Today as I logged on to my facebook, my home page was littered with some of the most ridiculous status updates I’ve ever read. As usual, they were from younger acquaintances of the high school age. Admittedly, I have to say that sometimes these updates are the highlight of my day (as embarrassing/unfortunate as that is) because they are just so amusingly silly. I love reading about how shockingly awful it was that Lauren was talking to Joey instead of Steve at last nights party; or about how difficult life has been since Maddie’s boyfriend of four days dumped her for someone else. Sometimes, these updates are just so ridiculous and so entertaining, I can usually count on them to provide a good laugh. Sometimes. Other times, it is a whole different story. Other times, these updates are filled with such cruelty, and downright meanness that it just astounds me. The way these high school girls talk to each other through facebook, twitter, formspring, etc. is sometimes nothing short of horrific. And every time it makes me think, I am so glad I am not in high school anymore. I don’t know how I’d even survive what some of these kids are going through.
As I started thinking more about this issue, and what I was going to do as a future educator to help stop it, I couldn’t help but think back to a show they used to air on MTV called If You Really Knew Me. It was a reality show that traveled to different high schools across the country in an effort to decrease bullying, stereotyping, cliques, and drama through uniting students by giving them the opportunity to get to know each other on a very personal level. This is how it worked. First, they would have everyone meet in the auditorium where they would introduce these issues to the students, and talk about how increasingly harmful they have become in society nowadays. They would talk about the detrimental effects of bullying and stereotyping, and the problem of the apparent lack of respect in students’ attitudes toward each other. After this, they would have the students break off into small groups of about 6-8 people. Each group was made up of individuals from entirely different cliques/stereotypes who knew each other, but hardly at all. The awkwardness the students felt was immediately evident in their actions; they were completely out of their comfort zones. Then, the creators of the show proceeded to tell the students that they were going to basically share their life stories with their group members including their most difficult hardships, hurtful experiences, and even deepest secrets. Obviously, the thought of sharing all this, especially with with people who were practically strangers, put the students on edge and things were tense at first. However, after the first person got the ball rolling, it seemed to get easier and easier. Each student in the group began telling their story, from their own perspective, with all the details, and secrets that no body else ever knew. The jock broke down in tears describing his difficult home life, and his dad’s addiction to alcohol. The popular girl revealed her problem with cutting due to depression. The girl who was morbidly obese sobbed about the judgment and alienation she felt at school every single day. The class clown sadly detailed the many challenges of being gay.
Every group started off as practically strangers; but over the course of just a few hours, gained a whole new respect for one another and even formed strong friendships . They shared their stories, their struggles, their secrets. They cried together. They offered support to each other. And they encouraged each other to keep on going. It was like every person had stepped into the shoes of individuals from every clique or stereotype, gained a new understanding, and new perspective on how they relate to and treat one another.
Even though this was an MTV reality show and I do not mean to glorify it in the slightest, I do think it was actually a really good idea. And I think it was incredibly effective (at least from what I can see). It really seemed to have a huge impact on these kids’ behaviors and attitudes, and ultimately really seemed to help solve the issue of bullying in these specific schools.
This is what I want to do with the students at my future school. And if I’m not allowed permission to conduct it in the auditorium with the entire student body, I at least would like to do it in my classroom with my own students. I think learning about people’s backgrounds, and personal struggles and experiences really does offer a new perspective for the people who previously judged or bullied those students, and often changes their attitude/behavior towards them. I’m not saying it works for everyone or it works every time, and obviously it won’t stop bullying completely, but I do think it helps. I think it’s effective in decreasing the severity of these issues and I think it’s something that’s absolutely worth trying. High school isn’t easy. I believe it’s our job as future teachers to do what we can to help. And this could be a great place to start.