Richard Weissbourd on Why This Incident Reached the "Tipping Point"
Richard Weissbourd is a lecturer in education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His work focuses on vulnerability and resilience in childhood, the achievement gap, moral development, and effective schools and services for children.
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"Well, you know, I guess there are a number of things that stand out about it. One, is that it, you know, reached this tipping point where all of these girls are ganging up on Sue. And I think these kinds of incidents happen all the time. So why do some reach the tipping point and others not reach the tipping point? I mean, that’s one question that, I think, sticks out to me that I think we really need to be able to answer. You know, I think this is part of the emotional regulation that adolescents do: that they need this kind of drama, that they need to work through these kinds of dramas. But, sometimes they don’t work through and things get stuck in some pattern like this that can be deeply damaging to somebody.
So, when did this become not the normal regulation and working through of adolescence and something quite different? And why did it become that?
A few things stick out. You know, one is that a girl comes to school who is very popular and charismatic and, for whatever reason, also feels powerful by rallying other kids against another kid. I mean this is a kind of cruelty and a way that she feels powerful. We don’t know enough about her to know why she feels powerful that way, or why she’s doing it. But the combination of her being very attractive, very charismatic, and feeling powerful in this way is, I think, an important part of this story.
Something's going on between the relationship between Rhonda and Sue as well. And that Rhonda was her best friend and then is able to turn so completely and become one of the leaders of the group that is rallying against Sue, you know raises the question: well what is going on in that relationship? And is it a much more conflicted, complicated relationship than, sort of, meets the eye? Was there some real deep resentment or anger that was stirred up that just got unleashed, that Tina was able to unleash, in a sense, and Jill was able to unleash? And what’s going on with these other girls, too? And why are they, and some of the boys, and, you know, some of the boys? Why everyone is in this group so eager, in a sense, and so excited?"