Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Should This Band Have Been Banned? Maybe Not All of It..

Here's one more story that came out a week or so ago that I haven't had time to blog about yet; I'm actually glad I waited, because a similar thing to this was brought up yesterday, as you'll see...

It's not all that often that a music story makes it into the sports section, but that's exactly what happened when the University of Wisconsin announced that it had suspended its marching band for several games because of a hazing incident:
University of Wisconsin band dirctor Michael Leckrone announced Friday that the famed UW marching band has been suspended for Saturday night's nationally television game against Ohio State and won't play again until an investigation into allegations of hazing and inappropriate sexual activity is finished.
Leckrone and UW Dean of Students Lori Berquam declined to say where the latest alleged incidents occurred or talk in specifics about the allegations, but Leckrone said they involved "inappropriate alcohol use, hazing and sexual behavior."
The band was put on probation by former Chancellor John Wiley following a Sept. 23 trip to Michigan in 2006. He issued stern warnings that continued bad behavior would result in more repercussions for the band, including possible loss of performances and travel privileges and possible suspension of the band.
Leckrone noted that the band would continue to practice regularly, but the game performances--which started in the 1920s--won't take place for a while.

The behavior, as described in the article, was definitely bad, and punishment is warranted--for those who did it, the number of which is described as "a handful." But I feel for the completely innocent people who are also being punished for this (and yes, that would include the Wisconsin fans at the next several games).

There are many reasons why I didn't become a regular classroom teacher, and one of them is that I absolutely bristle at the idea of punishing entire groups for the transgressions of the few. What exactly is this supposed to teach the innocents--that life is hard and sometimes unfair? A lot of them experience more than their share of that concept at home. I think it's laziness--it's much easier to just issue a blanket punishment than to actually take the time to discover the perpetrators and punish them.

One possible reason for suspending the entire band is discussed in a recent op-ed column by the Boston Globe's Derrick Z. Jackson that appeared locally over the weekend. He quotes Leckrone as saying the following:
"I'm not sure society does a good job of getting this across, but there comes a point where if you want respect for your group or organization, you have to set your group apart from some aspects of society. [...] There has to come a point where just because society says it's OK to do certain things, you have to say it's not OK for me. I am sure that many band members never saw anything and did not even know anything about it. But I also believe there had to be other members who observed what was going on and could have stepped up to say 'Stop that,' but didn't."
There we go; he's expecting people to rat out their peers. And I think that this approach couldn't be more wrong.

Why, you may ask? I have a few reasons:
  • The whistleblowers might find themselves in personal danger if the people they named ever found out about them and decided to retaliate; after all, these same people have a history of doing bad things that are likely to be fueled by alcohol, so who says it won't happen again?

  • There's always the chance that someone involved in the process won't be named by anyone and will get off relatively scot-free. It's far better to have a full investigation at the university level.

  • If we're raising a society where whistleblowing is the norm, there's always the chance for abuse; people might "turn in" someone they don't like for an infraction that never occurred.
Those are the first few things that pop into my head, but again, for me, the underlying principle in all this is that the many should not be punished for the infractions of the few.

Quoting Leckrone one more time, in Jackson's column:
Asked if some people have questioned him about punishing the whole band, he said, "Sure. And when I ask them what they would have done, they don't have an answer."
I have an answer: You, and university officials, should be doing the investigation. Punish those who actually did wrong, not the entire group and not the fans. (As one of the commenters in the first story linked above pointed out, when one or two members of the football team commit an infraction, it's not like they suspend the entire team...)

This came up again a few days ago at one of my schools, where, evidently, there was some bad behavior (mostly involving thrown objects) by a few small groups of students at a pep rally and subsequent football game. The principal came on and announced that exam exemptions--a precious commodity at the school-- would be forfeited by three of the four grade levels at the school (with the exception of people who were not in the bleachers, such as the band, cheerleaders and drill team). But following that announcement was an encouragement to report the names of the perpetrators within the next two days, which made me assume that perhaps the punishment might be lifted if all the wrongdoers were named.

So there we go again: Punishing entire groups for the transgressions of the few and encouraging people to rat out their peers (which seems like an even worse idea at a high school, where people are more likely to get in fights over such things). There has to be a better way, and it seems like having the officials in charge conduct the investigation is the best place to start.

Am I missing something here? Feel free to try and convince me why punishing whole groups, instead of just the wrongdoers, is a good idea...but it'll take some doing to get me to change my mind.

PC run amok? A female first-year student in Jackson's column is listed as a "freshwoman." Is that a case of overly kowtowing to political correctness, or they saying the woman is prone to flirting?

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