The headlines are worrisome. Reports of students bullying their peers, bringing them to the point of suicide and murder, pepper the front pages of major newspapers. The news is national. Names like Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Prince have become symbols of a system that has neither connected to at risk youths, nor the perpetrators.
New York-based educators George S. Anthony and Lindy P. Crescitelli brought their presentation entitled "Stand Up and Lead" to the Middletown Township Public Library on Monday night. Their goal was not to offer feel-good, anti-bullying rallies, but, to offer a more substantive alternative.
“Children are not the leaders of tomorrow, they’re the leaders of today,” said Anthony, who then used the example of a child in the mall who acts out. It is a scenario Anthony feels everyone has seen and can relate to as that child not only affects their parents, but everyone within the viewing and listening perimeter. The illustration shows the negative influence of the young in a situation.
Anthony and Crescitelli then ask if that same persistence could be used in positive ways, which is the foundation of their "Stand Up and Lead" concept. In their position, the usual bullying students aren’t future leaders.
They prophecize them as leaders in a mindset wherein their aggressive actions and communication can have a positive, rather than negative influence on their external situations. It's a matter of channeling the forceful negative into a positive.
For Anthony, a teacher at Susan Wagner High School and a Middletown resident, the impetus for change came not from recent events, but from a notorious one from 1989. “I had a major in psychology and history, but that was the year of the murder of Yusuf Hawkins (in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn),” he said.
Stirred not only by the horror of original act, but the racial tension and violence that followed in the days afterward, Anthony said he answered a powerful calling to find ways that would make a difference before violence occurs.
Anthony’s partner in the organization Peace Dynamics Consultants is Lindy Crescitelli, whose formative years found him as a founding member of Students Concerned About Rape Education (SCARED) at Syracuse University, New York.
Crescitelli offered a shocking piece of data to reinforce why change is necessary. “Between 2003 and 2004, the rates of suicide (among students) went up 18 percent in one year," he said. "There are also increased incidents of eating disorders, low self-esteem, and emotional shutdown.” Crescitelli added the ease of such negative behavior has spurred on such an increase. “It’s a culture of casual cruelty,” he said.
The tools a bully uses are more sophisticated, even if the intent is not, he went on to explain. With the advent of the home computer and personal web pages, the incidents of slander and harassment have been on the rise.
The broadcast of personal information and misrepresentation played a role in the suicides of both Clementi and Prince, with more abuse being heaped upon Prince’s Facebook page after her death.
Both Anthony’s and Crescitelli’s direction in such a case is to react, as is expected with any emotional situation. It is a reflexive response, and not something that can be controlled, but how the reaction occurs can. “Don’t overreact,” said Anthony. “Feel what you feel, record it, and delete it.”
Crescitelli said, of things posted on the Internet, “You need that information if you’re called upon to make a case, you need that evidence. Take a screenshot, record what was there, and then have it taken down.”
Another topic was the alarming, increasing rates of dating violence. Again, the cornerstone of the team’s approach is to assert more effective communication. Citing the most prominent recent incident, the beating of pop star Rihanna by former boyfriend and famous musician Chris Brown. Crescitelli asked why the cultural reaction in many circles was, “Well, what did Rihanna do (to provoke being beat up)?”
As Anthony asserted earlier that there are no justifiable or “good” stereotypes, Crescitelli said there are no justifiable reasons to inflict abuse in a relationship. To that, he challenged the younger members of the audience to think of people they know who are dating others that may not be good for them, and their relationship might be held together by fear or incidents of violence.
The reason for the question was to reinforce the team’s original intention, that young people have the power to make change now. By speaking up, and speaking to the vulnerable, they have the ability to avert violence and offense.
“Little actions, like just saying hello to the kid (who is unpopular), can bring them up. It can make them not feel so alone,” Anthony added. “It’s about standing up and leading, and that’s how you make a difference.”
A member of the audience, Rob Lantos, was a student of Anthony’s at Susan Wagner High School in Staten Island and showed up for the presentation in support of his former teacher and mentor.
“[Mr. Anthony] got me to join his mediation group, which taught me how to stop fights instead of starting them,” he said. Lantos is now a personal trainer and credits Anthony’s instruction for intervening positively during a crucial period of his life that could have just as easily been negative.
Both Anthony and Crescitelli believe that the solution to the problem is the empowerment of the student to lead responsibly and to use effective communication to achieve positive results. They are not impressed by one-day rallies and easy responses to critical issues.
“This is not something you can just wrap up in a rally by shouting 'Stop the bullying, end the bullying!' You have to offer the tools that go with [the participants] and not just give them something to shout that they forget the moment they leave the auditorium,” he explained.
Crescitelli pointed to the response their presentation has had, even before the United Nations: “We’ve actually made this presentation worldwide. Of course, it is tailored to the area where we give the presentation, from the suburbs to cities and different countries.”
Crescitelli is convinced that the duo's goals can be reached, and the means are reasonable and effective. “We’re both educators, so we’re presenting the information and the techniques we know work,” he concluded.