Archive - Mar 2011
On June 6, 1966, Robert F. Kennedy delivered his famous Ripple of Hope speech in Cape Town, South Africa. The famous line from that speech is:
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
A decade earlier, Rosa Parks sat down for an ideal; her ripple of hope joining with others to bring about the civil rights movement. Yet neither Robert nor Rosa have ended oppression. It still exists in many forms today.
One form of oppression in our country today is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a disease rampant in our country. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a report, The Impact of Social Media Use on Children, Adolescents and Families which describes Cyberbulling as “the most common online risk for all teens” and “is quite common, can occur to any young person online, and can cause profound psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and, tragically, suicide.”
Here in Connecticut, it is also a concern of the State Legislature as they consider SB 1138, An Act Concerning The Strengthening of School Bullying Laws. Recent news reports have asked whether bullying has played a role in a shooting in West Hartford and a runaway in Orange. It is a concern in schools across our state, and a new group of heroines are addressing the issue in new ways.
Logan West, named Connecticut's Outstanding Teen of 2010 has been going around the state speaking at different schools as part of her program, “Bully Proof: Empowering Children Today to Prevent Bullying Tomorrow.”
Alye Pollack posted a powerful video about bullying on YouTube. It has already been viewed over 40,000 times and liked by nearly 2,000 people.
Monique McClain received a message on her MySpace page which included,
“I fucking hate yhu with all my heart. Yhur a bitch & I just wanna like ughh. Yhur a fucking snitch &+I just wanna like beat you the fuck up."
She has testified in front of the Board of Education in her town about the bullying and is fighting to get a safe education. These young women are the Rosa Parks, spreading ripples of hope in the battle against cyberbulling.
Yet the schools that are supposed to be providing safe educational environments seem to be a major contributor to the problem. The Middletown school district appears intent on spending large amounts of taxpayer money to lawyers to defend their inaction, instead of doing their job in seeking to provide a safe educational environment.
About Westport, where Alye is from, a blogger from the Hartford Courant comments,
I have to make just one editorial aside about School Superintendent Elliott Landon's comment that he was "surprised" about learning of Pollack's plight. And then adding the tried-and-true pat statement... "I don't know why it was not brought to school officials' attention sooner."
My bet is some adult at the school had some degree of knowledge that Pollack was being harassed. And my question to Landon and any other "school official" (including those quoted from West Hartford's Conard High following the off-school grounds shooting) who are "so surprised" when something like this surfaces, when was the last time you got out of your chair and walked the hallways of your schools?
In Southington, where Logan is from, she was told to become “friends” with the people bullying her. The Hartford Courant reports
Without school support, the bullying continued, until it finally escalated to the point where West's bullies threw chewed-up food at her during lunch. West threw rice back. The main bully then punched her in the face, and they were both suspended for two days.
The Southington schools failed in their attempt to deal with bullying just as the Middletown schools are currently failing. However, Logan has survived and grown. As she speaks to different students, she has them do an exercise.
For one exercise, West puts a paper doll named Lizzy at the front of the classroom and gets volunteers to come up and say something mean to her. After they insult Lizzy, they tear off a piece of her body. Then West tells them that Lizzy is "torn to pieces" and asks them to apologize for what they said. As they apologize, they also help tape Lizzy back together.
"In the end, she's not nearly the same. I try to explain to them that when you say something mean to someone, their arm may not fall off, but inside, a piece of them is being torn," says West. "Even when you apologize, you'll never be 100 percent put back. They need to understand that their words really do have an effect on people."
It is a striking example, but there is something that isn’t mentioned. The tape, while never fully repairing the damage, actually makes the paper doll stronger. Logan is stronger. I don’t think she, Alye or Monique ever wanted to become the heroine’s of a movement to stop bullying, but that is the opportunity for each of them. The Courant article ends off with this quote from Logan:
"I know I'm only one person. At the time, I was 14. I couldn't do much. But it only took me to tell somebody else who told somebody else," West says. "As a nation, as a community, we need to understand the effects of bullying, make sure that our youth don't have to go through that. If you can prevent it, do it."
One person reaching out to another; more ripples of hope. On April 26th, the Connecticut Commission on Human rights and Opportunities is sponsoring “Kids’ Speak” as an opportunity for students across the state to come together and discuss topics related to civil and human rights. One of the issues to be addressed is bullying. I hope Logan, Alye and Monique will carry the spirit of Rosa Parks with them to this event and that those who support the mighty walls of oppression through their inaction and stonewalling will realize the foolish futility of the efforts.
Yesterday, The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report, The Impact of Social Media Use on Children, Adolescents and Families. Since I am the social media manager at a health center, this was a big topic for me today. I haven’t had a chance to closely read the report, but there are a few things that I want to highlight.
In the press release, the AAP provided links to three YouTube videos of one of the co-author’s of the report talking about it. This is an illustration of some of the benefits of social media. Indeed, the AAP report seems to balance very well the benefits and risks for social media and has some important things to recommend, including
- Advise parents to talk to children and adolescents about their online use and the specific issues that today’s online kids face, such as cyberbullying, sexting, and difficulty managing their time.
- Advise parents to work on their own “participation gap” in their homes by becoming better educated about the many technologies their children are using.
Many people think that the dangers of social media to kids is around online predators. I think the AAP is wise to focus on much more pervasive dangers such as cyberbullying and sexting, as well as the time management issues.
I also applaud the AAP for advising parents to work on their own participation gap. If parents are going to be effective in talking with their kids about social media, they need to roll up their sleeves, kick around social media, and understand the issues.
I don’t know if the report goes to the next logical step, but I think there is an important followup. Not only must parents work on their participation gap, but medical providers must as well. Related to that, health organizations need to address these gaps. The place I work, I believe, is well ahead of the curve, as I speak with people about social media policies and educating providers about social media. However, many institutions block providers from accessing social media, and I believe that such blocking makes it harder for pediatricians and other providers to really understand, and effectively communicate with their patients about social media, the way AAP suggests pediatricians should urge parents to talk with their children about social media.
This morning, I received an email which included a copy of a letter saying:
Dear Attorney Chinni:
Despite repeated requests, the Middletown Board of Education, Woodrow Wilson Middle School, and now their counsel, which is your office, has refused to provide Monique McClain’s Homework Packet.
Therefore, my office has instructed a State Marshal to go to the Board of Education this Tuesday, March 29, 2011, to pick up Monique McClain’s Homework Packet.
While it is disappointing to see that things have progressed this far, the use of State Marshall’s to enforce a child’s right to a good education is not surprising. What surprised me was the attorney that was being addressed.
Attorney Christine Chinni represented the Lewis Mill High School in Burlington, CT in the famous Doninger V. Schwartz & Niehoff lawsuit. It is a lawsuit that continues to wind its way through the courts nearly four years since I started covering it.
Early on, people wondered why the school board insisted in continuing to pay high lawyer fees to Chinni instead finding a reasonable settlement and a better way of meeting the educational needs of their students. In her handling of that case, she was admonished by the FOIC
Commission Chairman Andrew O'Keefe, a highly-regarded Hartford lawyer, admonished attorney Christine Chinni Wednesday for her clumsy tap dance last year to sidetrack production of write-in ballots in a stolen election at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington.
The article, FOI To Chinni: Don't Pull That Maneuver Again goes on to say:
Meanwhile, Chinni attempted to delay production of the uncensored billing records for her firm by another week. After discussion with the commission, she agreed to mail them by Monday, June 16, 2008. Those records are public documents and available for inspection by anyone. They should have been produced on Aug. 1, 2007.
Perhaps the Doninger case may be coming to a close and Chinni is searching for a new Board of Education sponsored cash cow to milk. The Middletown Board of Education might want to take a close look at how well Chinni represented Lewis Mill High School, and the total costs and determine if they want to go down a similar path of spending money on legal bills instead of on providing a safe quality education to the children of Middletown.
Note: The opinions expressed above are my personal opinions.
Life is complicated, but that is also what makes it beautiful. Yet unfortunately, we do not often enough hear the stories of life’s beauty and complexity. The stories don’t fit into the news or sitcoms of mass media, except rarely in some special news of the weird section.
Yet life is made of stories of hurt and triumph, which I stumble across more and more in my daily life. Some of it is work related where I gather stories of people whose lives have been touched by the Community Health Center. These are people that have battled dysfunctional families, homelessness, difficulties with the law. They have fought health issues, often hypertension, or diabetes which threatens their life and limb. They have struggled with obesity as the try to find places to get affordable healthy food in the inner city.
Others are people that I’ve met online or at various gatherings who have fought cancer, either in themselves or cancer attacking their loved ones. They have fought other debilitating and terminal diseases. They have dealt with cyberbulling.
Many of these stories end up partaking in the Hero Myth, stories of victory over difficult circumstances bringing wisdom and a chance to share the experiences with others. Back at the end of the sixties, there was a brief lived television show called Then Came Bronson. The forty second anniversary of the airing of the pilot was earlier this week The hero of the show was Jim Bronson, a newspaper reporter who became disillusioned after the suicide of his best friend. He takes off on a motorcycle to rediscover himself and through out the episodes enters the lives of others, bringing healing as they confront their issues.
Now, journalists are looking for new ways to gather and tell the stories of our country, and they might want to look at Jim Bronson. They might also want to look at Darius Weems. Darius has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and a friend of his made a movie about taking Darius on a 7,000 mile journey across the country to promote awareness of the disease.
Darius captures the hero myth and the movie has won numerous awards. Recently, I was speaking with a friend whose brother had cerebral palsy. He had commented about how his brother had been over protected by his caring and well meaning parents. The story of Darius came to mind.
This leads me to Rebecca Black. Rebecca is the thirteen year old girl that paid $2,000 to get a music video produced that was panned so badly that it became an Internet sensation. In an interview, she said, “Those hurtful comments really shocked me,.. At times, it feels like I’m being cyberbullied.”
On the one hand, it seems very different from cyberbulling cases you often hear about where kids are harassed to the point of heaving their schools or committing suicide. Yet there is something very similar. It is the story of a young girl trying to do something special, to stand out, only to have the crowds go against her.
As I read her story, my mind drifted to Thus Spake Zarathustra. In the prologue of the famous work, Zarathustra presents the idea of the Superman. “Man is something that is to be surpassed.” It is an idea that many of my cyber-idealist friends long for, a networked technology enabled superman, perhaps part of the ‘singularity’.
Yet Zarathustra goes on to talk about the rope-walker saying “Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman- a rope over an abyss." The rope-walker falls, perhaps analogous to the fail of Rebecca Black and Zarathustra tells the rope-walker, “thou hast made danger thy
calling; therein there is nothing contemptible.” The same needs to be said to Rebecca.
We live in a society that distrusts and laughs at “the other”, whether it be a young aspiring musician willing to take chances and put everything on the line, a young man with a terminal disease raising awareness of the disease, or people that struggle with dysfunctions in their lives and the lives of their families.
Life is complicated, but that is also what makes it beautiful. The stories of Rebecca, Darius, Bronson and Nietzsche may be laughed at by some, but they can bring healing and help us all become better people.
It brings me back to Woody Allen’s famous joke from Annie Hall about the person who goes to the shrink saying his brother thinks he’s a chicken. The doctor suggests bringing the brother in, and the man says, we’d like to, but we really need the eggs.
Woody Allen goes on to say,
Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs.
I guess that’s pretty much how I feel about stories on the Internet as well, as well as the stories heard over coffee and other places when people open up their hearts. All of our lives are totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd. Yet it is these stories that make us human, that make us interesting, that make us beautiful. This is where social media can come in, we can share our stories and help those around us be healthier and happier. The Social Media Superman.
I guess I need the eggs as well.