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Tales From Middle School

ADR Prof Blog by Andrea Schneider, Michael Moffitt, Sarah Cole,Art Hinshaw, Jill Gross and Cynthia Alkon.

My eighth-grade daughter came home yesterday and told me the following:

Each day in English they have homework, a quiz, or a test in class. After finishing, they put away their pencils, take out red pens, and grade their own work themselves as the teacher calls out the answers.

My daughter sits next to a kid (let’s call him Sam) who, for at least the past week, has been clutching a piece of mechanical pencil lead in his hand during grading, so that he can surreptitiously write in the correct answers when the teacher announces them. My daughter said that she didn’t know how to handle it; she didn’t really want to involve the teacher, and she didn’t know what to say. Yet it was making her angry.

Yesterday they were grading an in-class test and Sam was writing in answers when the teacher came to a question that, as it turned out, my daughter got wrong. Sam started writing in the correct answer. My daughter said that without thinking, her hand shot out and she grabbed him by the wrist. With her other hand, she wrenched his fingers open and took out the lead. She broke the lead in two and threw the pieces on the floor. Then she said to him: “That is enough.” This was in the middle of class, so it all happened pretty quietly and she said no one seemed to notice. For his part, Sam didn’t say anything, but my daughter said that he went back with his red pen and marked wrong every one of the answers he had penciled in.

I had my daughter recreate the force with which she grabbed his hand, and it was pretty forceful. She seemed at peace with the whole thing, and it sounded like Sam was okay too. As a dispute resolution professor, I wondered what advice I would have given her had she talked to me in advance. I might have told her to tell the teacher or try talking with Sam in a kind and understanding way — but I know I wouldn’t have recommended that she wrest away the lead and break it. Yet I think her response was well tailored to the situation, insofar as it upheld group norms (no cheating) in proximity to the event (as it happened) and without excessive shame (involving authority figures or others). And honestly, I believe that there was something important (humanizing? dignifying?) about the violence/physicality of the action. Could it be that some level of violence, in the sense of physically getting in each other’s space, is essential to community?


Jen Reynolds

Jen Reynolds is an expert in the area of dispute resolution. Professor Reynolds received her law degree cum laude from Harvard Law School, a master's degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin, and a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago. While at Harvard, Professor Reynolds served… MORE >

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