Steubenville in the middle and high school classroom


It is reminiscent of stories that one may have overheard in the hallways and cafeteria of any school.  Not one about race or ethnicity. Not one about the unfair science test.  Not one about the latest dance craze.  We have all seen it.  A group of boys talking about the “wavy” details.  A group of girls huddling around another helping hide her anger or tears before she goes “od.”  Huddled whispers, half sentences, the inkling of the long night of events pieced together through notes, shared text messages, and rumors of everything streaming on YouTube. Someone always talks.  Someone gets scared.   Someone always breaks.

The incident doesn’t matter much, a fight, a pregnancy, someone to drunk to move, a sexual assault. The nature of the event doesn’t matter as much as the way in which the “secret” gets out. And it always gets out. Always.  It used to be words, stories, rumors.  It used to be “he said, she said.”  Not anymore.

In an age where technology is everywhere, the students involved in the Steubenville rape case are in many ways just as anonymous as the protestors outside wearing masks.  They are any teenager, getting drunk, getting stupid, getting caught.  The difference is social media, pieced together a story, thanks in part to their classmates, acquaintances  friends.  Their own combined ignorance, in a day age where it is far to easy for someone to post something on the internet, where, regardless of how hard you try, will remain for an entirety trapped in a web far to twisted and woven for anything to escape.

And as the dust settles on all the Steubenville kids, because the reality is they are kids, the futures they had ahead of them, no matter how bright, will forever tainted by their ignorance and by the adults who finally decided enough was enough.

But as adults, especially adults in education, we (not just those in Steubenville) should be making sure we educate our students to not follow in their footsteps.  As people across the country cry ignorance and disgrace, the real story, the one that will not garner the media attention,  lies in the days ahead in how we as a society move forward.

If Steubenville fades into just another 15 minutes of infamy for a languishing town, the ignorance will be on our parts.  Not just on the teenagers who didn’t think they did anything wrong.  As educators, we must use Steubenville, and what happened, to prevent and educate our own students on what happens when you “don’t think.”  As educators we know the “what if’s,”  “the consequences for our actions”  “the reality of playing in an adult world.” Yet our students, some of whom may have lived a night very reminiscent of the night similar to the now infamous one, need to hear, need to consider, the events of Steubenville and to think about what happens when they forget morality, humanity, and the deep dark wooing of the world wide web.

As an educator one may wonder, how when there is so little time to do anything in a day, we can possibly find time for something like the events in Steubenville, Ohio.  But Steubenville is at the very core, exactly the story we are trying to teach our students to grapple with.  With the Common Core and developing an argument everywhere in schools Steubenville affords us a chance to bridge classroom and newsroom.  An opportunity to wade through fact and opinion to develop a logical argument.  A chance to identify  observe, formulate, and prove, how one night can start off so right and end up so wrong.

However, it is not easy with everyone else’s opinion out there. From the beliefs that the police covered it up, to the protestors demanding that football is not as important as sexual assault, many of the articles around the case are a splattering of facts in a sea of opinion.  A lesson in itself as we work with our own kids to determine credible and incredible sources.

Amid the chaos of “breaking news in Steubenville” one may wonder where to begin.  How do you bring Steubenville into your classroom so few reporters paint a picture of the town, the events, and the ways in which the people of the failing steel town live.  So few that offer a glimpse of how these people have reacted to their town being thrust into the international scene over something that many think is an overreaction from a noisy outside world.

Yet a few have captured the essence of the the real tragedy, the deeper series of events that unfolded providing a platform from which to begin. Yahoo! Sports writing Dan Wetzel has been following the trial through his writing that often reads more like narrative non-fiction rather then a snippet from the Daily News.

Bringing his writing in the classroom, his portait of a night gone horribly wrong and the days that follow will allow anyone who reads it to draw their own conclusions about the events and develop their own opinions of the case and the town that has now become synonymous with the immorality teenagers.

On a social and emotional level, Wetzel’s words, or for that matter any articles or new clips that allow for a classroom of middle or high school students to weigh their own moral conscience are where we as educators should be focusing our attention as we continue to bridge the gaps between textbooks and real world.  Deeper questions that need a deeper thought process beyond, “No I do not believe in the death penalty,” or “Yes, I believe women have a right to choose.”

While these are important to have an opinion on, when you ask a teenager who has posted or watched a fight on Youtube before to consider whether they “would they have posted the video or pictures of the young girl passed out,” the question becomes a little more personal.  A little more real.   As an educator, if you pose to your class, “Would you have stood by and watched this girl being sexually assaulted,” when you know that several in your class have recently watched their own classmates fight on the street, the question becomes a little more personal.  A little more real.  As an educator, when you pose to the least and most popular student in the grade the question – “Would they have helped the girl,” the question becomes a little more personal. It becomes a little more real.  It becomes such the reality of Steubenville is at its essence all of our realities.  All of our communities have teenagers, who on a weekend make plans to have a good time.  No one plans for it to go horribly wrong. No one plans to hear about it in the hallways of our own schools.

The lessons learned in Steubenville become lessons we should be instilling in all of our children.  The story of Steubenville is a way to bridge the classroom to the read world in a way that none of us really want to do but all of us should be doing every chance we get.  Whether we like it or not Steubenville is more then a teachable moment, it is a life long lesson and one that should not quickly forgotten. 

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