not going to fix anything. They may be removed from the situation, never to hurt this woman again, but they still lack the character to understand how their actions affect others. And most importantly, how their actions affected this woman. And this lack of consideration and character will presists ino the future. So how do we punish these kids so they learn, change, and improve? First is accountability. They clearly need help developing an understanding how these specific actions hurt this specific person. So they need to apologize to this woman. Second, they need to practice positive alternatives of behavior. Instead of hurting this woman, they need to practice helping her.

A psychologist father once told of an experience he had with his own children regarding "positive alternatives of behavior." He explained how two young siblings repeatedly fought with each other. Repeated verbal correction was apparently not sinking in, so more needed to be done. He said he could've sent the two to their rooms, so at least it would be quiet for him and the rest of the family. Or perhaps they could've been put in "time out" so they would know that this type of behavior is not acceptable. Though very traditional and common acts of discipline, this psychologist understood that these kids needed help learning alternative forms of behavior. So instead of choosing the quiet or traditional methods, he punished them by requiring that they learn to play games together. Punishment without teaching doesn't change the person. They don't develop character. To develop character, you need to practice.

So if the violation is verbally berating this woman--being mean or unkind--then the opposite (alternative), perhaps, would be for these kids to learn a lesson in kindness and compassion. After apologizing to this woman--using apologetic words directly linked to the weak-minded verbal insults they used, these kids should be instructed in helping this woman. Perhaps she needs things cleaned and moved around her house. Or maybe her yard could use a number of youthful hands in sprucing up the place. Or maybe she is part of a social reading group, or volunteer group that could use extra helping hands. Because of nasty they were, it is probably a good idea that their practice with kindness extend further. Whatever the case, these kids obviously need to develop character, they need to be held accountable, and they need it now. Their primary punishment should be practicing kindness and compassion. There is plenty of need in the world so they can get plenty of practice.

Reversing the Mob Mentality

If you have the stomach to watch the full 10 minute video on Youtube, one thing that stood out was there were no, or only weak and fleeting, attempts by other students to stop the attack. Quite the opposite, it appeared that students joined in trying to outdo the last insult with their own pathetic attempt. Not unlike a mob mentality. What is a mob, or herd mentality?


Herd Mentality

This type of mentality can be influenced by things such as peer pressure, conformity, the need for acceptance and the desire for a sense of belonging. These things often cause people who are in groups to behave in ways that are similar to others in the group. For example, a person might choose to listen to different music when in a group of friends than he or she would when alone, because the others might make disparaging remarks if another type of music is chosen. Another example might be a teenager who drinks alcohol or smokes cigarettes because of peer pressure from his or her friends.

Mob Mentality

Other factors come into play when the term "mob mentality" is used to refer to something negative. Two of the main factors are the greater anonymity that exists within a group and the distribution of responsibility for the group's actions. These factors sometimes make a person believe that they can act a certain way within a group and not have the same consequences that the same actions would have if he or she acted alone. For example, if a person is in a group that is vandalizing a building, he or she might believe that there is less of a chance of getting caught than if he or she was acting alone, because it might be difficult to identify every person who was involved. He or she might also feel less guilt because other people also vandalized the property. (Click for site reference.)


If a mob mentality starts by more individuals joining in due to momentum within the group--in this case insulting the bus monitor--then the opposite may also be true. If one, two, or three individuals proceed with insults, with the right kind and amount of character, it only need start with one, two, or three individuals to respond in the opposite and stop the verbal assaults, sit next to or protect the victim, and even turn the attention to the hurtful words of the attackers. With the right tools, a negative influence, mob mentality, can effectively be reversed and good can be achieved. Example, imagine for a moment if immediately when the insults started, one, two or three kids moved in to stop the behavior and offer support to the victim. Then imagine if the entire bus population exhibited character and turned the attention to the negative effects/hurt of these insults and how it needed to stop. The negative momentum and motivations of joining in are ceased and ultimately reversed. Now, the momentum has shifted. This positive peer pressure now dictates that for you to be part of the group, you cease the insults, or you join in the fight to stop them.

This type of positive peer pressure, or peer influence, is one of the most powerful tools in stopping bullying. And when you understand how to organize a group or class--which is not that difficult--it is also a major asset in measurably improving student achievement. Teachers can use positive peer influence to organize their class so acceptable behavior is higher performance.  Teachers can learn how to instruct students in appropriately holding each other accountable to these new standards. Pretty soon, you've created a positive "mob mentality." If I am to fit in, be accepted, or my negative actions/behavior not be singled out, I need to live up to the class standards I agreed to. The results of organizing a class with positive peer influence are impressive.

The fact of the matter is, this type of behavior is not going to stop until we correct, emphasize, and adeqately teach, as parents and teachers, appropriate ways to act and think--academically and socially. Times are changing. Fewer are learning character, hardwork, and consideration for others by "growing up on a farm." We don't necessarily need to work harder, but we certainly need to work smarter. And learning how to correct certain behaviors is the first step. Not doing so, well then, we'll be faced with a mob of students who celebrate the end of the school year by taking 10+ minutes to insult and physically threaten a 68 year old grandmother. Awesome.

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