A BLOG

The time out as a liminal space of possibility?

So, I am using this blog as a way to work out different ideas I have about troublemaking–how it functions and how it is represented and understood within a variety of discourses and media. At a certain point–family members, friends, colleagues, students, acquaintences, random people on the street–grow tired of hearing me go on and on and on…and on about my theories/ruminations/rants of particular examples of making trouble and valuing troublemakers. That is where you, my dear blog, come in. You are my opportunity to squeeze every troublemaking drop out of an example (I haven’t even begun to tap into the possibilities of the Brady Bunch and “A fistful of reasons”). In that spirit, I want to continue my “critical exploration” of The Book of Timeouts.

Earlier today, I had a brainstorm while I was in the bathroom (Martin Luther, eat your heart out!).  I started thinking more about the link between troublemaking and punishment and kid’s troublemaking and time outs. One thought I had (and that I mentioned in my last entry), was: Do they need to be linked? Can we imagine the consequences of troublemaking to be good (transformative, leading to change) instead of all bad? That is a continuing theme of mine and one I will come back to again and again. But, after I finished my last entry, I started thinking more about the connection between making trouble (in all forms) and being punished. Then, I started thinking about the prison industrial complex and all of the important critical activist work that is being done on this crisis. So, I picked up a book by Angela Davis that I have been meaning to read all spring, Are Prisons Obsolete? In her introduction she ponders what it might mean to do away with the prison system and rethink how we address and deal with crime. Instead of reforming prisons or finding ways to create more of them, she wants to raise the question of “how to prevent the further expansion of prison populations and how to bring as many imprisoned women and men as possible back into what prisoners call ‘the free world'” (20). For many, that is a radical and inconceivable idea. How, exactly, could we go about doing this? Davis’ shift in emphasis would require a complete transformation of how we think about “criminals”, criminal activity and how to respond to it.

With that in mind, I started thinking about the time out and how it functions in terms of resolving (or at least dealing with) kid’s troublemaking behavior.  Consider how Lucke envisions it when she writes in her introduction:

You got more and more out of control. Finally someone like your mom noticed and said, ‘You need a time out!’ And suddenly, surprise!–you were on a little vacation from everyone else. In a corner, by yourself, where you could pout away until you could play nicely with others.

Lucke understands the time out implicitly and explicitly as a place of punishment and, in many of her examples, presents it as the equivalent of a prison cell. As a prison cell, the time out place (most often the dreaded time out chair) becomes a space of confinement that you are banished to when you do something wrong. You go to the time out chair not so much to settle down but because you did something that you need to be punished for. The time out chair takes you out of the action and out of the fun. It is meant to separate you from everyone else–from your friends, family, the world–as a reminder that you shouldn’t act out, you shouldn’t be too full of yourself, you shouldn’t step out of line.

The time out chair (and the idea of the time out in general) can be understood simultaneously as a threat (see kids, don’t behave like these bad troublemakers who got extra long time outs) to ensure that none of us actually do things we aren’t supposed to and as a means for wearing us down and draining us of our ability to resist and step outside of the system (so, you want to make trouble, huh? We will just lock you up until you come to your senses).  Whether it functions as a threat or a means of punishment, the time out (chair) is a necessary part of a kid’s moral education.

As I mentioned in my last entry, Lucke uses her different examples of troublemaking as moral lessons for her reader. The front flap makes the connection between troublemaker and moral lesson explicit: “Lucke showcases some of the world’s most famous troublemakers and proves that lessons can be learned from all of them”.  For each of these troublemakers, getting a time out (and often in the form of the time out chair) is a necessary part of growing up and learning what not to do. Don’t be too full of yourself (Hannibal). Share with others (Napoleon). Always apologize (Grace O’Malley). And, reading about what these other troublemakers allows kids to shape their good and improper behavior against the threat of punishment for bad behavior.

But, what if we thought about the time out space differently? What if we didn’t imagine and reinforce it as a fixed location for punishment, as a kiddy prison cell where you went when you misbehaved? What if we reimagined the time out space as a space of reflection and rumination, where a kid could ponder and process their thoughts and feelings and where she might be able to channel them in different ways? And, what if we imagined the act of a time out as not being experienced in a time out chair? What if we kept part of the goal of the time out (that is, to allow a kid to cool off and to stop the trajectory of their out-of-control actions), but didn’t connect that goal with punishment and got rid of the chair?

Would disconnecting the time out (as the process of stopping or tempering out-of-control behavior) from punishment enable us to think differently about how to deal with “bad” behavior? Would it allow parents to think differently about how to guide (instead of just disciplining) their kids? Would it give kids a different model for thinking about how and why they should develop strategies for dealing with their desires to disrupt and challenge authority? Would it require that we rethink moral education outside of the discipline and punish mentality?

Now, I need a lot more time to ruminate on this idea. I want to do a lot more (re) reading on punishment (Foucault, Davis, to name a few). I want to do a lot more researching on how the time out chair functions within the literature on child development. I want to think more about what this might mean for how I do my own parenting. And what this could mean for how we respond to the prison industrial complex.

I want to be very clear here: I am not suggesting that there is a simple (and direct) connection between children who are sent to the time out chair and prisoners who are sentenced to a prison cell. It is much more complicated than that. What I am suggesting is that the implicit and explicit connections we make between improper/out-of-control behavior, punitive consequences, and moral lessons begin in the time out chair and help to produce a society that becomes too dependent on prisons as the answer for “solving” crime and too dependent on punishment (or the threat of punishment) for developing morals and/or ethical codes of conduct. Troubling the time out chair and how it should/does function, could open up some new ways of thinking about how to deal with and understand disruptive, improper behavior. And it could open news way of thinking about how to develop and practice moral education for children.

Now, in ending my writing here, I haven’t even begun to answer the question I posed as the title of this entry: The time out as a liminal space of possibility? I guess that will have to wait as I continue to think through how to connect these thoughts that are swirling around in my head. Maybe I should spend some more time in the bathroom.

It worked for Martin Luther and Doc Brown (is that too obscure of a reference for you?), didn’t it?

The Book of Time outs, part II

In my last entry on Teaching kids to value troublemaking, I wrote about how this children’s book about time outs fails to distinguish between good and bad forms of troublemaking. Now, I want to take up a claim that I made at the end of that entry:

And I don’t want a kid’s book that turns all of this “mostly true” history of troublemakers into a cautionary tale of why we should stay in line, follow the rules, and never challenge authority: they always lead to punishment in the form of kid time-outs (in the corner) or, later, adult time-outs (in prison).

Contrary to my initial hope, this book is not aimed at encouraging troublemaking or on educating kids on the history of troublemakers who “made a difference.” No, the goal of this book is to educate kids on the value of time outs as a way of keeping us in check and allowing us to cool down so we don’t ever get too out of control. The ultimate moral lesson of this book becomes: See what happens when you step out of line? You get punished with a time out. Occasionally (but very rarely) you might not deserve it, but you need to always remember that your actions have consequences. So, next time you think about challenging the rules or questioning ideas that don’t make sense or just seem wrong to you, think again. The end result of your actions will (and should) always be punishment. And we don’t want that, do we?

Lucke sets up the book with a list of 14 different troublemakers. With each troublemaker she describes how they stepped out of line or exhibited bad behavior and then how they were punished for it. To better understand Lucke’s argument, I will paraphrase her descriptions:

1.  Hannibal the Animal: General Hannibal of the Carthaginians had great success in using elephants to defeat the Roman Army. But he got too full of himself and started focusing more on how he was “the greatest general that ever lived” than on fighting the Romans. When the Romans attacked Hannibal and his army at Carthage, the sound of their trumpets scared the elephants away. Carthage was crushed and Hannibal was given a time out in a “far-off corner of the ancient world.”

Troublemaking behavior: Full of himself
Time out punishment: Banishment
Moral: Always try to be humble. Pride and arrogance can blind us to the limits of our own actions.

2. The Phighting Pharaoh: Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy kept fighting over who could rule Egypt. One day, the guards found Cleopatra sitting on the throne and Ptolemy crying on the floor. They gave Cleopatra a long time out in the desert and Ptolemy became the ruler. Later Cleopatra got help from Julius Caesar and kicked Ptolemy out. Then she sat back down on the throne.

Troublemaking behavior: Unable to share
Time out punishment: Kicked out, Forced to stop playing
Moral: Always try to share and take turns.

3. Marcus Tullius “Put-a-Sock-in-it” Cicero: Cicero was a great orator, but he refused to shut up. People got really annoyed–they couldn’t get a word in edgewise. So, they kicked him out of Rome and sent him far away. He got back at them by writing long letters that ended up the library and that we still read today.

Troublemaking behavior: Talked too much
Time out Punishment: Banished, not listened to
Moral: Find a better way to use your voice.

4. Lionhearted, But knuckleheaded: On his way home from the crusades, Richard the Lionheart cut through Leopold V of Austria’s backyard. Leopold got mad and put Richard and his friends in the dungeon. Richard’s mommy had to give a lot of money to Leopold to get him out.

Troublemaking behavior: Trespassing
Time out Punishment: Put in prison and embarrassed by his mommy in front of his friends
Moral: Be respectful of other people’s property and don’t take shortcuts

5. The Not-So-Clean Queen: Isabella never bathed and smelled very bad. Perhaps that is why her older half brother the king kicked her out of Madrid and tried to marry her off to a foreign prince. She snuck off, took a bath, and married someone else. Her brother was mad that she disobeyed him but not too mad; he was happy she didn’t smell anymore!

Troublemaking behavior: Refusing to take a bath, disobeying older  brother’s orders
Time out punishment: Kicked out of the house,
Moral: Take a bath. Smelling sweet (especially as a girl) excuses any bad behavior.

6. The Explorer That Went Too Far: Columbus lied to people (including the queen) in Spain about finding gold and gems in America. When a lot of people sailed with him to get rich and found out he was lying, they got mad. So mad that they chained him up and sent him back to Spain where he had to explain himself to the queen.

Troublemaking behavior: lying
Time out punishment: Kicked out, sent to the principal’s (I mean queen’s) office.
Moral: Don’t lie to people. They will get mad at you.

7. Grandma, the Pirate: Grace O’Malley liked to rob English ships traveling to Ireland. She was caught and punished twice but she kept doing it…for 60 years. Finally, when she was tired she said she was sorry and asked the queen to forgive her. The queen said okay as long as she didn’t do it again.

Troublemaking behavior: Acting out, stealing from others
Time out punishment: Imprisoned twice
Moral: If you apologize for your bad behavior, people will forgive you and not give you any more time outs.

8. Ach! That Bach!: Fed up with how badly the bassoonist was playing, Bach yelled at him and called him a bad name. The two of them got into a fight that the police had to break up. The fight was put on his record and became the first of many bad marks for Bach.

Troublemaking behavior: Not working well with others
Time out punishment: Yelled at and given a bad report
Moral: Learn how to live in harmony with others.

9. The Armée Brat: Napoleon thought everything belonged to him so he kept taking land from other countries. Finally, the other countries were fed up and gave him a time out on a small island that nobody cared about. When he broke out and tried to start more trouble, he was given an even longer time-out.

Troublemaking behavior: Being selfish, taking other peoples’ things
Time out punishment: Forced to sit in the corner
Moral: Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you.

10. Not the Smartest Artist: Honoré Daumier was an artist who painted pictures that always made people look bad. One day he painted a picture of the King of France that made the king look especially bad…and funny. Everyone laughed…expect the King. He locked Daumier up in prison.

Troublemaking behavior: Making fun of other people
Time out punishment: Prison
Moral: Be nice to other people and don’t do things that are at their expense or If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

11. The Insufferable Suffragette: When Susan B. Anthony was told not to go to the voting booth, she refused to listen and went in anyway. She was sent to jail and got a fine. Later she told people that she had disobeyed because she thought the rule was stupid. A lot of people said she was right. Finally so did the U.S. government and the rules were changed.

Troublemaking behavior: Refusing to follow the rules
Time out punishment: Arrested and fined
Moral: Sometimes challenging rules can lead to changing them.

12. Bad, Bad, Babe: Even though Babe Ruth was really good at baseball, he was really bad at following the coach’s rules. He did a lot of things he shouldn’t have—eating too much, staying out too late, being impolite to other players. Finally the coach was fed up. He fined Babe and wouldn’t let him play again until he apologized.

Troublemaking behavior: Disruptive and disrespectful behavior
Time out punishment: Fined and suspended from playing
Moral: Listen to your coach, follow his rules and respect him and the other players.

13. The Horn Player that Nearly Blew It: Louis Armstrong started out as a troublemaker and was sent to a wayward home for boys. While at the home, he learned how to play the trumpet and became very successful around the world.

Troublemaking behavior: looking for trouble?
Time out punishment: Sent to a home for boys.
Moral: Turned his life around and learned how to play trumpet.

14. A Very Upstanding Sitter: While sitting on a crowded bus, Rosa Parks disobeyed the law and refused to give up her seat to a white man. She was arrested. She believed the law was wrong and fought for it to be changed. Eventually it was. She won a Congressional Medal of Honor for her efforts.

Troublemaking behavior: Disobeying
Time out punishment: put in jail
Moral: Sometimes laws are wrong and we should refuse to obey them. While we will get punished for it, we might be able to get the law changed.

Okay, some of this book was clever. As I read through Lucke’s descriptions, I found myself laughing a couple of times. I must admit that many of the moral lessons (according to my interpretations. Lucke never describes these accounts as producing moral lessons) are worthwhile. And, in her description of Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks, she does suggest that their troublemaking was important and transformative. But what do we make of how she haphazardly lumps all of these individuals and their rebellious actions together under the sign of troublemaker/troublemaking? And how she reduces each troublemaker’s rebellious actions to a childish act of being too full of themselves, or of lying to others, or of not sharing, or of refusing to take a bath? Is that really what these different figures are doing? Should we teach children to identify their own bad behavior as the precursor to even badder behavior? And, is the best way to understand troublemaking (what is it, why we do it, what its consequences are) by forever linking it to punishment?

Of course there are certain behaviors that need to be punished and I am definitely not averse to telling my kids that they need a time out…at least once (or twice or more) a day. I think adults need time outs too (preferably ones that involve a spa tub and some Calgon). But, are time outs the best way to resolve troublemaking behavior and is resolving troublemaking behavior what we should always be trying to do? How many Susan B. Anthonys or Rosa Parks have lost their ability to resist and their desire to challenge unjust laws because they were given time outs? What would the world look like if we were encouraged (and we encouraged others) to stand up to rules that weren’t right, to laws that were unjust, to ideas that bred hate and to institutions that perpetuated oppression in its many forms?

Okay, you are probably thinking: Lighten up. This is just a kid’s book and a cute one at that. Kid’s books aren’t supposed to have deeper messages. Kid’s books are harmless. You might even say: Hey, this kid’s book is pretty great. It introduces kids to Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks and the idea that certain laws are meant to challenged. And, I would agree with you up to a point. But, I would also say: This kid’s book, which takes up the idea of troublemaking as transformative (at least in the cases of Anthony and Parks), could have enabled kids to think about how standing up for themselves, questioning authority, and/or claiming their own voice is something to be valued and should be something that doesn’t always lead to punishment but results in a better, more just world.

When I think about a kid’s book on troublemaking, I imagine it as not always connecting troublemaking with bad behavior that needs to be punished. My kid’s book would not follow Lucke’s formula of bad behavior = well-deserved punishment = moral lesson. My kid’s book would invite children (and the adults who read to them) to think about how to distinguish between bad (harmful, selfish) and good (transformative, visionary) forms of troublemaking. Or maybe it would focus only on those examples of good troublemaking to demonstrate how many people throughout history have found ways to resist and transform the system. How they have learned to think for themselves and challenge rules that don’t work or are harmful. And, maybe it would argue that the most important result of their actions has not been a time out punishment, but the transformation of the world in ways that open up more possibilities to more people.

Teaching kids to value troublemaking

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In the midst of teaching my troublemaking graduate course this semester I came across a children’s book that looked really cool–The Book of Timeouts: A Mostly True History of the World’s Biggest Troublemakers by Deb Lucke. One huge impetus for my work on troublemaking as an ethical and political virtue is to reclaim it for kids (and adults) as something they should do and never stop doing. I want my daughter RJP to be valued for her amazing troublemaking spirit and I want others (her teachers, the shows that she watches, adult figures in her life, the books that she reads, peers) to recognize and encourage that behavior in her. Of course, I want that for my son FWA as well, but I don’t worry as much about him. As a lot of feminist theorizing has revealed, young girls are particularly discouraged from talking back,  speaking out and challenging the rules. To varying degrees, they are often punished more harshly for their improper acts than their male counterparts.

Now, I am not talking about troublemaking as violent, disruptive outbursts in class or Bart Simpson-like pranks that are perpetrated to create chaos and destruction (and to repeatedly shame the already beaten-down Principal Skinner).  Continuing the Simpson analogy, I am talking about the Lisa Simpson version of troublemaking: the critical thinker who refuses to accept her teacher’s lectures as gospel and who is able to cut through the crap and uncover difficult truths about the larger structures that shape her and dictate how she is supposed to behave (I need to return to this image of Lisa Simpson as a virtuous troublemaker in another blog. What I don’t like about her critical thinking-as-troublemaking is how serious she is. She needs to lighten up and find the fun in challenging the system. Personally, I find her to be a little too self-righteous).

But, let’s get back to the subject of this blog entry: The Book of Timeouts. So, as I mentioned above, I was really excited to find out about this book. At last, a children’s book that valued troublemaking and offered a history of how famous historical figures have engaged in troublemaking in valuable ways! The blurb on the back cover seemed to encourage the reader to really think about how troublemaking has been used to make history (and not just in destructive ways): “The next time you get a time out, take this book and read about the most famous and infamous rabble-rousers in history…”.

But, my hopes for the book evaporated as I scanned it. Ahh, where to begin? When I first found this book I had imagined that it would offer a subversive take on history and argue for the importance of being a troublemaker (I know, my expectations for a kid’s book are little unrealistic. But, hey, it could happen). How wrong I was! The introduction starts promisingly enough:

For as long as there have been people, there have been people who were badly behaved, out of line, out of order, ill-mannered, inappropriate, or just plan unwilling to follow the rules.

Preach it sister! Okay, some rules might be important to follow (like red=stop and green=go or look both ways before crossing the street). But, when the rules become rigid roles of how little girls should behave (like “proper,” dainty, pretty and unthinking dolls) or mandates on what it means to be patriotic (not to question motives for entering war) or laws about whose love should be recognized and whose shouldn’t, well, then those rules should be questioned and maybe even broken. In those instances when those damaging rules are forced upon us, we need to behave badly. We need to be out of line or cross the line or eliminate the line. And, to engage in all of this rule breaking, we need to have instructive models for how to do it effectively. We need to be trained in ethically and politically responsible troublemaking practices that allow for social transformation and not just destruction. That do more good than harm.

Now, that’s what I thought this book could do. And, with this opening line, I thought it might. Troublemakers unite! Gather ’round and bear witness to the inspirational successes and failures of your ancestors (umm…where was I? Oh, right). But, no, not in this book. After that awesome opening line, Lucke writes:

Since you’re reading this book perhaps you too have, on occasion, been less than perfect. Maybe you woke up feeling full of yourself and like doing whatever you wanted. You got more and more out of control. Finally someone like your mom noticed and said, “You need a time out!” …If so, you’re not the first to have a time out, you’re not the worst.

And this is where the book goes all wrong for me. I see two big problems with this introduction (I will devote the rest of this entry to the first of these problems and take on the other problem later). By linking little kids’ temper tantrums with adult acts of rebellion, Lucke ends up lumping all forms of troublemaking together in her description. This flattens out the important differences that exist between specific forms of troublemaking and leads to the equating of little Johnny refusing to eat his vegetables or sit quietly at the dinner table with Susan B. Anthony refusing to be denied the right to vote or Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus (Yep, these are examples in the book. Perhaps the only two examples of good troublemaking).

Whaaa? What are kids supposed to make of that connection? Sure, as a mother of two young (3 and 6) kids, I am not interested in encouraging my kids to be crazy hellions who do whatever they want whenever they want. There should be limits to their behavior, but limits not based on what is Proper or Right, but on how their actions affect themselves and others. The best forms of troublemaking are aimed at transforming the world for entire communities and are always done with an awareness of how our actions impact others. Susan B. Anthony didn’t break the rules because she got up on the wrong side of the bed or because she was feeling “full of herself.” She challenged the law that denied her the right to vote because she saw an injustice being done to her and to all other women in the United States. And, Rosa Parks didn’t refuse to sit at the back of the bus because she was out of control. She did it because she was well-trained in non-violent resistance and an active participant in the civil rights movement. And, she did it because she saw an opportunity both to challenge (for herself and for her community) a racist bus policy and to help mobilize a strike against the Montgomery Bus Company.

I want my kids to know the difference between troublemaking that is selfish and not virtuous (the kind that involves going ape-s**t in Target and flinging themselves on the floor) and troublemaking that is aimed at a greater good and/or with others in mind (the kind that involves speaking up for another kid when a teacher or another student says something racist, sexist or heterosexist against that kid). I don’t want a kid’s book that encourages my kids to equate “bad” and punishable behavior with speaking up for themselves.

…And I don’t want a kid’s book that turns all of this “mostly true” history of troublemakers into a cautionary tale of why we should stay in line, follow the rules, and never challenge authority: they always lead to punishment in the form of kid time-outs (in the corner) or, later, adult time-outs (in prison). But, that gets me to the other big problem I have with this book’s introduction. And that will have to wait for another blog entry…

Feistiness and Feminist Ethics

STA has warned me that I need to take a break from the Brady Bunch and I agree. After all, this is not the Brady Bunch blog.

A couple of months ago, I was re-reading a great collection by Claudia Card called Feminist Ethics. In her introductory essay Claudia Card writes about feminist ethics and the virtue of feistiness. She argues that we need to stop being polite (and start getting real…arghh! Curse you MTV’s Real World). We need to cultivate insubordination as a primary practice in our ethical reflections and constructions. We need to be willing to quarrel with others instead of backing down. We need to constantly challenge the ways that ethical frameworks fix us into limited visions of what is proper or improper behavior.

I am intrigued by Card’s suggestions that the virtue that describes all of this rebellious behavior is feistiness. But I wonder, what are the differences between feistiness and troublemaking? Is feistiness to feminist as troublemaking is to queer? When I think of feistiness, my vision is (almost?) always gendered female. Actually, it is very specific: I think of someone I know — a fiery farm girl who has a glimmer in her eye and is always up for an argument. The problem is that I whenever I think of her I also always remember how her feistiness is perpetually kept in check through her limited and conservative roles as mother and wife. Maybe feisty is what happens to troublemaking girls when they grow up? Their seemingly limitless appetite for destruction (someone please stop me!) is tamed as they grow older and more proper and “responsible.” Is this what feistiness is? A muted form of troublemaking? When we (girls) grow up do we trade in trouble for spiritedness?

I want to believe that troublemaking is something that we should never grow out of. We should be able to grow older and wiser, more responsible and accountable and still engage in some fun and serious troublemaking.  And, we should be able to do all of this without having to tone down our rebelliousness so that it fits in the more attractive and desirable form of feistiness (It does seem to me that feistiness is quite often represented not as a threatening or troubling personality trait or type of behavior,  but as a desirable and “sexy” one. For more evidence of this claim, check out the myspace page for this “Feisty” from the Love of Ray J). I wonder what this film, “Tomboys: Feisty Girls and Spirited Women” has to say about all of this? I will have to watch it this summer.

But, wait… Feistiness could be connected to the female/feminine in ways that aren’t completely constrained by masculine norms or traditional feminine roles. I am reminded of this great paper I just read by my friend, KCF, where she talks about (among other things) the femme identity as negotiating and playing with feminine roles not just reinforcing them. Wow. So, could femme feistiness be one specific version of troublemaking? [see this and this for more on the femme identity]. What would troublemaking in this form look like?

A Fistful of Reasons, Part II: The Trouble with Bullies

And the obsession with this episode continues…I am not exaggerating when I say that I could write a book about Fistful of Reasons. Here are just a few things that I love about this episode and why it so compelling for my own work:

  • The focus on reason and its limits
  • The conflict between the “troublemaker” (Buddy Hinton) and the troubled (Peter and Cindy)
  • The performances of (failed) masculinity by Mike, Peter, Buddy, Alice, Cindy and the performances of (failed) femininity by Carol, Alice, Mrs. Hinton
  • The failed possibilities for alliance building between Buddy and Peter

I hope to get to all of these topics in future blogs. But before I do that, I want to write about an issue that seems particularly important in light of the recent accounts of anti-gay bullying suicides: the trouble with bullies. This spring, several kids committed suicide after being taunted, verbally abused, and physically threatened. As many have argued–like Box Turtle Bulletin and Advocate–the cause of these suicides was not just harassment but anti-gay harassment that could have been prevented if the schools that these students had attended had better anti-bullying programs in place (see this for more).

These tragic cases point to the physical, emotional and psychic consequences of bullying and raise the troubling questions: Who is to blame for these suicides and who should be held responsible? What sorts of actions can we take to ensure that these tragedies stop occurring? How have our traditional strategies for dealing with bullies failed to protect our children?

In “A Fistful of Reasons,” the issue of bullying is taken up as Cindy, Peter and their parents (comically) struggle with how to solve the problem of Buddy Hinton and his bullying behavior. Buddy taunts Cindy for lisping (a gay signifier?) and threatens Peter with taunts and physical violence (calling Peter’s masculinity into question?). Here are the different ways that they try to address the problem:

  1. To stop Buddy from teasing Cindy about her lisp, Mike and Carol try to train her to talk properly. They give her a tongue twister book so she can “get over her lisp” and talk just like everybody else. Almost the whole family (Mike, Carol, Alice, Greg, Peter and Bobby) help her with the exercises in the book. At first this method doesn’t work but by the end of the episode Cindy’s lisp has magically disappeared.
  2. To stop Buddy from threatening and taunting Peter, Peter’s brothers Greg and Bobby attempt to shame Peter into fighting Buddy: “If you don’t fight him, everyone’s gonna call you a coward.” (or a sissy or a fag?)
  3. To stop Buddy from teasing Cindy and calling her a baby, Mike and Carol encourage Peter to stand up to Buddy (like a man) not by fighting him but by using “calm, cool, reason.” They reinforce this lesson (especially after it fails for Peter) by attempting to use reason themselves with Buddy’s parents.
  4. After these other methods have failed, Mike gives Peter permission to “defend himself” against Buddy. When Peter admits that he doesn’t know how to fight, Marcia and Alice give him some boxing lessons.
  5. As I discussed in another entry, Peter finally solves the problem by punching Buddy and causing him to lisp. All of the kids laugh at him and he loses his power to bully others.

Continue reading A Fistful of Reasons, Part II: The Trouble with Bullies