Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Lord of the Flies: An opportunity to talk about hazing, bullying among today's teens

We’ve written about male aggression and Lord of the Flies before, most recently in our newest book, Connecting Across Disciplines: Collaborating with Informational Text, which offers a scientific article about male fruit fly aggression as a cross-disciplinary connection with Golding’s novel. Another striking and persuasive pairing with Lord of the Flies appeared in The New York Times this week. Writing in the sports section, Juliet Macur commented on recent charges of hazing-related assaults within the football team at Conestoga High School in Pennsylvania.

Macur quotes psychologist Susan Lipkins who argues that “hazing is a sports tradition that has endured for generations … The adults in the room [coaches and administrators] leave the room and let the mayhem ensue.”

Lipkins argues that coaches who leave athletes unattended in the locker room are basically leaving  “the inmates in charge of the asylum” and Macur makes the case that those adults are “only asking for trouble when they leave teenage boys unsupervised because those boys are often testosterone-fueled and power-hungry, a perfect combination for hazing to occur.”

So adolescent (and athletic) boys are basically the equivalent of inmates in an asylum? Without adult supervision, they are inevitably going to engage in violent and brutal behavior?

Surely, adolescents deserve the chance to unpack the assumptions here.

First off, note that Golding’s Lord of the Flies makes a remarkably similar argument. And who can ignore the incredible and shocking similarity between the specific brutality Golding imagines and the hazing incidents Macur describes? Alas.

But is Golding’s novel an endorsement of Macur’s and Lipkins’s argument? Is the criminal and cruel masculine behavior on Golding’s island the inevitable result of lack of adult supervision of teenage boys?

All the boys, after all, do not behave this way, and many clearly do their best to resist.

And what is the role of adults and particularly male adults in shaping the behavior in both these worlds? After all, Macur isn’t talking about a lack of supervision by female coaches (of course the football coaches are always male). Golding pointedly offers us a tantalizing hint at the male modeling children encounter in the world of his novel: the figure of the naval officer, complete with his revolver, who comes to rescue the children at the end of the novel and intriguingly cites R.M. Ballantyne’s imperialist The Coral Island as the reassuring model for the boys’ behavior on the island.


Surely all young adults deserve the opportunity to think about the source of the bad behavior of some of their peers. Suggesting that a lack of adult supervision is the source of (not to say the necessary corrective to) the problem of violent hazing among male athletes offers an image of young men as mindless, animalistic brutes. If I were a young person, I think I would want an opportunity to talk about that.

And talking about that assumption and about the details of Macur’s challenging and horrifying article (and the nasty realities it describes) offers our students an intriguing and compelling connection with Lord of the Flies that surely will make language arts class both more compelling and perhaps more important.