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Opinion & Essays - Oct, 2000 Issue #74 


By Lon Woodbury, Certified Educational Planner
Bonners Ferry, Idaho

Hazing is a strong sign of an unhealthy environment in a school or program. When either hazing and/or the closely related activities of bullying and “underground (secret)” activities exist, we know the adults are not really in charge. At least some of the day-to- day administrative decisions are instead being determined by negative peer pressure. The adults have to some degree lost control of their own school.

During the forties and fifties, it was commonly accepted that hazing and schooling went hand-in-hand. In my High School, freshmen had to walk around in stupid looking beanies, and ran in packs, fearing what might happen to them if a lone freshman might be encountered by a group of seniors.

When I was a freshman in the late fifties at the University of Idaho, certain freshmen were targeted by seniors for an unannounced trip out into the wheat fields in the middle of the night. They were left there to forge their way back to their dorm with no flashlight.

These were just the highlights. A lot more went on under the concept of hazing, which was considered as a kind of initiation. It was considered to be good clean fun, ignoring the fact that hazing was at the expense of the youngest, most sensitive and most vulnerable students. In reality, it was a form of condoned terrorism. By the fifties, after some tragedies occurred from over zealous hazing incidents, the practice was severely criticized and almost universally banned, at least officially. However, it continues to exist in one form or another, cropping up from time to time both in day and residential schools and programs. In our culture, hazing doesn’t seem to go away.

Perhaps the spontaneous re-emergence of hazing from time to time stems from a universal desire in the human consciousness for some kind of “rite of passage” which is both ritual and a test of character. The older student is trying to provide that form of challenge to the younger students, and at the same time put the younger students in their place. Thus, hazing still occurs when adults in our society do not provide the challenge and “rite of passage” that is craved by our young.

This need for a ritual of passing is so strong in young people that studies suggest that some kids will join gangs not only to be able to belong to a kind of “family,” but also to experience the ritual of overcoming some challenge or test. The “beating-in” to join a gang is simply an extreme form of hazing, and seems to feed a common, universal need for a “rite of passage.”

Hazing still exists because adults will not or cannot provide a ritualistic passage involving a challenge, so the youths figure out a way to provide it for themselves.

Unfortunately, young people do not have the experience or wisdom to differentiate between perceived risks and actual risks. Perceived risks, when carefully controlled by responsible adults, provide a healthy challenging experience that is relatively safe. Real risks, developed by youths who are exerting negative peer pressure, can kill, maim and scar, both physically and emotionally. Thus some kind of hazing will occur in situations when adults have effectively lost control and the youth are essentially making the decisions, which seems to be more frequent in large schools with thousands of students. The more blatant the examples of hazing/bullying/underground, the less control the adults have in the school, and the less safe the student will feel in their school.;

So when a parent is looking for a school or program for their child, one of the best questions to ask the students of that school is whether any hazing, bullying or underground exists. If the answer is yes, then that school probably does not have the safety required for our wounded struggling teens, and the parent should continue looking.

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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