Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The World's Great Anguish

"Mourn not the dead that in the cool earth lie, but rather mourn the apathetic throng, the coward and the meek who see the world's great anguish and its wrong, and dare not speak." -Ralph Chaplin

The Megan Meier tragedy has been on my mind a lot lately. Yesterday I took an informal poll of some upper elementary and high school students, hoping to get a sense of their technology use and their awareness of how to be safe online.

Approximately five of forty 5th and 6th graders said they had their own Myspace or Facebook accounts. A few boys said they occasionally posted messages using another person's log-in. When I reminded them that the legal age for signing up for these services is 14 (the oldest of them were 12 years old), they laughed and said that they just clicked on whatever birth year would allow them to join. Many more of them had webkinz virtual pets. The webkinz owners enjoyed the online interaction and didn't seem bothered by the limited messaging that the official site allows.

It was quite a different story with my high school Current Events students. The boys (our sole female class member was absent) estimated that 2/3 of the middle school and high school population belongs to Myspace or Facebook. They seemed to feel reasonably safe online and accept the fact that our school blocks all social networking and most interactive sites.

Since the Meier case is very much in the news lately, I had my class watch an interview with Megan's parents and read some tips from the Department of Homeland Security on Dealing with Cyberbullies. The students' most interesting reactions were in response to some short YouTube clips, prepared by the non-profit Ad Council.

The first video, Cyberbullying Talent Show featured a fresh-faced little girl standing in front of a school assembly, sweetly listing the things wrong with a classmate ("Her dad doesn't work, they have no money, that's why she wears that nasty pink sweater"). In Cyberbullying Kitchen a similar scenario unfolds as one teenager calmly tells her "friend" (ironically named Megan) that "you are a tramp" and the "most desperate girl [he] knows - besides your Mom". The idea being presented in both vignettes was "If you wouldn't say it in person, why say it online?"

My students seemed shocked by the comments, even though their own language occasionally strays from the "school appropriate". Perhaps they hold girls to a different code of behavior, or perhaps hearing such insults being used in front of a teacher made them uncomfortable. The point that words written online can be just as hurtful as words spoken aloud was well made and well taken.

Although I had heard of a girl being harassed online by her classmates last year, none of the boys said they had ever felt uncomfortable or threatened online. I asked them to write their reaction to the Megan Meier case, and these are some of their responses:

"I think that it's very sad. If people weren't such bullies, she'd probably still be alive, to live her life."

"Cyberbullying is a problem. I think it needs to be dealt with. I am not scared by cyberbullying because I think cyberbullies are little woosies trying to act tough on the internet."

"I think that the whole Megan Meier case is just sad. I think that she should have alerted somebody about it. She shouldn't have done what she did. [committed suicide] They should definitely start making laws concerning Myspace, chat rooms, and other stuff like that."

"I have never been bullied or bullied anyone. It is wrong and should be stopped...There should be certain rules and if they're broken, certain punishments should be set up. It is wrong..."

"I think it should be monitored on Myspace and others [sites]. I think the people [who set up the fake "Josh" account] should be prosecuted."

"I think that this case is very sad. I wish that someone could have helped this girl or that she could have figured out what was really going on."

"Cyberbullying is a problem. Megan Meier should not have died."

"Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
-John Donne

"Saddness" by RadoB


Anonymous said...

Diane you are brave. I did not share with my students since it was an odd case (as the bully in this case was an adult that the victim knew, but was unaware was the aggressor.) I did not think the case was representative as cyberbullying, though what case truly is? I did put it on the library blog though, just in case any of them check it. So far no one has. Bullying in general is a huge problem, and it will be difficult to pick cases that are truly representative of the issue. Like you, I will probably use the PSA's you showed your students. But first I have to talk about the subscription databases!

As always great use of quotes, and very eloquently written. Your true talents in writing are shining through.

diane said...


It's easy to be "brave" when I don't have to monitor anything more than online games - our students don't have email or access to social networking sites at school.

This, of course, means that the kids get no real guidance from their teachers and probably little or none from their parents, other than "Don't go there" or "Be careful".

I'm trying to gather information to plead a convincing case to our administration and school board regarding our students' need to be connected but also safe online. That may well be my final crusade before I retire!


Dillon said...

Kudos, Vice.

Thomas Jefferson once said that the man who fears no truth, has nothing to fear from lies.

What you say rings with an air of truth, and most aren't willing to stand up and outright say something like that, or even the concept of cyberbullying.

Diane, quite a great and powerful topic to bring up with your students. Not even Mr. Le Duc has brought this kind of thing up, but then again that's partially because there's a lesser concentration in his tech classes on this.

Consider convincing the School Board to give students the chance to learn responsibility, and not hide everything away. That way there doesn't have to be this immediate feeling of Marshal Law installed with the new 'freedom' of the wonders of web2.0. Challenge themselves to follow the honour rule, but watch in secret and strike after a fair amount of time. No one can be on task 100% of the time anyways.

I'm not going to go into too much on elaboration with this post, because I'm confident you know what I mean especially since you read the GenerationYES blog.

However, I feel obligated. The issue you're bringing to your school board is something close to my values, and at minimum I would like to offer some consul. Preferably by Instant Messenging or Skype if you have either. If not, E-Mail's good too.

I was just wondering if you were interested?