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If you’ll excuse us, world, Australia isn’t paying much attention to events in America it should be concerned by, not because of sympathy over-exposure but we’re kind of focused at home here.

I just wanted American friends to know that our hearts go out to all the victims of the Arizona shootings, the families of all those involved. It’s hard not to get angry when your distanced from the grief, but I think we should take a cue from the families of almost every victim in such a shooting since Columbine – and preach understanding.

The problem is that it’s so difficult to understand another’s point of view when your aim is to preach in the first place. Oh, the sad irony.

I hope no-one thinks I want to change someone’s opinions. I just had an observation from years of watching from afar and thinking: Thank God I’m not American.

In response to the tragedy and aware of accusations against the press for cultivating hatred amongst uncritical viewers, the president of Fox News had asked his presenters to “watch their tone”:

“I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don’t have to do it with bombast…”

But what if they don’t know any other way to operate? For years now, incendiary, hateful and often inaccurate media commentary has become not only acceptable but expected from the extreme right-wing of politics. Unfortunately for Fox News, intellectualism has never been a strong point of any fundamentalist (right-wing or otherwise) – the problem with fundamentalism is that it depends on one viewpoint, one argument, one source to form and maintain an opinion. No matter how complete and well researched they are, rebuttals are countered in the general pattern of: “Yeah, but, referring to my original point, which is…”

Yeah, we heard your original point. We didn’t accept it. Repeating it again and again in a louder voice, or WORSE UNPUNCTUATED MISPELLED CAPITALS doesn’t make it anymore true.

Instead, it reveals a subtext to most comments and responses to any rational, or dare I say it – liberal – argument that somehow makes it to the idiot press. It’s a message that sends a chill down my back because I suspect many flaming, furious media consumers on the internets or the faded chintz couch aren’t trolls but are ill-informed and stubborn enough to think that opinions are the only things that count in debates.

Subtext: You don’t agree with us? Well,

  • Go back to where you came from,
  • Go to hell, or
  • Die.

You don’t need a map with crosshairs on it to make that point any clearer.

In good research, you don’t look to prove your theory – you tried to find out what is true and what is not, and if that means changing your opinions, then that’s what you do. I have read anti-liberal comments and commentaries, but I’m yet to see any evidence of solid research. That would mean making concessions to little things, things that are so clearly true that there is no argument – and then not offering an argument. It would go something like the first paragraph of Sarah Palin’s ‘blood libel’ address… and it would end there.

I had to delete a friend from FB the other day. It doesn’t sound like much – friend culling is common practice for those who make friends through games, but I deleted her because… well, she showed such a mean spirit I didn’t want to play with her anymore.

The ‘mosque’ ‘at’ Ground Zero is a contentious issue and I understand, really I do. On that day, the world changed – not just for American people, but the entire Western World. It was a heartbreaking waste of so many precious lives and it was fuelled by blatant hatred. It is fair to feel angry, to feel sad, to feel hopeless in the face of the tragedy of 9/11.

But it was not caused by religion, no more so than any hideous crime committed in the name of Christianity – the witch trials, the Inquisition – were caused by the belief in Christianity. These hideous aberrations of humanity were caused by the belief that one group of people, by virtue of their beliefs, has a greater right to life than those who disagree with them.

I will not argue that the cultural centre is not a mosque, nor will I point out that there are Christian religious institutions in the Arab world. I won’t even mention the men’s club a further two blocks away from Ground Zero. I won’t remind anyone of how their mother taught them to… ‘treat people the way you want to be treated’ i.e., with respect, compassion, dignity etc.

My ‘friend’ felt that the issue was ‘location, location, location.’ If you believe that the site of Ground Zero should be for sale, please delete me as your friend now, because we will never see eye-to-eye on this. If you believe that perhaps it should be reserved for commercial buildings, I’d rather the people of New York not worship the dollar there, thank you. It doesn’t seem right.

If you think the site is ideal for luxury hi-rise apartments keeping the haves safely away from the have nots, or ghettos to keep the tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free homeless and tempest-tost, well then – I disagree.

I think the ideal thing to place around this American holy site is… A cultural centre, where people can learn that the liberties protected by the American ideals and values are the greatest of any god’s bounty. A place where people can develop cultural understanding without the problems caused by bigotry or ignorance.

I say: Build it. Then build a cultural centre for every other faith and cultural group with freedoms and liberties protected in America. Ring Ground Zero with places that guarantee, through words and faith and understanding, that there will be no more tragedies like 9/11 to shatter our children’s worlds. Include an agnostic place, for those who can’t decide what god to place their trust in, and a reflection centre for atheists who place their trust in the hands of men – who perhaps have the greatest faith in an invisible belief system with no proof on their side (Respect, man).

To me, the most beautiful and sacred part of the American constitution is that it was written by Christian people to protect all of God’s people – Christian or otherwise. They did not aim to force their faith on others through the documentation that would protect the values that they felt would best define their struggle to build the perfect country.

You see, I believe faith is something you choose, it is not something that is chosen for you.

The American constitution protects the rights to freedom, religious belief and cultural differences so perfectly and in harmony that it has always protected the rights of those most abused and ignored by the rest of their countrymen. Even slaves had freedom to worship, though their lives were not free. The founding fathers didn’t write the constitution to protect their own interests, they wrote it to protect the rights and freedoms of the generations of Americans to be born. Whatever their faith.

Just a thought:

If you believe in one God,

If you believe in the Old Testament (Torah),

If you believe in the New Testament,

If you believe that Jesus was one of God’s great prophets,

If you value life,

If you sometimes worry that the Bible is misinterpreted for selfish reasons and you hope – to that God you believe in – that you are being the best person you can be…

Then you might just be Muslim.

Have a nice day.

Recently I observed that one of my friends joined a new group on Facebook about a disgusting page that “needed to be shut down”. I followed the link and found one of the more offensive groups I’ve seen on Facebook, right on par with the Dead Baby Jokes group.

There’s an interesting word in geek speak for people who deliberately create pages to insult and harass complete strangers: Troll. However, this definition is based on the premise that a Troll is trying to gain attention for their post, not just trying to hurt others. The general consensus – and there’s lots of literature out there if you want to read it – is that people troll for attention.

I’m beginning to disagree!

The sheer vitriol behind some of these web-based attacks is of such vehemence that the desire to be noticed is guaranteed – but so is a violent reaction, and potential legal action. You’d have to be of extremely limited intelligence and of a very desperate need for attention if you’d risk being charged, sued, or attacked in return for an on-the-fly comment. Of course, since the introduction of Facebook, it’d be fair to say that most trollers are teenagers… or the mental equivalent.

“He wasn’t stupid. He was seventeen.”

 (I know there are lots of people who will find offence at this, but I believe that the terms ‘stupid’ and ‘teenager’ are nearly synonymous. ‘Stupid’, of course, I define as ‘not wanting to learn or know’. But that’s because I’m a high-school teacher. )

The group I found offensive was a response to a young boy’s death in a car accident, proclaiming to mourn the death of car, but glad that it at least took ‘one bogan’ with it.

People might argue that with the immediacy of the internet, Trolls are forced to find more and more extreme ways of gaining the attention they need so badly because even their mum doesn’t love them. A key example of this theory would be the Facebook page on Dead Baby jokes, which had a graphic photo implying necrophilia. Hundreds (if not thousands) of people demanded the group be removed but it took an awful long time before action was taken. It seems necrophiliac child porn is where FB draws the line. That group is now well-pruned, and oh, how decidedly! Almost all of the photographs are gone, most of the posts, and the majority of its members.

The RIP Holden page, however, has been running for over 24 hours, enough time for 2,000 people to complain about it and demand its removal. Checking out the group in question, I reported about 1 in 5 posts for targeting the young man who died, observed 3 members posting the addresses of people who’d claimed about the group – inciting others to ‘do as they will’ with that information, and one person who thinks he’s Tyler Durden.

FB have been under attack in Oz for a while, and since that internet filter’s practically a go-go now, I wouldn’t be surprised it the powers that be on that site are feeling a little threatened. There’s a real two-way relationship between the trolls that call FB home and the tangible ignorance of FB administration towards the nasty, nasty stuff that’s being aired on their social networking site.

The trolling has gone beyond the little weird kid in the back of the class who swears for teacher’s attention. It’s branched out into full-blown bullying, incitement to violence and, in cases that have struck close to home in my field of employment, slander, libel and defamation.

This is what happens when bullying is permitted through inaction. If FB were a business that allowed people to talk to one another like they do on the not-at-all anonymous group boards, they’d soon go out of business through a number of nasty, nasty law-suits. But wait! FB is a business that allows people to talk to one another like that!

Instead of working quickly to enforce their paltry terms and conditions of use, FB have attempted to avoid blame by making it harder to report infringements, abuse and illegal activity, harder to contact administration and by complicating the privacy settings so people accept responsibility for their own actions but don’t understand how to manage this responsibility.

The trolls are taking advantage of this, and not for a few minutes of recognition from someone who’s been hurt by them. They’re kids and young people who have gotten away with abusing one another without any repercussions for their actions and now it’s getting nasty. They’ve found out that not only is it easy to hurt people’s feelings, but that they can get away with it because the big mummy and daddies of the internet are letting them.

Service providers need to take responsibility for what their services allow others to do. FB cannot claim ignorance of what is posted on the various groups. Until they begin to permanently block users who continuously violate their terms of use, they have not taken adequate steps to prevent something serious, dangerous and nasty from happening. For punishment to be effective (and everyone who knows anything about learning knows this), it must be:

  • Swift,
  • Associated to the transgression, and
  • Meaningful.

Young people today are terrified by the prospect of being disconnected because they’ve become so dependent on technology. Nomophobia is a classic example of this. The administrators of FB have the ideal way to work effectively against cyber harassment and choose not to.

BTW, what would I do if students posted something about me that was malicious, inaccurate and damaging to my career on FB? Well, it would depend on whether I wanted their house or their car…

But I’d take action, because I don’t care how desperate someone is for attention, it’s not appropriate or acceptable to treat people like dirt.

Last week, The University of Queensland confirmed what a lot of us have noticed lately: Girls are becoming as aggressive as boys. Now, what are we going to do about it?

Personally, I think we should avoid blaming feminism, chemicals in our drinking water, and we should definitely avoid conscription for these feminine thugs, as several people have mentioned in response to the many articles I’ve read online. I don’t want them armed! Too many of them go to my school…😛

So, what doe this report actually suggest, and what’s bugging everyone about it?

  • Item One: Aggression and delinquency increases during puberty for both boys and girls.
  • Item Two: The earlier a young girl enters puberty, the more likely she is to demonstrate aggression or delinquency.
  • Item Three: Earlier and later onset of puberty seems to have a long lasting effect in increasing aggression and delinquency.
  • The authors of this study noted that it seems girl’s aggression has increased over previous reports (this is a longitudinal study) to match that of boys.

Now you don’t need to read the report, or at least the abstract. Now you is informed.

These findings support what educators have been made aware for a long time – that aggression is growing amongst young girls, and that puberty – the middle school years – is a hairy time for people in the charge of young men and women. I know I’m not telling any parent/guardian of a pubescent child that puberty is a real danger zone. We know that it’s a volatile recipe of emotions, hormones, and cultural influences all boiling away in one of those old-fashioned pressure cookers your mum used to make chunky casseroles.

Anyway, this report still leaves a swathe of issues to concern educators, particularily the question: Why are young women becoming increasingly aggressive? These concerns are huge among educators. The increased aggression reported amongst girls includes bullying, fighting, theft, and substance abuse, particularly prevalent within the school setting – the classroom, the school yard, and after-school care.

We can’t blame technology – girls don’t target other young people, brutally beat them, film this and post this on the net because they have a phone capable of this… Otherwise I’d be doing it a lot more often. We can’t blame hormones – in fact, this report disproves the theory that increased testosterone levels in girls is to blame. Aggressive behaviours are social behaviours (admittedly, anti-social behaviours), and any increase in aggression is a social problem.

Aggression and assertion are often easily confused by adults, and so there’s no surprise that our children would struggle with this distinction, but there are few parent/guardians out there who don’t want their children to be positive, assertive, and strong. We teach our kids to stand up for what they believe in, and this isn’t a feminist message. It relates to young men and women.

According to most of the internet responses to the media reports, we can blame feminism – but teaching young women to be assertive is different to accepting aggressive behaviour.Additionally, it is popular to blame alcohol for this increase in aggression and delinquency, but note that substance abuse (and for all you frequent alkos in education alcohol is a controlled substance!) is a symptom of the problem, not the identifiable root of the problem. According to Jane Fynes-Clinton of the Courier Mail:

When alcohol is in the mix, the behaviour is the most marked. The rise of the ladette is evident at any race meeting, party, club or pub. They dress to display their female assets but by the end of the occasion, they are spewing and cursing like the blokiest blokes.

Perhaps this is true, but Fynes-Clinton seems more concerned with this rise in aggression as a sign that ‘Manners, restraint and respect for self and others’ are declining amongst young women, and that these are the cure for ‘the feral, revolting young woman’. Furthermore, in Australia, where the drinking age is 18 and in the USA where the drinking age is 21, puberty should be well and truly over by the time young people are able to drink in public events to this extent – unchallenged, at least.

Technology is the facilitator of this aggression. It allows young men and women to glorify themselves as they are aggressive, as they break the law, as they break one another’s faces. It is not the cause. Substance use and abuse is another self-destructive spiral, not a cause of aggression.

Puberty is the time when kids become sexualised, and this changes their social understanding significantly. Most parents and guardians out there will have noticed that, with the exception of family, small children tend to group together in same-sex friendships. When puberty hits, they need to reshuffle their friendship groups but, at the same time, everyone they know is doing the same thing. Kids at this stage in their development take things so seriously – a grudge, a snub, a misread comment.This is why I’ve heard teen girls greet each other so happily in the morning, watched them hug and chat, then one will turn to the other with the classic questions: “But seriously, did you call me a bitch over the weekend? ‘Cause I totally heard that you did.”

Bully-girls are just as common as bully-boys, but socially they’re usually restricted to sniping at each other with nasty, snide comments. This rise in aggression is to meet that of boys, however, which means for a long time now, boys have fought, bullied, stolen and abused a range of substances, but to no press frenzy, no theories from Professors of It’s-All-Common-Sense-Isn’t-It-Really, no heart-breaking obituaries to manners, restraint, self-respect and sugar-and-spice. After all, boys are supposed to be all slugs-and-snails, aren’t they?

By not caring about this, by dismissing fights and bullying as boys being boys, society in turn accepts this behaviour. It’s called implied consent – if someone does something and you don’t complain, how are they to know their behaviour isn’t acceptable? People have suggested that there’s a culture of fear now when confronted by an angry young mob on the streets – but what are they doing late out night in these numbers, unchallenged? They might be of legal age, but they still need the finances and freedom to be there, and personally, I believe there’s a certain point in a parent/guardian’s life when they can’t set restrictions on their kids, when they can’t expect their children to follow their rules – and that’s when the child makes a move to live on their own, moves out of the house, finances their own home. Until then, there should always be consequences for a child’s behaviour. Irregardless, when children are moving through the minefield of puberty – they are always under the guardianship of some adult. This adult doesn’t need to take the whole burden of responsibility for their child – but they need to teach the child to take responsibility for their own actions.

I believe in the village model of education – that it takes a village to raise a child. In today’s social, political and cultural climate, parents and guardians can no longer work in isolation, nor should they expect schools to do so. Whenever I have an aggressive young man or woman in my class, I ring home to talk to the parents. Not to berate them, but so that we can co-ordinate a response to their child’s actions.

The changing shapes and sizes of families doesn’t impact upon the quality of a child’s social education – if you build a supportive network of adults a ‘village’ to support the child. Young men and women are taught assertiveness, but as our community mentality crumbles, standing up for what you believe in changes into fighting for yourself and ignoring all others. We can’t blame feminism, or some abstract, undefinable decrease in equally undefined moral standards, but we can only blame our own inaction when we see a rise in aggressive teens and child delinquency. Every school has a behavioural management policy and many have mobile phone, internet, and bullying policies. These are each commitments made by management and teaching staff to protect children under their care – provided they receive the support of students and their families.

Perhaps the real issue to cause concern is not that women are increasing to match young men in their aggression – but that in failing to take action, we as a society accept such behaviour.