Everybody’s talking about Will Smith’s Oscar slap on Chris Rock. I’m not usually interested in Hollywood happenings, but this one is different. Despite everything else going on in the world right now, I couldn’t get The Slap off my mind this week. And, I think it has to do with my career in the classroom, as a teacher.
Because after the slap, nothing happened to Will Smith.
He assaulted another man, in front of a large room full of witnesses, with millions more watching on TV, and nothing happened.
Reports say that the Oscar people were debating what to do, and could not assemble fast enough to make a decision. Why is discussion even needed for this? Somebody (Academy President, security chief, show producer) should have made the decision to have Smith removed. You don’t need to have a meeting about that.
However shocked and upset the audience seemed at the time of the incident, all was apparently forgiven when they announced Smith as the winner for Best Actor. Everybody stood up and applauded as if nothing ridiculous had happened.
I’ve observed this type of thing repeatedly throughout my 25 year career as a school teacher. Students were not held accountable for their actions.
Far too often, misbehaving students would receive no consequence for the harm their actions caused others. Somebody would help get them calmed down, then they would talk about their feelings, review their actions and discuss how they could have handled the situation better.
None of those things are bad- but there is something important missing.
After these school incidents, staff would jump on any opportunity they had to be positive toward the misbehaving student- to pump them up and entice them down the right road.
Consequences were replaced by cheering the good things, and focusing on the positive.
Over time, the culture of the school began to change. Students learned not to be too concerned about the effect of their actions on others because lack of consequence, coddling, and gentle behavior-shaping were all that followed misbehavior.
Students learned that some behavior is good and some is “less good”. What they didn’t learn, was that some behaviors are just plain bad, and unacceptable.
After graduation, those students go out into the world and become the society we live in. They do so as a product of their schooling.
Parents can be part of the problem too. How many times have we seen public misbehavior ignored by parents? “It’s ok, they’ll grow out of it.”, they say. But do they? Growing involves learning where the boundaries are, and those lessons need to be taught.
Will Smith’s actions were shocking and inappropriate no matter what you think of the joke Chris Rock made. You do not assault another person because they offended you with words.
After Smith did just that, he walked calmly back to his seat as if he had just completed a housekeeping task. He then went on to win an award, receive a standing ovation and give a speech in which he defended himself. He ended the night by posing for pictures and going to parties.
No matter how many times I’ve seen footage of The Slap and its aftermath- I still find it shocking. The fact that it parallels my experiences as a teacher, makes it even more disturbing.
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