Middle School Mentality

Since the video of bus monitor Karen Klein was posted on YouTube, there has been much written about the incident, but not much written about the mentality of the students who tormented her. If you haven’t seen the video or read any of the news stories associated with it, a brief summary of the incident is in order. In a video shot by a fellow student, a group of boys are heard calling an older female bus monitor fat, discussing what it would be like to stab her, and saying that her family would want to commit suicide because of their association with her. Klein does dissolve into tears, but never strikes back at her juvenile tormenters.

As a former teacher, and one who spent years working with students in the middle grades, I sadly state that this video is not so shocking to me. First, I will state that although I was sometimes the target of some taunts, my position as a teacher gave me more authority, and so I never dealt with anything so horrible. But, that said, parents and the public must understand the “middle school mentality” does include more than a bit of viciousness. More than once, I have described middle school students as being similar to a pack of rabid dogs. Individually, they are usually okay, but when grouped together, it is not uncommon to get some really bad chemistry. If there is an age where homeschooling is more appropriate, I believe it is the middle grades. When kids lose their need to impress adults, but before they become accountable, there is a danger zone, and grades 5-9 tend to be the rough ones, for the students as well as for the teacher and staff members.

My own children suffered bullying at that age; in fact, I was blessed to have a husband with a high enough position in the community that he could literally call up the superintendent of schools and ask him to personally intervene in a bad situation that was causing our daughter to go through emotional turmoil.

I have little doubt that the parents of those students in the video do not have to endure constant profanity and threats at home. Actually, I would imagine that the parents were probably shocked at the video of Klein being tormented. While the parents are partially responsible, the students are of an age to take responsibility for their actions. However, putting such students with so little control together, and giving those in authority no real power to keep the students in line, is the real problem.

If these students were in a homeschool, being responsible to one or two adults, and entrusted with assisting younger students, they simply would not get into a situation where they would have nothing better to do than torment others. Anyone who had read Lord of the Flies knows that it is not a new problem.

I’m sorry for Karen Klein, but not shocked. She has stated that if she had retaliated, she would have been fired. If any aspect of this incident is shocking, it is that society doesn’t realize what goes on when middle school mentality is allowed to run amok.

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Because it is the right thing to do.

Once upon a time, I owned an iBook, so well-used that I was on my third keyboard when the hinge broke, damaging the case as it blew out. Having purchased AppleCare, I was not too upset, until some Apple Genius told me that I had dropped it and caused the damage, and Apple wouldn’t pay for accidental damage. After a few days of phone calls, trips to Apple service centers, emails to various officials at Apple, and many hours of trying to get my computer fixed (at no charge) some guy named Steve called me from Apple. He listened to my tale of woe, and said that Apple was not contractually obligated to pay for my computer, but that they were going to do so anyway, “because it is the right thing to do.” And so they did.

Since the dude on the phone didn’t use his last name, I don’t know for sure if I spoke with the head honcho of Apple or not, but after having read Job’s biography, I wonder. At several points in the book, Steve Jobs did what he believed to be right, even if everyone else thought it was wrong. Despite being a jerk, he was a person who wanted to produce great products and put them in the hands of people. Each iteration of Macintosh computers have been simple to use and as elegantly designed as possible, because Steve Jobs had a vision of what the personal computer should be. The iPod and the iTunes store work together seamlessly, because Jobs loved music. The iPhone is unparalleled because Jobs wanted a phone that was better than what he could buy. The iPad is mobile computing at its best, because  Jobs made the deals that made it possible. Indeed, Jobs had several talents, and even some of his personality flaws contributed to his success. Like a coach who is both loved and feared, Jobs was able to get people to do more than they ever dreamed possible. Apple, despite being the most valuable company in the world, continued to have the flexibility to capitalize on opportunities, because there was one strong mind at the helm.

Was he a genius? I think so. Was he a jerk? At times. Was he a criminal? Some tabloids say he was, but I view him as merely eccentric. Did he have a real life? I hope so, but Walter Issacson’s biography of Jobs is roughly 75% about Apple (and Next), and what Jobs did there, including too much information about office politics. Perhaps another 10% is about his time as  head of Pixar.  Since Jobs’ widow and offspring were no doubt in the midst of mourning when this book was released, I suppose that it is too much to ask for more details about his family life. Was he in the delivery room when his kids were born? I don’t know. Did he ever attend a PTA meeting? I don’t know.

Having read quite a number of articles and even a few books about Apple and its products, I found some of Issacson’s book to be tedious. But, for anyone who didn’t know much about Jobs, the biography is quite enlightening. Jobs’s adoptive father was a strong influence on him, but so was his interest in eastern religion. He’s one of the more famous college dropouts of his era, and that, too, is relayed in terms of how it helped him at Apple. Jobs was more artist than engineer, more salesman than CEO, but his insistence on doing things his way was more often “right” than “wrong” and the world is a far different place than it would have been had he not lived. No, really. Imagine our world with clunky IBM based computers, no iPod, iPhone, iTunes, iPad, and no products which copy those technologies. Steve Jobs said he wanted to change the world, and he did.

That’s quite a legacy, and one worth reading about. If you haven’t yet read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, it is well worth the time it takes.