He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. —Psalm 113:9

June 18, 2010

Hey, Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone!

According to this New York Times article, there's a new trend towards school officials (and camp counselors) discouraging and even actively trying to break up close friendships between children and forcing them to socialize in large groups, the theory being that this way, everybody will be friends with everybody, and this will prevent bullying.

Man. Where to start? My first thought as I read this was that it's an introverted kid's worst nightmare. And then the implication that introversion is a defective state that must be overcome started to make me, a textbook INFP, angry. Not that introverts don't need to learn how to function in an extraverted society, but doing so is both mentally and physically exhausting, and we need those close, one-on-one relationships to recharge us as much as we need time alone to process things. That's not a defect. It's basic wiring, something as fundamental and impossible to change as our skin color. These kids won't have any energy left for learning because they're being forced to use up all of their reserves on being social with too many people at once. And that doesn't even touch on all of the undiagnosed ASD kids out there who are being thrown into overwhelming social situations that they're not equipped to handle.

That's just one of the problems with this scenario. The article (and its commenters) point out several more. But the main problem is that I fail to see how this is supposed to prevent bullying or exclusion. Believe me, it is possible to be excluded within a big group. Ask any kid who's always picked last for kickball. I was bullied and excluded relentlessly growing up, often by big groups of kids. It was the close friendships I developed that helped me survive junior high and high school with my sanity intact. And it was those friends sticking up for me, and eventually helping me learn to stick up for myself, that eventually got the bullying to stop.

I'm not saying that that's the answer. I don't know what is. Here's a confession: the worst thing that was ever done to me was in 10th grade, when three girls held me down on the floor and stapled scraps of paper into my hair, while the rest of the class either watched or kept their heads down and pretended not to see (yes, this happened during class time, while the teacher had stepped out for a few minutes). It was humiliating, and pretty traumatic for a 15 year old girl, but I walked away with no physical damage, and I eventually got over it. This seems like nothing compared to the degree of bullying faced by today's kids, who have to worry about somebody pulling a knife or a gun and just want to literally survive with all of their parts intact. I can't even begin to answer how you deal with that.

But I'm pretty sure the answer isn't denying kids the opportunity to develop close friendships and forcing everybody to make superficial friendships with everybody else. That sounds to me like a recipe for doing more long-term damage than bullying (at least, of the degree kids dealt with back in my day) ever has.

2 comments:

coffeecolouredworld said...

I tell you, these idiot who think a pack mentality is a "good" idea have never seen a pack of kids, specifically teenage girls go after one of their own. I've always maintained the belief that if the government honestly wanted a war to be over in a heart beat all they ever had to do was sic a pack of popular teenaged girls on the dictator. Said dictator would be curled up in a ball begging for a firing squad in . . . less than a week.

Actually preventing best friend pairs from forming is just so far into twilight zone land I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around it. I was an outsider all through high school. My biggest problem, beyond just being "different" was that my bff was 2 states away, at my old school. I may not have suffered physically, but that's only because I learned how to be damned near invisible.

Jean Bauhaus said...

Right? And the thing about cliques is that they're not necessarily all bad. I can see (and agree with) policing the Mean Girl and Tough Jock cliques to keep them from terrorizing the rest of the student body, but a lot of so-called cliques are just kids finding their tribes, which I think is a vital part of adolescent self-discovery. Let's please not homogenize the next generation.

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