Dear Sociology Class,
Thank you so much for having me in your class yesterday. The discussion has been on my mind all night. How can I explain to you how things have changed? Sadly, I have gotten so used to the changes that it has taken me some thought to remember how things were before Columbine and 9/11.
When I started teaching in 1983, I was only 21 years old….barely older than my high school students at that time. I was concerned that they would not take me seriously, that I would not appear “adult” enough to them. School violence was never, ever a concern.
We spoke yesterday about some of the changes: locked doors, ID badges, escape plans.I don’t think we spoke about the real changes.
In 1983, in school, students were afraid of bad grades, phone calls home, the principal and at worst, and rarely, a bloody nose or a black eye from a bully. There was still gossip, of course, occasional fights and the usual high school drama. There were still cliques and kids where loners. But the idea was that high school was temporary, and if you were miserable, it would eventually get better or you would get out. People that didn’t like school, for whatever reason, dealt with it by finding things outside of school that they liked much better.
In 2015, in schools across America, things are different. Here, we are lucky. I think that we believe ourselves to be “protected” from what “other” schools deal with. Things like:
Public humiliation of a targeted individual
Student suicide precipitated by the above
Student suicide in general
An attack by an intruder
A school shooting by a student
I have been following these trends for my entire teaching career. I have attended workshops, listened to speakers, read articles, followed studies. No one has definitively determined why
But I’d still like to know…….What has changed? Can we change it for the better?
These are changes that I have observed and that I have my own personal opinions about…..they may help you to get a better understanding….
Technology is a wonderful thing. But….Before technology was readily available; we entertained ourselves in other ways. We hung out with friends. We interacted with people. We learned how to get along if we had to, or wanted to. We learned how to settle arguments. We learned to forgive. We learned to move on. If you held a grudge, you were lonely.
Were there still “loners”? Yes, but not nearly as many, nor were they loners for as long. They also found hobbies, interests and other activities that helped them to feel worthwhile and valuable over time.
Technology not only allows, but encourages us to disconnect from others. When students start using cell phones, tablets, computers etc. for entertainment at an early age, they miss out on years’ worth of human interaction….interaction that teaches them their own value and the value of others.
In the 1980’s movies were only available in theaters. Theaters readily enforced the PG and R guidelines. If you weren’t the right age, you didn’t get in. There were only a few local channels (three here if you were lucky) to watch. Nothing of debatable content was shown before 9 pm….often not before 11 pm. There just wasn’t media to watch.
We talked, we played cards, we played board games, we wrote letters, we had pen pals, we built forts/tree houses, we babysat, we mowed lawns, we took care of people’s animals, we joined school clubs, we joined church groups, we went to the beach, we rode bikes (all the time, everywhere), We threw the football around, we played “hot-box” for baseball skills, we shot hoops, played HORSE, we swam, we drew, we sewed, we crocheted, we washed cars, we picked vegetables…..
We didn’t watch much tv. We rarely saw movies…and it was a big deal..and often a family affair. R rated movies were reserved for adults.
The “action” film genre didn’t really take off until the 1980’s. Prior to that it was against film policy to show the actual killing. The views did not see bullets entering the body or blood exiting. The “slasher” genre became popular in the 1980’s as well, as the home movie genre grew. Imagine, en entire population of young people who have never seen the Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Scream, Friday the 13th, Saw, or Hostel films. Now we can watch television series’ (Dexter, etc.) on a regular basis in the comfort of our living rooms. How does it change the mindset and perspective of a young person to see these on a regular basis? These are questions we have to ask ourselves.
Shooter video games
These games were not available, on a wide scale, until the late 1990’s. Many studies have been done on this issue, and you may have your own opinion on them. However, their prevalent use by teenagers coincides with the increase of school shootings. That is enough for me. Although “pretend”, they reward players for violent killings. Why would we want that? Why would we pay money for that? Why would we want to encourage that?
Very large percentages of teenagers are skilled at these games, which are used, quite effectively to train police officers and our military. Whether or not this is why students have become shooters is up for debate. However, it has been proven that it is the reason that student shooters are extremely accurate and responsible for abnormally high death counts. That is something we need to pay attention to.
Thirty years ago teens were interested in sports, books, carpentry, music, farming, earning money, repairing cars, creating fashion, and well….many other things that your generation is interested in as well….but they were not interested in racking high scores in games that kill (very realistic, fake) people.
Please don’t think that teenagers didn’t have problems. They did. A ton of them. The world wasn’t perfect either. Hunger, violence, fear, poverty…although things existed. But they were not glorified. They were not entertainment. We didn’t pay large amounts of money and spend hours of our lives to delve deeply into the dark, ugly and deadly.
Beginning in the late 1970’s, humor in movies and television took a decided turn. Sit-coms began to insert more and more sarcasm. It didn’t used to be funny to insult or mock other people. Now the primary form of humor is just that: making fun of or saying mean things about others. The second most popular topic for humor is extreme stupidity. Over the past few years, when I have asked high school students what their favorite movie of all time is, the number one answer has been, “The Hangover”.
Now I’m not saying that the movie isn’t funny, but I’d like you to think about what makes it funny….for high school students:
Grown men who have had so much to drink they cannot remember what they did nor where their friend (who was also drunk) has gone.
They used student field trip money to finance the trip.
Grown men who lie to their spouses/girlfriends/fiancée about their behavior.
One of the men drugs the others.
They are taking care of a baby…no idea where it came from. (Other things are done to the baby I can not and will not mention here, but which are NOT funny)
And a million other things that I won’t discuss with high school students…..
It is worth noting that this is the kind of movie that a vast majority of my students name as their “favorite movie of all time.” What does this say about what we honor and enjoy as a society? What does it say about what we want to encourage? What does this say about what we want young people to honor? What does this say about society when even middle schoolers have watched and enjoyed this movie on a regular basis?
How does this type of media exposure affect how young people look at the world?
Think about the films and tv programs that are most popular in your age group……How many of them base their appeal and/or their humor on making fun of others, people being irresponsible or people getting hurt?? Popular comedians? Do you know any that don’t base their humor on these issues?
We talk about bullying as if it is something bad, (and it is) however, look at what else we honor:
Comedy that makes fun of others
Comedy that embarrasses others
Violent video games
Is it any wonder that bullying has evolved to become such a powerful and dangerous issue?
What other questions should we ask ourselves about the society we live in? Sadly, the last 30 years of adults have not paid very close attention to this question and it has made life much more difficult for all of you.
What do you want for the society that you and your children will live in?
The life you live now, the things you value now, the things you invest your money and time in now will determine the future. Believe that.