Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Welcome to Our School

Hazing is always ugly.  In essence, hazing is nothing more than bullying "justified" by tradition.  That so called tradition combines with a peer-pressurized pack mentality that leads more kids to do the hurting and more kids to get hurt.  Yesterday, the New York Times reported a particularly nasty tradition of hazing in Millburn, NJ and the school board's recent response.  It's no surprise that the article describes a heated gathering and a discussion of how best to punish the offenders in order to stop future incidents.  I wonder if the threat of punishment works with all teen-agers.

Speaking of teen-agers:  You know the students at Millburn High School are talking about hazing, too.  Just as students at any and every school where hazing exists talk about it.  But student conversations are not a matter of public record. They are talking about it on their cell phones and over lunch tables. They are discussing it on the bus and on IM.  In the Times article, we hear from board presidents and board members, school administrators and school parents.  But no kids.  And yet students did the hazing, students were hazed, students knew about and witnessed the hazing, and students are planning or worrying about hazing even now.

The schools we have seen successfully deal with hazing are those that put adults and students together, with the students doing most of the heavy lifting.  They wind up getting to the root of the problem, which is a lack of respect and a fear of the new.  Ultimately, the students themselves create positive traditions of initiation.  In a twisted and completely unacceptable way, that is what hazing is: a rite of initiation.  It is a very disturbing and dysfunctional form of welcome.  The impulse to welcome new comers needs a far healthier expression.  Students must create those for themselves with our help and support.

(There are many organizations that deal with this issue in depth:  A few are www.stophazing.org, www.insidehazing.com, and www.hazingprevention.org.)

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