Humiliation is toxic. It creates festering resentments that sometimes erupt into violence. Where there is humiliation, cooperation across between party lines is almost impossible. Most middle school students are intimately familiar with humiliation, both as inflictors and as victims. As a result, it is particularly important that students understand the impact of humiliation as well as the powerful restorative potential of respect.
This unit will ask students to consider the impact of humiliation and respect on individuals. Students will read and discuss the hypothesized link between suicide bombers and humiliation, as well as school violence and humiliation. Both topics are deeply disturbing. However, a discussion of the explosive potential of humiliation is particularly useful in middle school. As a counterbalance, this unit will also explore respectful reactions to injustice, and students will practice conceiving of respectful responses to everyday problems.
Background Reading For Teachers:
- "Respect" by Sana Farid
- "Scapegoating" by Eric Brahm
- "Suicide Bombers" by Michelle Maiese
- "Victimhood" by Sarah Rosenberg
- "Dehumanization" by Michelle Maiese
- "Dealing with Extremists" by Andrea Bartoli and Peter T. Coleman (a longer article that might provide a good context to help frame the suicide bomber discussion)
- Students will analyze the connections between humiliation, resentment, and retaliation in the context of suicide bombers and school violence.
- Students will generate examples of respectful responses to conflict.
- Students will write a personal narrative describing a time that someone else's respect was important to them.
- Behavioral Studies
Standard 1 (Level III. 2,3) Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior
Standard 4 (Level III. 1, 4) Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions
- History, World History
Standard 44 (Level III. 4, 5) Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world
- Language Arts
Standard 1 (Level III. 8) Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
- Life Skills, Working with Others
Standard 2 (Level IV. 3) Uses conflict-resolution techniques
Standard 4 (Level IV. 1) Displays effective interpersonal communication skills.
- "Humiliation" by Sarah Rosenberg and accompanying worksheet
- Humiliation vs. Respect worksheet
- Humiliation and Violence worksheet
- PBS Transcript -- "The West Bank: What's Next?"
- PBS Transcript -- "What Made Him Do It?"
- The Foundation for a Better Life's "Attitude Adjustment"
- Model Essay
- Vermont's M
Procedure: 3 hours
How do respect and humiliation shape conflict? (hour 1)
- Ask students to take out their conflict journals. Give them the following scenario:
- You are a grandparent. Your grandson is just old enough to drive. You have an engagement in town. You ask your grandson to drive you into town for your appointment, to take the car for an oil change while you are busy, and then to pick you up at an agreed-upon time.
- Your grandson agrees. However he decides to watch a movie rather than getting the oil changed. The movie is a long one, he loses track of time, and arrives to pick you up almost an hour late.
- While you are waiting for him, you grow worried. You call the garage and discover that your grandson missed the appointment.
- When your grandson returns, he immediately uses the excuse that the oil change took longer than he expected. What do you do?
- After students have responded in their journals, invite them to share their answers.
- Draw a line across the board and write respect and humiliation on opposite ends of the line. Then ask students to brainstorm examples of punishment that might be particularly humiliating or particularly respectful, as well as responses that might fall between the two. Discuss the various resulting feelings each punishment might engender in the boy.
- Finally, explain that this scenario actually occurred.
Explanation: Mohandas Gandhi's grandson, Arun, recounted this story. When Arun was a wayward teenager, his parents sent him to live with his grandfather for two years. During this time he lied to his grandfather, as described above. Gandhi felt it was very important to be respectful of children and to use nonviolent punishments. His response was that he decided to walk home, a very great distance, rather than ride with his grandson because he was so disappointed that Arun had lied to him. Because Gandhi was old and frail, Arun was nervous about him walking so far alone. So he drove behind his grandfather the whole way, which took several hours and got them home in the wee hours of the morning. Note: For other stories about Arun's childhood with Gandhi, read Legacy of Love: My Education in the Path to Nonviolence by Arun Gandhi.
- Discuss Gandhi's approach to respectful punishment. Why was it so effective for Arun? Could it be applied to kids today, in the United States?
- Read "Humiliation" by Sarah Rosenberg and ask students to complete the accompanying worksheet. This is a challenging text with a lot of difficult words. The worksheet asks for lots of definitions and will help students work through the reading step-by-step. If you feel students are still struggling, ask them to summarize the piece, or summarize the sections so that they can better synthesize the information.
- Ask students to complete the Humiliation vs. Respect worksheet in small groups.
- Debrief the results.
- Homework: In your conflict journals, describe a time you felt humiliated, or you watched someone else be humiliated. Describe the circumstance and your feelings.
How do respect and humiliation shape conflict? (hour 2)
- Write "West Bank" on the board. Read the very brief summary of the issue on Humiliation and Violence worksheet.
- Assign students in the class roles: Deborah Amos, Soldier, Deanna Butu, Shanaz Jubran, Mahmoud Abdullah Saleh, Amirah Hass, Maha, Aymen Sbeieh, Bassam al Sharheedi, and Dr. Mustapha Barghoutti.
- Have students read through the PBS transcript "The West Bank: What's Next?", each reading their assigned part aloud, to recreate the interview.
- After you have read through the interview, let students complete the section of their handout devoted to suicide bombers in the West Bank.
- Then discuss the following:
- Discuss the events the speakers found "humiliating."
- Discuss what emotions resulted (i.e. rage and hopelessness).
- Discuss how humiliation might play a role in the suicide attacks.
- Now ask students to read through the PBS transcript "What Made Him Do It?" aloud in small groups. Ask them to finish the Humiliation and Violence worksheet together.
- After they have finished, ask students the same questions as above:
- Discuss the events the speakers found "humiliating."
- What emotions resulted? They might have to imagine this…
- Discuss how humiliation might play a role in school violence.
- Debrief in terms of what the violent reactions gained or lost. Ask students to brainstorm alternative routes to dealing with humiliation.
- Homework: In your conflict journal, describe an episode of violence that you believe was fostered by humiliation. Describe the act of violence, and explain why you think it was inspired (entirely or partly) by humiliation.
How do respect and humiliation shape conflict? (hour 3)
- On the board write: humiliation = dehumanizing, respect = humanizing
- Elicit explanations. Then explain that humiliation makes the victim feel less-than human, which often backfires and makes the victim see the oppressor as inhuman as well. Respect works the other way around. Respect is based on empathizing with the other and trying to understand his or her perspective, even if you might not agree with it.
- Give students a prompt for writing in their conflict journals:
Prompt: Think of someone that annoys you, someone that you would like to tell to be quiet or go away when you see them. Now imagine being inside their skin. Imagine waking up in their house, as them. Imagine their family is your family. Imagine why they might do those annoying things. Do they want attention? Are they ignored at home? Do they have to compete with a super-star brother who always gets homeruns? Write about his or her life from his or her perspective. Do not use his or her name.
- In groups, ask students to brainstorm ways to prevent bullying.
- Debrief together as a group. Discuss the strategies in terms of threats, persuasion, and cooperation.
- Read "Attitude Adjustment" and discuss its relationship to respect.
- Read the Model Essay on respect together as a class. Ask students to complete the accompanying worksheet as well.
- Ask students to map out their own autobiographical stories on the worksheet.
Prompt: Describe a time when it mattered that someone gave you respect.
- Homework: Write an autobiographical narrative in response to the above prompt. Use the prewriting sheet following the model essay and the as guides.