A convincing case against media hype and a premature rush to judgment.

STICKS AND STONES

DEFEATING THE CULTURE OF BULLYING AND REDISCOVERING THE POWER OF CHARACTER AND EMPATHY

A nuanced approach to the epidemic of bullying in American schools.

In 2009, Slate senior editor Bazelon began writing articles about cyberbullying. She shared in the growing concern about how social media can amplify the effects of bullying. After writing the first few articles, her focus shifted.  While cyberbullying is “changing the nature of teenage bullying,” it is still “a new incarnation of an old phenomenon.” Probing further, the author realized that bullying is more complex than she originally thought. She explores the part normally played by aggression (when teens jockey for social position) and contrasts this to occasions when a disparity in power exists (and could signify bullying). Failure by both parents and schools to intervene in order to protect victims on the one hand, and overreaction on the other, can lead to bullying. In extreme situations, complex legal issues involving the responsibility of school authorities may arise (including potential criminal charges when violence occurs). Bazelon also considers the way that the prejudices of school personnel or the broader community against people who defy conventional gender roles can tacitly encourage victimization. The author uses three major case studies to exemplify issues. The first illustrates how overreaction by a mother when her daughter was mocked led to an escalating situation. In the second, school authorities tacitly countenanced the abuse of gay teens, who successfully sued for violation of their constitutional rights. Lastly, a tragic suicide involved a girl whose detractors were charged with murder, even though they had no direct involvement in her death. In the concluding section, Bazelon surveys promising new approaches to dealing with bullying, and the appendix includes fact sheets and a resource guide.

A convincing case against media hype and a premature rush to judgment.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9280-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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AN INVISIBLE THREAD

THE TRUE STORY OF AN 11-YEAR-OLD PANHANDLER, A BUSY SALES EXECUTIVE, AND AN UNLIKELY MEETING WITH DESTINY

A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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INSIDE AMERICAN EDUCATION

THE DECLINE, THE DECEPTION, THE DOGMAS

American schools at every level, from kindergarten to postgraduate programs, have substituted ideological indoctrination for education, charges conservative think-tanker Sowell (Senior Fellow/Hoover Institution; Preferential Polices, 1990, etc.) in this aggressive attack on the contemporary educational establishment. Sowell's quarrel with "values clarification" programs (like sex education, death-sensitizing, and antiwar "brainwashing") isn't that he disagrees with their positions but, rather, that they divert time and resources from the kind of training in intellectual analysis that makes students capable of reasoning for themselves. Contending that the values clarification programs inspired by his archvillain, psychotherapist Carl Rogers, actually inculcate values confusion, Sowell argues that the universal demand for relevance and sensitivity to the whole student has led public schools to abdicate their responsibility to such educational ideals as experience and maturity. On the subject of higher education, Sowell moves to more familiar ground, ascribing the declining quality of classroom instruction to the insatiable appetite of tangentially related research budgets and bloated athletic programs (to which an entire chapter, largely irrelevant to the book's broader argument, is devoted). The evidence offered for these propositions isn't likely to change many minds, since it's so inveterately anecdotal (for example, a call for more stringent curriculum requirements is bolstered by the news that Brooke Shields graduated from Princeton without taking any courses in economics, math, biology, chemistry, history, sociology, or government) and injudiciously applied (Sowell's dismissal of student evaluations as responsible data in judging a professor's classroom performance immediately follows his use of comments from student evaluations to document the general inadequacy of college teaching). All in all, the details of Sowell's indictment—that not only can't Johnny think, but "Johnny doesn't know what thinking is"—are more entertaining than persuasive or new.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-930330-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992

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