Change Is Possible
I do not believe I am being naive to believe that even though these kids seem to be products of an environment that promotes exclusion and cruelty towards those who are seen as other, and they have behaved in bullying behavior as a group, they can learn from this and become better people. I believe that they do not have to live in this same self-serving and other-harming way for the rest of their lives.
I agree that what they did was cruel. It was also probably against the law. And, we all agree that they went out of their way to exclude certain individuals from what should have been open to all students. I do not in any way defend their behavior.
Education and Rehabilitation
What I would like to see happen here is an effort to incorporate education and rehabilitation (in the area of emotional intelligence, awareness of the needs of others, and compassion) into any judgment or punishment that is handed down. Punishment without education (being punished without really understanding what they did wrong) will only lead the private-party students into more resentment and more of this kind of behavior.
Remorse, Reparation, Good Works
I am not giving them a pass for treating others in this way. I do, however, believe it is very easy to have a narrow view when everyone has the same point of view. I do not know for sure that learning about the world outside of Fulton, Mississippi would change things for these kids. But, I am guessing that many of them are good kids, and given the opportunity to learn from this, they could learn from this experience (from the fallout from their self-serving behavior), become more understanding of others, and regret this act of hurtful exclusion. This hurtful event, and the fallout that has followed, may be an opportunity for some of these kids to make changes that will enable them to grow personally and become people who oppose injustice and work for equality. I would like for that to be what comes from this situation: remorse, reparation, and good works in the future.
Seeing With New Eyes
I would like to see the good that can come, long term, if the private-prom kids see the world with new eyes, and learn to have open hearts and minds. I would like to see the private-prom kids have the opportunity to learn from this event and change from the inside out. They need to know that adult life is about working together, not about excluding people we do not like. They seem not to have learned that lesson from their parents. I would like to see them have the opportunity to learn it by experiencing the world outside of Fulton (by going to college and seeing a bigger view of the world). Itawamba Agricultural High School could also benefit from anti-bullying education.
The Larger Problem (Bullying and Exclusion)
The fact that the secret prom even happened is part of a larger situation of bullying and exclusion. Bullying is a big problem in high schools in this country. Itawamba is not the only place where kids are being treated cruelly. But, they have become the poster-child school for this week. I hope that when deciding what judgment to make against the students, the parents, and the school board, the judge will take the opportunity to put an anti-bullying program in place. The judge would do the town a favor by bringing in Barbara Coloroso (author of The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander).
Barbara Coloroso is an educator, an author, and a speaker. She works tirelessly to try to stop the epidemic of bullying in schools around this country. I went to one of her seminars several years ago. She is an amazing speaker, and she offers practical and life-changing methods for stopping bullying. She teaches that making something right, not simply punishment, is what will positively change the lives of everyone involved in bullying. In her seminar, she gives some remarkable examples of bad things high school students have done to other kids, and how they were made to set things right as their judge-ordered punishment.
Learning To Do What Is Right
It is truly amazing how life-changing it can be to learn to do right thing rather than to simply be punished. Punishment without education, punishment without making right the wrongs done, leads to why me?! thinking and resentment. Setting things right leads to changed hearts and changed lives. This situation may become a wound that does not heal, for those who were the bullies and those who were bullied. But, if handled well, it can become an opportunity for healing and personal growth if someone in charge makes wise decisions about what happens from here.