Highway patrol officers and school officials at El Camino High School in Oceanside, California, wanted to teach teens about the consequences of drinking and driving, how it’s not just those committing the crime who are affected, how those left behind after a drunk-driving accident will forever be changed. So on a Monday morning last month the patrol officers entered 20 classrooms in the school to tell students that one of their peers had been killed in a drunk-driving accident over the weekend.
Not surprisingly, students freaked out.
As a parent of a teenage girl, I can only imagine. At that age, they go hy-freaking-sterical over just about anything: my daughter cried for hours when Flower died on Meerkat Manor last season, and the way she carried on over Heath Ledger’s tragic death would’ve made you think she personally knew the guy. (She did not. In fact, she remembered him as “that guy in the medieval movie with the rock music who kissed the other dude.”)
From that I can infer that her reaction — and those of other girls like her — upon hearing that a classmate had been killed would make the professional mourners in 14th century Spain look stoic. Except my daughters’ grief would be real, just as it was for those kids at El Camino High who didn’t know the whole thing was a hoax.
School officials say that was the point of the whole exercise: “They were traumatized, but we wanted them to be traumatized,” said the school counselor. In fact, they’d intended for the kids to remain upset all day long until an assembly was called, at which point the administration would inform the kids of the truth.
But some teachers (you know, those folks who actually deal with kids face-to-face instead of sitting in their administrative offices thinking up Bright Fucking Ideas like this one) realized the teens were more than just a little upset, so they explained that the whole thing was a demonstration in order to calm the kids down.
No doubt those teachers recognized something the administrators and counselors should know already: kids who are freaking out don’t learn a thing, and kids who feel tricked aren’t going to remember why someone tricked them. So all that emotional manipulation ultimately amounted to nothing… except a whole bunch of traumatized kids.