Archive for May, 2010

One For The History Books….



By | Respect For All Project

GroundSpark has been keeping our eyes on textbooks the past few months, as new guidelines about their content were enacted across the world. Schools rely heavily on textbooks, and the information they contain forms the building blocks for how youth see each other and the world.

As we optimistically shared to our Facebook fans, the Taiwan Ministry of Education has decided to begin including positive mentions of LGBT issues and people in 11 different content areas beginning in 2011. The Ministry of Educated justified the move by saying, “Students should be able to grow up happily in an environment of tolerance and respect,” and further recognized that teaching materials need to adequately reflect social diversity — two core inspirations for the work of our Respect For All Project.

Unfortunately, closer to home, a dramatic debate played out in front of the Texas State Board of Education. In considering over 300 proposed changes to the events, people, and philosophies that students learn, the Board rewrote history with a profound conservative and Judeo-Christian bias. Among some of the revisions: removing references to ‘the separation of church and state,’ deleting Cesar Chavez as an important historical figure and adding Rush Limbaugh, and highlighting the work of Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the anti-gay Eagle Forum. One frustrated board member said the new rules, “Pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

The changes, which were voted on and approved this week, will have a ripple effect across the country. Texas is one of the largest markets for educational materials, and the state’s new textbook rules will change the content available to other states. In light of this news, GroundSpark remains even more committed to working tirelessly to ensure accurate and inclusive curriculum is available in every classroom. Stay tuned to our facebook page, blog and Twitter account to keep abreast of the ways our films and resources are being used across the country.

Sobering Start to our Let’s Get Real Training in Asheville, NC



By | Let's Get Real

At the end of April, our Respect For All Project facilitators, Nancy Otto and Scott Hirschfeld, led a training in Asheville, North Carolina centered around our anti-bullying film Let’s Get Real. The training was organized by Safe Schools for All, an emerging alliance in western North Carolina of organizations committed to addressing bias-based harassment in the region’s schools. Scott kicked off the session by sharing a gripping suicide note of a 14-year old boy, named Hamed who, after being relentlessly tormented by his peers with slurs like big-nose, four-eyes, geek and fag, 14-year-old Hamed became so depressed that he saw only one way out.

IMG_0506

GroundSpark trainer Nancy Otto (standing) facilitates a small group discussion

The training attendees—teachers, after school youth service providers, principals, parents, and a couple of clergymembers—asked if we could share Hamed’s last note to his parents, which Scott read out loud at the training. And so we are reprinting it here below. It was printed in the book Cyber Bullying: Issues and Solutions for the School by Shaheen Shariff (Taylor & Francis, Inc.).There is an article about Hamed online.

Here is the excerpt from Hamed’s five-page suicide note explaining his decision:

“Dear Mom and Dad, The first thing is, I love you Mom and Dad, but you didn’t understand why I had to commit suicide.  There was so much going on and I tried to cope with it, but I couldn’t take it anymore…It was horrible.  Every day I was teased and teased, everyone calling me gay, fag, queer, and I would always act like it didn’t bug me…But I was crying inside me.  It hurt me so bad ……and when people said it, my own friends never backed me up.  They just laughed…  I know that you are going to miss me and that you will never forgive me, but you will never understand.  You weren’t living my life.  I hate myself for doing this to you.  I really, really hate myself, but there is no other way out for me…I love you Dad and Mom.  Please, please tell the people at school why I did this.  I don’t want somebody else to do what I have done.  Mom, after my death please, please go to schools and talk to kids that bullying and teasing has big consequences…Please visit my grave often so I’m not lonely.”

After watching Let’s Get Real and going through the training, the 65 trainees were each eager to start working on the action plan they developed for their own schools and community groups. “It’s an intense way to start off,” Scott reflects, “but it certainly gets us all on the same page about how high the stakes are and how important it is that we all work harder to address these issues.”

Readers Respond to Recent Huffington Post op-ed on Gender Issues in Phoebe Prince Case



By | Latest News
In April, Debra Chasnoff had an op-ed published in the Huffington Post about the underlying gender issues that haven’t been discussed very much in the community response to the suicide of 15 year old Phoebe Prince. (LINK to article). We received a wide range of responses to the article, some published on the HuffPo website, some on GroundSpark’s facebook page, others by email. As always, these issues, and our perspective on them, reach a wide range of people who connect to youth in different ways.
Here are some excerpts from the responses.
• Great article!!  I am so glad you wrote that.  Finally, someone is addressing the core of the bullying — youth are merely acting out the values of society.  It’s striking that most acts of bullying center around a boy – whether it’s competition for a boy, as in Phoebe’s case, or the accusation of being gay, such as in Carl Walker Hoovers case…. I love how you recognize the “problem” as being institutional/societal and the solution as being educational.
• Thank you! – I live in Springfield, MA, I sit in a men’s group in here with men whose children go to the South Hadley schools. I have been watching this closely – with sadness and anger. ??There are good people doing great work out there – like you! And I think that it is time for adult men to go into the shadows of their own adolescence and learn how to help boys become mature, compassionate men. ??I believe that there is a stunning lack of emotional intelligence and basic empathy in our modeling for teenagers – and this case demonstrates how stuck we are. We continue to use ‘carrot and stick’ approaches when these methods of motivating have been shown OVER and OVER to FAIL in psychological & social studies… Our culture is driven by adolescent boy mentality – consume, objectify, compete, detach, blame, hide, attack. ??Boys and girls need to be listened to, accepted, acknowledged, mentored and blessed … every day. In my opinion there aren’t enough adults in our society who know how to do this for each other, let alone for children. I think we need a new movement of adult males. Men who are willing to do the hard emotional inquiry it takes so we can raise the next generations to be healthy, safe and mature men rather than boys in men’s bodies. Ready? www.openmen.org or www.mankindproject.org.
• Arresting and sentencing the students who criminally conspired to torment and abuse a young Irish immigrant will not solve any problems, you are correct in that. However, should the legal system turn a blind eye when peer abuse/bullying includes stalking, statutory rape (it’s a law on the books, and a reason why girls under 16 are called jailbait), and criminal harassment? Do kids get a get out of jail free card for abusing a fellow student? Actions have consequences, sometimes legal ones. Bullying is now 24/7 with social media like formspring.me, facebook, twitter, and texting. Is it time we consider peer abuse to be as harmful to our kids as child abuse.
Dear Debra,
Thank you for this email.  I am a parent of a gay son (who is now thriving in SF as an IT project manager for Wells Fargo), have a local parent support group in Hawaii called Da Moms, and do projects for community outreach and education on GLBT.  We have used It’s Elementary in the past with the state department of education and am working to get greater interest and use of your harassment/bullying, and ofStraightlaced videos.  I am lining up funding and a working committee to hold a 2 day conference for health and social service providers in about a year – and hope to bring in resources from the mainland too.  I plan to make a trip to SF in September and perhaps visit Groundspark then.  You do wonderful work!
Aloha and mahalo (thank you),
• I am an elementary teacher. Very little bullying ever happens in front of me. A LOT happens when adults aren’t looking. There is no perfect way to deal with it. Punishing the bullies makes the victim a bigger target…or provides reason to unleash their henchmen. Shielding the victim would require them being with an adult every second they are at school…totally impractical and it puts another target on their backs. …Ms. Chasnoff suggests schools take a more active role in helping students develop better skills in this area, but the girl who said, “We never get to talk about this stuff,” is correct. Curriculum is all tied to teaching the standards in order to cover the material that will be on the state test. Until educator’s heads are removed from the test guillotine, all the little social extras aren’t going to be done….
• As you know, there are a cadre of trainers who are ready to go to any school to educate faculty about these issues. I am one of the National Educaiton Association trainers and we use your films in our presentations. I believe prevention solves a lot of suffering. If you hear of anyone who needs a training for their staff you can contact PSathrum@NEA.org
Good luck and thanks for taking on this fight.
• Thank you for making the connection to the Prince death; I think these reminders of relevance are very important.    Our middle schoolers know and talk about these events, often seeing them as out there, as if there were little likelihood that their own unkindnesses were of a different order.
• I agree that arresting a few students will not stop bullying at that particular school or any other. I have been following this case closely and it shows that something awful must happen in our society to gain any attention on the issue of school bullying. Despite the attention, the response is not effective; like every aggressive or violent act that occurs, someone must be blamed and punished.
As a public health student, my hope is for prevention. The problem is that prevention is not valued in our society because it does not produce readily observable effects like throwing someone in jail does.

In April, Debra Chasnoff had an op-ed published in the Huffington Post about the underlying gender issues that haven’t been discussed very much in the community response to the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince. We received a wide range of responses to the article, some published on the Huffington Post website, some on GroundSpark’s facebook page, others by email. As always, these issues, and our perspective on them, reach a wide range of people who connect to youth in different ways.

Here are some excerpts from the responses:

“Great article!!  I am so glad you wrote that.  Finally, someone is addressing the core of the bullying — youth are merely acting out the values of society.  It’s striking that most acts of bullying center around a boy – whether it’s competition for a boy, as in Phoebe’s case, or the accusation of being gay, such as in Carl Walker Hoover’s case…. I love how you recognize the ‘problem’ as being institutional/societal and the solution as being educational.”

Image from "Let's Get Real"

Image from "Let's Get Real"

“Thank you! – I live in Springfield, MA, I sit in a men’s group in here with men whose children go to the South Hadley schools. I have been watching this closely – with sadness and anger. There are good people doing great work out there – like you! And I think that it is time for adult men to go into the shadows of their own adolescence and learn how to help boys become mature, compassionate men. I believe that there is a stunning lack of emotional intelligence and basic empathy in our modeling for teenagers – and this case demonstrates how stuck we are. We continue to use ‘carrot and stick’ approaches when these methods of motivating have been shown OVER and OVER to FAIL in psychological & social studies… Our culture is driven by adolescent boy mentality – consume, objectify, compete, detach, blame, hide, attack. Boys and girls need to be listened to, accepted, acknowledged, mentored and blessed … every day. In my opinion there aren’t enough adults in our society who know how to do this for each other, let alone for children. I think we need a new movement of adult males. Men who are willing to do the hard emotional inquiry it takes so we can raise the next generations to be healthy, safe and mature men rather than boys in men’s bodies. Ready? www.openmen.org or www.mankindproject.org.”

“Arresting and sentencing the students who criminally conspired to torment and abuse a young Irish immigrant will not solve any problems, you are correct in that. However, should the legal system turn a blind eye when peer abuse/bullying includes stalking, statutory rape (it’s a law on the books, and a reason why girls under 16 are called jailbait), and criminal harassment? Do kids get a get out of jail free card for abusing a fellow student? Actions have consequences, sometimes legal ones. Bullying is now 24/7 with social media like formspring.me, facebook, twitter, and texting. Is it time we consider peer abuse to be as harmful to our kids as child abuse.”

“Dear Debra, Thank you for this email.  I am a parent of a gay son (who is now thriving in SF as an IT project manager), have a local parent support group in Hawaii called Da Moms, and do projects for community outreach and education on GLBT.  We have used It’s Elementary in the past with the state department of education and am working to get greater interest and use of your harassment/bullying, and of Straightlaced videos.  I am lining up funding and a working committee to hold a 2 day conference for health and social service providers in about a year – and hope to bring in resources from the mainland too.  I plan to make a trip to SF in September and perhaps visit Groundspark then.  You do wonderful work!”

Image from "Straightlaced"

Image from "Straightlaced"

“I am an elementary teacher. Very little bullying ever happens in front of me. A LOT happens when adults aren’t looking. There is no perfect way to deal with it. Punishing the bullies makes the victim a bigger target…or provides reason to unleash their henchmen. Shielding the victim would require them being with an adult every second they are at school…totally impractical and it puts another target on their backs. …Ms. Chasnoff suggests schools take a more active role in helping students develop better skills in this area, but the girl who said, “We never get to talk about this stuff,” is correct. Curriculum is all tied to teaching the standards in order to cover the material that will be on the state test. Until educator’s heads are removed from the test guillotine, all the little social extras aren’t going to be done….”

“As you know, there are a cadre of trainers who are ready to go to any school to educate faculty about these issues. I am one of the National Educaiton Association trainers and we use your films in our presentations. I believe prevention solves a lot of suffering. If you hear of anyone who needs a training for their staff you can contact PSathrum@NEA.org. Good luck and thanks for taking on this fight.”

“Thank you for making the connection to the Prince death; I think these reminders of relevance are very important. Our middle schoolers know and talk about these events, often seeing them as out there, as if there were little likelihood that their own unkindnesses were of a different order. ”

“I agree that arresting a few students will not stop bullying at that particular school or any other. I have been following this case closely and it shows that something awful must happen in our society to gain any attention on the issue of school bullying. Despite the attention, the response is not effective; like every aggressive or violent act that occurs, someone must be blamed and punished. As a public health student, my hope is for prevention. The problem is that prevention is not valued in our society because it does not produce readily observable effects like throwing someone in jail does.”