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Anti-Social Media: Educators and Parents Take on Cyberbullying for "Spirit Day"

Ken Ellis

Former Executive Producer, video , Edutopia
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Facebook and Twitter are turning purple today in support of "Spirit Day," an initiative of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

Facebook and Twitter are turning purple today in support of "Spirit Day," an initiative of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). The purpose is "to honor the teenagers who have taken their own lives in recent weeks," and "to show the hundreds of thousands of LGBT youth who face the same pressures and bullying, that there is a vast community of people who support them." One can only hope that community support and the focus on cyber-bullying will remain after the social media mega sites return to their true colors tomorrow.

It is a sad irony that Tyler Clementi left a suicide note on his Facebook page after his roommate used a Twitter account to expose a private encounter in a dorm room at Rutgers University. Rutgers is home to the prominent Social-Emotional Learning Laboratory, headed by one of Edutopia's distinguished bloggers, Maurice Elias.

For many years Dr. Elias consulted with another one of our bloggers, Tony Bencivenga, former principal of Ben Franklin Middle School in upstate New Jersey.

Ten years ago, we documented Ben Franklin's comprehensive social/emotional efforts. Thanks in large measure to digital technology, a lot has happened in a decade, and not all of it has been positive.

Earlier this year, Ben Franklin's new principal, Tony Orsini, shot an email to parents that made national headlines. In response to several cyberbullying incidents at the school, he wrote: There is absolutely NO reason for any middle school student to be part of a social networking site. He suggested to parents that if their children were targeted by cyberbullies, they should "IMMEDIATELY GO TO THE POLICE!"

While banning cell phones and calling in the cops might be options of last resort, they won't do much to improve a school's culture. Instead, organizations like CASEL believe that teaching and evaluating SEL skills - lessons for the heart - are as important, if not more so, than lessons for the mind. And, no surprise, a positive school environment leads to higher test scores.

"We need to teach the Three 'Cs,'" says motivational speaker, Dr. Michael Pritchard. "Connectivity, community, and compassion." Pritchard is often flown in to schools, to pick up the emotional pieces after a suicide or other school tragedy. "We need to stop focusing on test scores, blaming teachers and parents, and start teaching kids how to love and care for each other."

What's the most effective way to deal with cyberbullying and/or teen suicide in school? Edutopia has some resources for teachers and parents; we hope you'll share what has worked for you.

Cyberbullying and Teen Suicide Resources



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Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

I believe that homophobia on school campuses needs to be addressed in a courageous and direct manner.

For all educators and administrators out there:

If homophobia is an issue at your site, suggest that the LGBT club or Gay-Straight Alliance at your school plan and host a Day of Silence on your campus.

This is a powerful event that takes places every year on the same day on school campuses nationwide. Participating teachers and students remain silent for the entire day, honoring the silencing of LGBT people due to harassment, bias and abuse in schools.

By the third year of participation at the high school where I taught, we had more than 200 students and twelve teachers dressed all in black, and silent from the morning bell until the last bell of the day. It was incredible. After that day, I noticed it was no longer the norm for the kids to use homophobic, derogatory terms like "that's so gay," and if a student did, another student would speak up, reprimanding almost immediately.

For more information and for materials, check out this Web site.

The next nationwide Day of Silence is April 15, 2011.

Rae Wilson's picture

Not all bullying has to do with LGBT kids. It's also the over wieght kid, the kid with buck teeth or eyes that aren't straight. Bullying is the kid that is very smart and knows all the answers or the kid that falls at the other end that doesn't know any of the answers. Sometimes I think we focus to much on one specific group when we need to open up our eyes to the bigger picture. I know of straight kids that get bullied too. I really like the idea of the day of silence, but think it should be to all bullying not just LGBT. Believe it or not I was made fun of growing up simply because I wasn't cool, part of the in crowd. I can remembering thinking, "I'm just like everyone else but yet they see me as different, what isn't they see or don't see?" So I'm all for NO BULLYING ANYONE! PERIOD! LGBT S F D S pick a letter1

Bill Betzen's picture
Bill Betzen
Retired computer teacher, Dallas, Texas, with dropout prevention hobby.

I was in training today and the topic of how the less frequent homophobic talk was discussed. Opinions were mixed but I certainly think that anti-gay comments are down in my classroom. It has simply not been an issue this year. It is wonderful progress to see.

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