The Blackboard Jungle (Ultimate Blog Challenge #11)

Ultimate Blog Challenge

  • Yeah, I’ve been beaten up, but I’m not beaten. I’m not beaten, and I’m not quittin’.
    • The Blackboard Jungle, 1955

What makes a bully a bully? Why are some bullied? What responsibility does the school administration have beyond the lip service of  their “No Bullying In This School” (and other such worded programs)? What happens when students are found guilty not by proven facts but through association? What role do parents play in all of this?

Those questions, and more, have entered into my ongoing Process Drama with a couple of 7th grade classes that I am the Teaching Artist for. Taking my jumping off point from the books “The Outsiders” and “The Bully”, I was asked to create a 9 week program that would engage the students on a deeper level. My apologies for using some Wikipedia as defining some work here and there: it’s just the simplest explanations I could find.

We just finished Week 7. I have to tell you up front that I call my Mondays at this school my Pleasure Days.  I love the work the students in these and my other classes have done. They’ve risen to the challenges of the art form and really have surprised me often. That’s a good thing. They’ve made intuitive leaps, shown creative and critical thought, have overall proven themselves to be active listeners, passionately engaged in the material, and struggle to adjust to a world that is and isn’t their own.

The one thing that’s sad is that they sometimes don’t see the bullying that they do without thinking. It’s so ingrained in some of them. How they put down each other: mostly ribbing, but there are some cutting remarks. I had a visitor today observing me: an Asian woman, who heard, upon entering, a disparaging remark about her heritage. I did not find out about that until later, and will use that the next time I see them. They don’t get verbal bullying as the power it has.

From the beginning, I had planned this day. Previously, the class had been split into Five groups: The Bullies, The Bullied Students, The Parents of the Bullies, The Parents of the Bullied, and The School (Principal, VP, Guidance Counselors, Teachers). They’ve been in role all these weeks. Today was my day to really mess with their minds (a remark I made on Facebook that got a lot of fun responses to):

I switched their roles for today, changing their POV: The Bullies became the Bullied, and visa versa. I moved the “adult” groups around: The Parents of the Bullies became the The School; The Parents of the Bullied became The Parents of the Bullies; The School became The Parents of the Bullied (might be hard to figure without a scorecard/graph, but you’ll get it). No one had the same role they’ve been playing for so many weeks.

The outcome: both classes got into it (the second class I was more focused and it went smoother); there were some interesting comments from the POVs; some still kept up the persona they had in the other role, but spoke IN the new POV; some were obviously confused in this, but added some great information in the confusion.We ended with a discussion about how it felt to be the “other side”, what difference does it make in seeing things from a different point of view. They gave great answers. BTW..their teacher is a wonderful cooperative collaborative teacher. I’ll ask him another time if he minds if I name him. But..a great partner.

The shame of all this is it’s only 45 mins once a week. They really are going full bloom..and we have to stop. Part of the ongoing work of this is that they have to Journal after every session, IN CHARACTER VOICE, and what’s been written really shows how deeply some of them are thinking. I’m always jazzed when I leave the school, wanting to come back for more.

The bigger shame: some people don’t see any worth in Arts In Education. I wish they would come to my classes. I have something to educate them on.

Doubter/Naysayer In Role?

What do you think?

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lynn Dorman, Ph.D.
    Apr 11, 2011 @ 23:04:44

    Ah yes bullying and short classes. We need more role playing/drama/arts in schools because it works to help with many issues – such as bullying. Good for you that you are tackling this and in an interesting way for the kids [and for you I assume too :-)]



  2. bornstoryteller
    Apr 11, 2011 @ 23:07:06

    Thanks Lynn. Yes… I am having fun seeing them get it, get lost, go off on tangents..and then a goodly part of them make the connection. We’ll find out: the last two classes are almost all about final reflections and problem solving.


  3. athursdayschild has a long way to go and much to be thankful for.
    Apr 12, 2011 @ 01:46:26

    I think the arts should be a strong component in all schools. My degree is in art. Art is expression in a civilized manner. My husband and I were discussing the news earlier and were talking about how sadly bullies tend to run the world. Bullying is definitely expression in an uncivilized manner.

    Congratulations on your inspiring blog award. Also got a versatile blog award which I will do when I get to the “v.”


  4. Lucretia
    Apr 12, 2011 @ 16:32:28

    Thank you for sharing your post. My kids love school, and it’s never easy to hear about any of the kids calling each other names or putting each other down. I think as a parent I am regularly talking to them about these kinds of things, and I don’t think my kids would ever really want to hurt some one. But your right they do get caught up in this kind of stuff. I am interested to hear more about your class.


    • bornstoryteller
      Apr 12, 2011 @ 16:35:14

      Lucretia: you’re welcome. Yes the “they know not what they do” works here, and that’s something I hope to make them aware of in the last two sessions.

      I’ll be writing about the whole process sometime in May, when it’s all said and done.

      Thank you.


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