Tag Archive for the importance of individuality

Class Discussion Guide, Talking Points, and Other News About “BYSTANDER”

Some exciting things have been happening with my book, Bystander. I’m hearing from schools that wish to purchase multiple copies, make it a school-wide read for an entire grade, and so on. Some perceive the book as an accurate, realistic representation of bullying in a middle school environment, a good starting point for classroom discussion, and as a useful tool in their overall anti-bullying programs.

Of course, I’m gratified to hear that.

I’ve been asked about a teaching guide, paperback reprints, and suggestions for “discussion starters.”

On that front:

* Feiwel & Friends is currently creating a Discussion Guide which will be available as a free PDF file on the MacKids “bonus materials section.” (I think that’s right, anyway.) When that happens, I’ll let you know.

* My publisher is also taking the rare move of creating a bound Teacher’s Edition of the book.

* There is talk of a paperback printing in the future, but no date has been set. Very probably, Fall of 2011.

In the meantime, in response to requests for more immediate discussion starters, I sat down and wrote out this list of talking points that might help teachers encourage students to think about Bystander. I’m not a professional educator and I really don’t know how this kind of thing is done, but I figured I’d wing it. In that sense, it’s very much like having children. You just sort of fake it.


Note: Spoiler alert!

* In the character of David Hallenback, we see a victim/target who turns around to become a bully against Eric Hayes. Research shows this to be a common dynamic, that a target often becomes a bully. Why do you think this might be true? This kind of pattern is often called a “vicious cycle.” Why might you think that’s an appropriate phrase?

* From the book, we learn that Mary has been involved in cyber-bullying in the past. Why do you think this particular form of bullying — creating a web page, or simply sending a mean email — is on the rise today? What makes it easier?

* Think about Eric’s mother’s actions and reactions in the book. Do you think she made any mistakes? What did she do right?  What would you want to tell adults about the “real” stories behind bullying?

* In chapter 20, a gathered group of boys discuss their responses to Griffin’s behavior. A number of excuses are mentioned by various characters as to why they elect to do nothing, including: 1) The unreliability of authority figures to respond; 2) The threat of retaliation; 3) That the victim, at least on some level, deserves it; 4) That it’s human nature, the law of the jungle, and will always persist; 5) That it’s better to stay out of it; and lastly, 6) That no one should “rat out” another student. Are any of these valid reasons for remaining a bystander? Why and why not?

* In what is known as “the bystander effect,” it’s been learned that group behavior is often less moral/ethical than individual behavior. For example, imagine a figure laying on the sidewalk. Groups of people have, in various tests, failed to stop and help the injured person. Yet individuals — alone — are much more likely to stop and try to be of assistance. Psychologists call this “the diffusion of responsibility.” Why do you think this is so? Do we become less humane, less our true selves, in group settings? How might this relate to peer pressure?

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Here’s another interesting video on the topic:

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* The ending of the book does not provide a typical Hollywood conclusion, where it’s all wrapped up and the bully gets punished. Instead, the story strives for something more realistic. What do you think will happen with the characters in the future, particularly with Griffin and his friends? What clues in the text support your conclusion? Pay attention to Cody: What did  you think of him?

* Griffin Connelly is represented as a smart, charismatic, articulate, intelligent boy. Why do you think he’s involved in bully behaviors? What character traits do you think he might lack?

* Eric’s father is absent from the story, living miles away. What effect do you think this had on Eric? Do you feel it helped make him a potential target in Griffin’s eyes?

* To what extent is it fair to blame some of David Hallenback’s problems on himself? What mistakes does he make? Are there things he might have done differently? Did he in any way bring these problems onto himself?

* Do you feel the school authorities — ranging from the principal, teachers, counselors and the school resource officer — acted appropriately throughout? Could they have done more to address the problem?

* Late in the book, Mary decides to no longer worry so much about what others think. Why do you believe this is a good or a bad thing?

I’m sure an experienced educator, or a thoughtful fifth-grader, could come up with many more topics for discussion. I hope it’s of some use. Ultimately, this is a story, a work of fiction, an entertainment, and  succeeds or fails as such. Not every book has to be taught or discussed; a story must work in that individual relationship between text and reader. Bystander is concerned with the dangers of abstraction, the disconnection between cause and effect (particularly where cyber-bullying is concerned), and the importance of individuality — though I never say so directly. Except for now, here.

And I have to say it again: Thank you, Rich Deas, for creating this amazing cover.