“all athiests will burn”

April 12, 2011

If they don’t wear sunscreen. Be careful in the sun this season, people.

The post title is a direct quote pulled from the list of search terms that led to my blog yesterday. What kind of site are they hoping to run across with a search like that? I expect the answer would be one that corroborates their skewed world view, thus “proving” it’s “right.” Sadly, it’s a theory nobody can prove or disprove with any great satisfaction. The popular mindset isn’t automatically the best mindset. Sometimes it’s just mob rule and the ones getting hated are probably the ones who have the most to say about why that needs to stop.

Speaking of, a lot of people might be wearing pink tomorrow and the reason why has a Canadian connection. At a high school in Nova Scotia in 2007, kids bullied another kid who wore a pink shirt to class. They picked on him about his fashion choices, insinuating that he was gay and therefore deserved the mockery. Gay or not, nobody deserves that and CBC reported on what some students did in retaliation:

Two Grade 12 students — David Shepherd and Travis Price — heard the news and decided to take action.

“I just figured enough was enough,” said Shepherd.

They went to a nearby discount store and bought 50 pink shirts, including tank tops, to wear to school the next day.

Then the two went online to e-mail classmates to get them on board with their anti-bullying cause that they dubbed a “sea of pink.”

But a tsunami of support poured in the next day.

Not only were dozens of students outfitted with the discount tees, but hundreds of students showed up wearing their own pink clothes, some head-to-toe.

When the bullied student, who has never been identified, walked into school to see his fellow students decked out in pink, some of his classmates said it was a powerful moment.

It’s great to see “strength in numbers” lead to positive changes. A lot of what’s in a bully’s arsenal is a learned behaviour or attitude and it can all be unlearned if the effort’s put in to do it.


Banned Book Club – Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War

February 25, 2011

Freedom to Read Week is still on and March 1st is the night my Banned Book club is getting together to discuss the merits of The Chocolate War. I hadn’t read it before and in case you haven’t either, here’s the gist.

Jerry Renault goes to a Christian prep school. His mother recently died and he’s kind of out of sorts over that but trying to move ahead into the school year in spite of it, taking up football, going to class, hanging out with friends. The trouble is, there’s another group of kids at the school, a semi-secretive club called the Vigils, and they like to pick people to pick on and give them insane tasks to do at the school to boost their popularity — or not.. it’s hard to tell what Archie’s motivations are when he plans this shit.

One major classroom stunt results in a teacher having a nervous breakdown but it’s the other major one that gives the book its title. Jerry is asked to refuse to voluntarily sell chocolates like all the other boys in school but is not allowed to tell anyone the reason why. The kids figure out it’s an Archie-inspired prank, of course, but when the tenth day of this refusal rolls around and Jerry still says no, other kids wind up wondering why they’re selling the stuff, too, and the fund- raising comes to a bit of a standstill.

Unfortunately, Brother Leon bought way more chocolate for the sale than he should have and used money he wasn’t supposed to use in order to buy it. Archie learns of this and since he already promised Leon that the Vigil will help him sell that crap, he’s committed to figuring out how to get it all sold even as more and more boys quit trying.

Archie is a schemer and a manipulator who flourishes only when he can dominate others so he’s become adept at knowing what buttons to push to get people to do what he wants. For example, he lies about having a picture of Janza in the can and promises to give him that non-existent picture if he’ll beat the crap out of Jerry. Janza probably would have done it anyway but there’s nothing like a little extra incentive. After Janza and his gang work him over, Archie calls him wondering if he’d like a way to get even with Janza and everyone else who harassed him over the chocolate thing. Jerry stupidly agrees and winds up in a boxing ring with Janza where the punches are called by raffle tickets bought by their classmates. Whichever kid writes the ticket that results in a win will win $100 and last of the chocolate.

The book ends somewhat abruptly. Jerry punches Janza a good one in the chest and although he feels triumphant, he suddenly realizes he’s just as much an animal as Janza and the other boys screaming for blood around the ring. He belatedly realizes that Archie led him right into it like a Judas goat. Janza retaliates with more than a dozen uncalled-for punches before the lights go out for everyone. It turns out the event wasn’t as secret as Archie originally claimed it was. Brother Leon had been invited to watch because Archie thought he’d enjoy it. The resulting noise is what drew Brother Jacques to the field and he’s the one who flipped the breaker, stopping the fight in its tracks.

Jerry comes out of the whole experience wishing he hadn’t disturbed the universe, wishing he’d just followed orders in the first place. He thinks he should have sold the damn chocolates after the 10th day like he was supposed to and winds up concluding that taking a stand is the quickest way for someone to kick your legs out from under you. Don’t take a stand, ever. “Otherwise they’ll murder you.” (p.248)

Archie comes out of the whole experience smelling like roses. They had chocolates to sell and they sold them. Brother Leon doesn’t penalize him for anything that went on and Archie realizes the Vigils are completely accepted and won’t need to be kept in the shadows so long as Leon remains in charge.

“What a great year it was going to be.” (p.250)

Now, if these three kids were the only ones who had a voice in the book, this would be a very shitty book with no redeeming qualities. Fortunately, Cormier spent just as much time with chapters focused on other kids and their reactions to what Archie and Jerry were doing. There’s Carter who’s supposed to be leader of the Vigils and hates what Archie uses it for. There’s Obie who’s in Archie’s inner circle but yearns for him to fail at some point, even though that point never seems to come. There’s also Jerry’s friend, Goober, who pities what Jerry’s going through and stops selling chocolates out of quiet protest. Then he discovers the Vigils are going to tell everyone he sold all of his, how great he is for school spirit and he finds himself wishing he had the balls to tell the truth but stays quiet.

The book is all about bullying and how people respond to peer pressure in all its many guises. Some do a good job, some don’t. Some can shrug off pressures put on them by friends and teachers, others buckle and then hate themselves for it.

I think we’ll get some interesting discussions going about it. There are some homosexuality themes in this (that’s what Janza uses to get under Jerry’s skin) and authority issues and abuse and selfishness and motivations and whatever all. It ought to be a good time. I might write more about that after the meeting.

Sports fanatic makes a fumble, gets a headline

September 27, 2009

It’d be a funnier headline if the sport in question was actually football, but I didn’t think a baseball joke would fly…

Sorry, I don’t really speak Sport. I like watching baseball sometimes but I don’t know any player names or care one way or the other who’s winning anything, unlike the folks in this news article.

Van Buren Elementary fourth-grader Nathan Johns thought his teacher was kidding when he instructed him to go to the bathroom and turn his Yankees T-shirt inside out.

The blue shirt read “New York No. 52” on the front and “Sabathia” for the New York Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia, on the back.

“I thought to myself ‘Is he serious or is he kidding,’” said Nate, 9, a student in Peter Addabbo’s fourth-grade class. “But he had this look like he wasn’t kidding at all.”

Nate complied, and said he was later told to wear it that way until dismissal. At lunch, Nate said the fifth-graders made fun of him because he wearing his shirt inside out.

“It was such a horrible day.” Nate said. “I don’t ever want anything like to happen again.”

Nate said he felt he was treated unfairly.

“Just because my teacher doesn’t like the Yankees I should still have the right to wear a Yankees shirt,” Nate said Thursday after school. The teacher has Boston Red Sox paraphernalia all over the classroom on display, he said.

Baldwinsville Schools Superintendent Jeanne Dangle said Friday morning the district is conducting an investigation into the incident, and has told the parents she will get back to them on the issue in a few days.

“We are investigating,” Dangle said. “This is a personnel issue, and we will be following up and doing what’s appropriate after we get all the information.”

Dangle states that they’ll be interviewing any young witnesses to this event but the way it’s phrased, it’s hard to tell if she’s taking it seriously.

“From a district perspective, we would never support something like that,” Dangle said. “But we don’t have all the facts yet.”

Dangle said she was tied up in meetings most of Thursday and Thursday night, and that’s why the district didn’t respond at first to inquiries about the incident

It sounds as if the school’s principal does, however. The school is tough on bully behaviour and the parents think Nate was bullied by his own teacher. Plus he had to endure taunts during lunch buy kids who likely mocked his ability to dress himself.

I’d like to see the teacher officially reprimanded for being a dick, and be told he has to take his sports paraphernalia out of his classroom since it probably has nothing at all to do with what he teaches anyway. And I’d like to see him apologize to Nate in front of the class for being a dick (although he shouldn’t phrase it that way to a nine-year-old).

And if the superintendent discovers that Addabbo was completely kidding about the whole seriousness of the sport-fan thing, then why didn’t he come forward before this story went to print?

It’s just a baseball shirt in this case, but it’s also a teacher abusing his authority. Nate’s only nine and he’s already learned a hard lesson – you can’t express your own opinion in a classroom.

But, what if the shirt in question had been a gay pride shirt, or an anti-Obama shirt or a shirt promoting evolution in any kind of offhand way?

It’d be a different kind of news story altogether.