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Friday, May 25, 2012

3 Great Questions for Discussions Around Bullying

Remember when driving drunk was a minor offense?  It was legal to harass someone?  Moon someone??  There is no doubt that while many new laws have made our lives safer and more civilized, there are many people who think that the rush to legislate personal decisions (like helmet and seat belt laws) curtails our rights and should be left up to the individual.  Others think that clearer laws are necessary to keep up with the times. 
Recent headlines have turned this debate towards bullying, specifically cyberbullying.   This is a great opportunity to turn the question over to your students to help them develop respect for different points of view, think critically and speak and write persuasively.  This week Dharun Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail for webcam spying on his college roommate who killed himself in the aftermath.   There are many different perspectives on the outcome of this trial, and many thought that the charges did not fit the crime.    
Should more laws be written to deal specifically with cyberbullying?  Viewpoints range from “not every tragedy should lead to prison” to “privacy invasions last forever.”Why not have your students examine these different perspectives – legal, psychological, cultural- as they apply to bullying?  Room for Debate  is a discussion forum of the New York Times that can provide your students with great written essays from knowledgeable professionals reflecting these perspectives and more on Cyberbullying and a Student Suicide. 
Should offensive opinions and hurtful statements be protected by the First Amendment?  How about having students look at bullying through the lens of the First Amendment?  How do you distinguish between free speech and bullying?  Where is the line between free speech and harassment? Do state bullying mandates leave any wiggle room for common sense?  This Edweek article “Groups Urge Balance Between Censoring, Stopping Bullies  can provide students with highlights of the recently published guidelines “Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression:  Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools."
What do you think should be done about bullying? 
How about having your students look at different student perspectives?   Common Sense Media provides the lesson “Taking Perspectives on Cyberbullying” featuring video clips of the Friday Night Lights TV show, providing a lesson plan complete with student worksheets and  video clips.  (caution:  may only be appropriate for older students due to clip content)

You can have students practice civil discourse on these issues practicing good digital citizenship using the SCAN tool at TregoED.  Just register and set up the free cyberbullying lesson for the private URL for your class.   Students will read the cyberbullying scenario and discuss the issues and possible solutions guided by the SCAN problem solving strategy (See the issues, clarify the issues, Ask what’s important and Now, what should be done?) from the built in different points of view.  SCAN is a great way to teach students civil discourse and empathy as they represent the point of view of parents, teachers, administrators and bullied student and collaborate on solutions.

The question remains, do we need to use the criminal justice system to battle cyberbullying or would teaching civility and respect be a more effective solution?  Either way, discussing the question can help students practice those attributes, while they learn to think critically, read and write on this relevant and authentic topic. 

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