I went to my daughter’s parent/teacher interview the other night, and I was asked if I’d heard about the media storm that day. Huh? I soon learned that the media had descended like locusts to a prairie grassland to gobble up the “news” that the school’s principal had temporarily banned the use of hard balls in the schoolyard because of incidents of people being bonked in the head, one serious. Perhaps you heard about it. I’m pretty sure people on the Island of Nauru heard about it.
Sure, I got the memo from the school, but didn’t pay much heed. Honestly, I’ve been nearly kluned (a real word in the Urban Dictionary) in the head with a football several times dropping my daughter off in the morning, but my exceptional peripheral vision and cat-like reflexes have saved me from harm. I kind of expect there to be some rough-housing in an elementary school playground at 8:45 in the morning – possibly involving projectiles. I mean really – who does the playground belong to? I’m a 47-year-old woman blithely traipsing across the middle of a school playing field. Full. Of. Children. I’m the trespasser, and if I don’t have the wherewithal to notice that I’ve put myself in the path of a Hail Mary pass, then shame on me.
I Googled (also in the Urban Dictionary) a couple of days later and found no less than 88….count ‘em…88 articles on the topic. All this in a matter of days. It had been in the Globe & Mail and on the CBC at least twice. I guess they saw it as a welcome diversion for a media-weary public that is hungry for something – anything – other than stories of Grecian economics, Occupy Red Deer, and everything Kardashian. I mean, this made into a skit on Saturday Night Live! Seriously? If only we could get people this jacked about what our governments are doing (or not doing) under the radar on a daily basis.
When I sat down to write this, I envisioned a Rick Mercer-like rant against excessive risk management, helicopter parenting, our litigious society, and corporate greed (….well, maybe not the last part). However, after reading several of the articles online about this great ball debacle, and more importantly, some of the thousands of posted comments by the public, I’ve changed my tune. I will not add to the sturm und drang. I want to comment on something else: when did we descend into such an uncivilized “Lord of the Flies” society?
The articles, blogs and comments about this “news” have been, in many cases, merciless. This poor, beleaguered principal – a woman who made a career choice to dedicate herself to the often thankless task of ensuring other people’s Faberge Eggs (mine included) make it successfully to secondary school – made a decision. Arguably, a knee-jerk one – perhaps a regrettable-but-nonetheless-easily-correctable mistake. It was made out of care and concern for the safety of the children and parents in her school community, and did no real harm. But something that should have just been quietly dealt with by the school council suddenly became international “news”, and now she’s being tried and convicted by the press and vilified by the public. I’ve read comments either saying or certainly implying she’s a “moron”, an “idiot”. Ouch. That must hurt like….well…like a ball to the head.
Every day I see more and more evidence that we are living in a culture of humiliation, without any sense of accountability. We sit in our dens and laugh at the people making fools of themselves on So You Think You Can Be The World’s Biggest Dancing Jackass Loser in Jersey. We are bombarded by salacious headlines and a constant stream of other people’s misfortunes and gaffes to the point of being desensitized, fuelled by a 24/7 media with a desperate need to sell advertising and keep market share.
But then…then….we go online and hide behind avatars and epithets, anonymously casting aspersions about people we don’t know and will never meet, and who are just….human. Some call it freedom of expression. I am inclined to call it something else: bullying. One nasty comment leads to another, and soon there’s a frenzy of negativity and hurtful comments a mile long, to the point where sometimes the people commenting turn on each other.
In that same schoolyard where peril awaits in the trajectory of a tennis ball, we try to instil in our children the value of treating others with respect and dignity. Then as adults we seem to think nothing of violating those principles ourselves – on TV, in print, and online, every day. I have trouble looking my young Brownie daughter in the eye and explaining why everyone seems to be ganging up on her principal. It’s not okay when kids do it, but apparently it’s okay when grown-ups do it. And to an eight-year-old brain, it also sends this message: don’t make a mistake, because if you do, you’ll be publicly shamed.
This whole event, and my personal connection to the situation, has really affected me as the parent of a young girl, thinking of her very near future as she inevitably starts to migrate her life to the online world – a world that has done amazing things to educate, engage, and transform our society. But one that is also rife with unfiltered nastiness – and it’s not just teens on their Facebook pages. It is grown-ups, sometimes spewing nastiness with impunity. As adults and parents I wish we could set a better example – for our kids, and for each other.
Coda: On a slightly more positive and encouraging note, I’m happy to say that my daughter’s teacher, a wonderful woman, responded to the crisis by sending the kids home with an assignment to talk through the issue with a parent, and to look at it from multiple perspectives and think critically before judging. Then she had a parent come in and help facilitate an exercise to get the kids to find a solution to how to make the playground safe and fun for everyone. Engagement, critical thinking, problem solving, conflict resolution. I wonder if that’s sexy enough to make it to Saturday Night Live…
By guest blogger, Brownie parent and GGC staff, Barb.