What Have They Learned?/What Has He Taught Us?/News Bite | Media | Chicago Reader

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What Have They Learned?/What Has He Taught Us?/News Bite


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What Have They Learned?

The 1999 juniors called themselves the "Corona Cuties," the Glenbrook North alumnus remembers. The seniors were the "Guinness Girls." They wore their initiation jerseys to school on Friday, so everybody knew it was happening Saturday night even if everybody didn't know where. When they collected in the woods, about 50 or 60 guys were there to watch, and about half that many girls from other schools. There was a lot of beer.

"You could smell it a long way away," he tells me. "Raw fish. Sour cream. Rotten eggs. I couldn't say if there was any kind of piss, something like that. There were maybe 10 or 12 girls on their knees, senior girls walking around them, hurling insults at them and chucking stuff at them. And demeaning sexual things, like a girl having to perform fellatio with a pickle. And another distressing thing to it--it has the feeling of being performed for the guys. The guys just circle around it.

"I was pretty sickened by it. I certainly didn't do anything to stop it. I don't think I would have been able to. I wish I hadn't gone. I wish I'd had better things to do on a Saturday night. Like most of those kinds of things, it's supposed to be a big deal. And then you go and it's kind of a letdown."

He said it lasted about half an hour. Then the cops came and everyone scattered.

In Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," the only one who questions what's going on is Tessie Hutchinson, whose sudden protest is too self-serving to be taken seriously. Everyone else in the village is contentedly doing what they've always done in early summer, and that includes whoever will be stoned to death next year.

When journalists got around to explaining the ongoing fascination with the May 4 hazing incident at Glenbrook North High School, they laid it to the existence of videotape that the TV stations happily played over and over and over. But the focus on perpetrators and victims, litigious parents and posturing administrators, obscured what it was in those videotapes that was so fascinating.

Those cowering juniors were taking their punishment to earn the right to inflict it when they were seniors. The seniors were doing as they'd been done to. "This year it got out of hand," the papers told us. But the "it" was an endless cycle of torment. The fascinating thing to see was not some girls from an excellent upper-middle-class suburban high school acting cruel but so many acting primitive.

It's possible that Glenbrook North students were no less fascinated than anyone else. The legal response to the hazing by the high school administration was heavily covered, but it was no more important than the school's educational response. So far as I could see, the media paid no attention to that. When I asked Glenbrook North's media liaison last week what was being done in the classrooms, she wasn't sure--an indication that if anything was, no one had asked before.

Facing History is a national program with an aggressive Chicago chapter. Rooted in the lessons of the Holocaust, it goes into high schools and gets students and teachers talking together about prejudice, mob violence, individual responsibility, and moral choice. To Facing History, the hazing scandal was a "teachable moment." At least one Glenbrook North teacher who's had Facing History training seized it. His response was to lead his students through a set piece called "The Bad Samaritan." Because the high school's teachers have been ordered not to talk to reporters, Facing History's Chuck Meyers, a senior program associate in the Chicago office, wouldn't tell me the teacher's name. But Meyers explained that "The Bad Samaritan" is based on a 60 Minutes segment about a young man who passively watched his friend commit murder, and that it addresses "bystander issues--those who knew nothing, those who did nothing, those who denied responsibility."

As the grad I talked to the other day made clear, these are important issues. But in the end it's less important to analyze the bystanders to the hazing than to understand the girls who year in and year out have participated in it. Those girls are the ones who really put on the table the most fundamental question of all: "Who are we?" When this story's finally out of the courtroom and the headlines, the work of the press won't be done until we're told how seriously Glenbrook North and its students look for answers.

What Has He Taught Us?

Consider the career path of Jayson Blair: intern at the Boston Globe, ten-week intern at the New York Times, "extended" intern at the Times, "intermediate reporter" at the Times, and at last full-blown reporter. Blair had to navigate a career a lot like a video game: triumph at each level or die.

The point being made about Blair is that in a world where a single mistake brings death, his many mistakes didn't. That's why anyone with a hard-on against affirmative action or corporate suckups has the name Jayson Blair on his foaming lips. But those are somebody else's issues. Mine is this: an internship is a pressure cooker, and it's not the only way of bringing young reporters along. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch used to have an editor named Carl Baldwin who ran a weeks-long school for new reporters. Once he'd decided a young reporter had learned the ropes, the kid was shifted to the suburban desk to write about school bond issues for another year or two until he or she was deemed worthy of more. The weakness of this system was that it was stultifying: many of the best writers threw up their hands and resigned. The strength was that it produced no Jayson Blairs.

The Tribune has an internship program for minorities, and it also has a two-year residency program. These residents, who have some professional experience already under their belts, work cheap and frantically, and when their time is up they usually get sent on their way. The Tribune assiduously impresses on its residents the reality that they should expect nothing beyond experience and an impressive line in their resumes--in two years they'll almost certainly be working someplace else. But there are exceptions. The Tribune reserves the right to keep someone who's really good, while someone almost as good might be placed at another Tribune Company newspaper--one of the franchise's triple-A newsrooms. Naturally, every resident thinks he or she might be such an exception, and every "nice job, kid" muttered by an editor fuels that hope. What happens if and when someone comes along who's not only ambitious and a little delusional but also amoral--in a job that isn't theirs to lose but theirs to have to win? When the Blair story broke, a Tribune reporter I know recited a list of ethically flawed journalists that over the years the Tribune has quietly, or not so quietly, cut loose. It was a long list--there have been more bad apples in the barrel than a reader might guess. Could the residency program help manufacture such a journalist or does it only screen them out? I really don't know.

The Tribune emphasizes that its residents are older, more seasoned journalists than Jayson Blair was when he got his start, but I wonder if that's protection enough. What about a policy of saying up-front and categorically, "No matter how good you are, we won't keep you"? Not just a safeguard, it would turn a program that's always seemed a little exploitative into something altruistic.

News Bite

8 Nothing nags like an unasked question. A few days before last weekend's Colonial tournament began, star golfer Phil Mickelson was asked about Annika Sorenstam's chances.

"The biggest thing, difference, that I see between what she will face at Colonial and what I see on television for the LPGA," Mickelson replied, "is she will see tough pins and greens."

I'd been hearing and reading this from the get-go, that while the men's fairways were certainly longer than anything Sorenstam had driven on the women's tour, her short game would also be put to a different test. The pitch and putt golf Sorenstam was familiar with would be no preparation for the treacherous hole placements that routinely confront the men.

But if this description of the women's game was true, nobody I read asked why it was true. Men have bigger muscles, but what does that have to do with a chip shot? If it's true that professional women have played an infantalized golf, then the best--if unreported--by-product of Sorenstam's entering the Colonial might be that it would encourage the women's tour to grow up.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/William L. Brown.

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