Saturday, May 22, 2010

Recess Coaches: Do they stop bullying?

A recent trend among schools has been to hire recess coaches, people whose job is to basically run recess, organizing games and generally supervising the kids. Now, I’m all for anything that reduces the workload on teachers (if recess is supervised by a recess coach, that means it’s one less duty that teachers have to do). But, that’s not the purpose of recess coaches. Recess coaches are there to “curb bullying and behavior problems, foster social skills and address concerns over obesity. They also hope to show children that there is good old-fashioned fun to be had without iPods and video games." There are valid criticisms regarding whether a recess coach is enough to achieve any of those goals, but I want to talk specifically about how effective recess coaches are at curbing bullying.

It would be pointless to argue that recess coaches do nothing to curb bullying. Increased supervision does stop bullying--in the immediate area of the supervisor. Most bullies aren’t going to do their bullying in a place where they’re going to be observed (Eddie Haskell springs to mind). But stopgap measures like increased supervision do nothing to address the root causes of bullying, and kids who want to will still have plenty of opportunities for bullying. If nothing else, the bullying can take place outside of school, either in person or online (completely unrelated note--the word bullying starts to look really odd when you write it a bunch of times).

Bullying happens because some kids feel the need to exert power over other kids, and because witnesses are either afraid to intervene, or don’t have the tools to do so. Stopping bullying requires giving bystanders the tools to intervene when they see bullying happening, and changing the culture so that certain kids don’t feel that need to exert power. One of those is relatively simple, if not always easy. The other will take a bit longer. But no one ever said social justice work was easy.

So how do we work with bystanders (who, after all, make up the majority of kids) to give them both the tools and willingness to step in? As you might expect, I’m a firm believer in theatre techniques. Things like Boal work, mantle of the expert activities, and even basic improv techniques can be used to encourage students to talk about the bullying they’ve witnessed or experienced, which develops the sense of group cohesion necessary to make students want to intervene. Those same techniques can be used to help students develop tactics and tools for intervening. And, theatre and other art programs can be used to help young students develop empathy, which helps discourage bullying at its source, the bully (I’m also interested in the Roots of Empathy program, which I plan to write about soon).

So, do recess coaches help curb bullying at recess? Yes, probably. Do they do anything to stop bullying as a societal phenomenon? I have to say no. For now, curbing bullying means that students themselves need to formulate their own reasons and tactics for stopping bullying on the ground. Actually ending bullying will take a major cultural shift--until we eliminate the hierarchies that exist in our society and our schools, bullies will continue to have the desire and the means to bully.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

In Which I Consider Questions of Accessibility and Disablism

Inspired by this post at Womanist Musings (which everyone should read because it's really awesome and thought-provoking, and also that's just a great blog in general), I spent this past week trying to think about issues of accessibility as I went about my daily life. And so in this post I’m going to talk a little about what it was like to be aware of the accessibility (or lack thereof) in the places I went, and then I’ll be talking about which buildings seemed pretty good, and which were seriously lacking. I decided to focus on accessibility for people with limited mobility, just because that seemed like the simplest thing for me, as a currently able bodied person, to look around and see (or not see, as the case may be).

The thing that stood out for me the most was how easy it was for me to forget that I was trying to notice accessibility in the places I went to. Why hello privilege, I almost didn’t see you, all camouflaged in the corner there! This experiment really forced me to confront how incredibly privileged I am, in that when I leave the house, I don’t have to think about which T stops I can use, or if the buildings I’m going to are accessible, or if I need to budget extra time and energy to go around old McDonald’s barn looking for accessible entrances and whatnot. I can just grab my stuff and go. If doing this for a week showed me one thing, it’s how much easier fitting society’s idea of “normal” or able bodied makes life. Which was something I’d always gotten intellectually, but never really had to think about or face up to in any serious way. So I hope to be much more aware of my own able-bodied privilege in my day to day life now.

And now, on to the ratings!

First stop:
Orient Heights T Station: This station is a little weird. If you go in the side that you’re getting the train on, everything’s fine. But if, say, your bus drops you off on the outbound side and you need to go to the inbound side, you’re in trouble. The only way to get from one to the other inside the station is via a set of stairs. If you can’t do stairs, you have 2 options: one, you can go up to the street and take the long way around to the other entrance. Or, you can ask the bus driver (or whoever) to drop you off on the side you need, instead of at the normal stop. I have seen bus drivers do this for people with baby carriages, so it’s probably not a huge problem, but still, it’s unfortunate that those are your only options.
Grade: C+ Not bad, but still more of a hassle for people with mobility issues than for those without.

Next Stop:
State Street T Station: Also weird. The orange line is fully accessible (elevators to both platforms). The blue line has an elevator on the outbound side, but not the inbound side. So if you’re headed inbound and want to get out at State, you have to go to the next stop, switch to the outbound train, and go back. Not a huge amount of extra time, but still seems like an unnecessary hassle. They are in the midst of renovating this station, so maybe this is something they plan to address--I’m not sure.
Grade: C+ Like Orient Heights, not completely inaccessible, but still adds some unnecessary time and inconvenience if you have mobility issues.

Third Stop:
College Building 1: Pretty good. No stairs to get in, the front doors have those push button automatic doors opener things (do those have an actual name?), and the elevators are a good size and I’ve never seen a line for them. The only place this building lost points was that the studio doors are absurdly heavy (everyone I’ve ever seen open one has struggled), which could be an issue for a lot of people. I’m not sure why they’re so heavy, but I assume it has something to do with muffling sound.
Grade: B+ Overall pretty good, but it’s too bad the studio doors have to be so ridiculous.

Fourth Stop:
College Building 2: Not bad, but not as good as College Building 1. There aren’t any stairs in, but there also aren’t any automatic door opener things. There are elevators, but they are tiny (they seem stuffed with 3 or 4 people in them) and there is almost always a huge line of people waiting to use them.
Grade: B. Not bad, could be better.

Fifth stop:
Boylston Street T Station: Completely inaccessible. No elevators and no escalator, only stairs.
Grade: F.

Final Stop:
Government Center Station: As the MBTA website says, “no accessible boarding features.” I must say, I’m surprised by the lack of accessibility in all of these downtown stations--being so central and heavily used, I would think they’d be better that way. Shows what I know (not much, apparently).
Grade: F.

And finally, before moving on, a quick accessibility fail story. A few weeks ago, I went with the boyfriend to the eye doctor. As we were leaving, I noticed that the entrance had a ramp (cool) which culminated in a 6 inch or so tall step to get into the building (not as cool). Seriously, who designed and built that without going "hmmm, this step at the top actually defeats the entire purpose of having a blasted ramp"? FAIL.

So now that I've finished my experiment, what next? Good question. I’m not sure what, practically, will come out of this for me. Like I said, I feel like I’m now more aware of accessibility issues, and that will definitely affect my teaching in a positive way, because I’ll be more aware of what I can do to even things out, both in terms of my classroom teaching and things like school performances and the like. But as far as what concrete things I’ll be doing next? I’m still working that one out.