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Locker Room Talk: What Will You Tell Your Students?

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Jock sweat, sneaker funk and residual locker room “stank.” I can still remember that stuffy, putrid smell. And who can forget the bare bones facilities, dank showers, and unfiltered “boy talk” that made up the soundtrack at most high-school gyms?

Sometimes we talked about the game, sometimes we talked about each other, and sometimes we talked about the girls. Yes, sometimes the chatter was juvenile, lustful, and objectifying of women. It’s also true that this talk can still be heard in college locker rooms, frat houses, sports clubs, military bunkers, boardrooms, bars and any place where males get together beyond the earshot of females.

Crossing the Line

We have all been schlepping through months of repugnant sludge masquerading as a presidential election. For many, myself included, the tone of the campaign has been agonizing. Many of my friends in education tell me that they’ve stopped watching the spectacle altogether. “I simply can’t bear it," they say.

Many are tortured to see language and behavior that we find reprehensible rationalized and justified by some of the most respected thought leaders in our nation.

Sadly, it’s clear that many of us have become so numb that we've begun to accept crude comments and behavior as the new normal. This was the state of things before the bombshell that dropped on Friday.

In a video originally released by the Washington Post presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen and heard  talking about women in the lewdest, derogatory, profane and vulgar language imaginable. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/08/us/donald-trump-tape-transcript.html

Perhaps the only thing more offensive than the thoughts and comments captured on tape is the narrative that Trump and his surrogates have started to spread to explain away the inexplicable.

"This was locker room banter, “ said Trump. Following his lead, others are asserting that that “boys will be boys” and we are making too much about this. In standard Trumpian fashion, the candidate soon doubled down and followed his initial statement with, “people get it. They get life.”  In other words, there you PC Pollyannas go again. Most real people get it, *you* are out of touch.

Now I’ve spent my fair share of time in locker rooms, and I’ve heard a sizable slice of adolescent male banter about women. But every man who has spent time “hanging with the boys” knows that there is a massive difference between the coarse, lustful language of guys getting their kicks from sexual banter, and the language of men who verbalize and brag about sexual assault. Most men know the line. Most men know when that line has been crossed. Most men don’t cross that line.

But, yes, some do.

Sexual Assault

”We must do more to raise awareness about the realities of sexual assault; confront and change insensitive attitudes wherever they persist,” President Barrack Obama 2012

According to a 2014 report by the White House Council on Women and Girls:

- Nearly 1 in 5 women or nearly 22 million – has been raped in their lifetimes.

- 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.

- The number of college sexual violence complaints submitted to the Department of Education has skyrocketed 1000 percent during the last five years.

- The number of service members anonymously reporting a sexual assault grew by more than 30% in the past two years, according to a 2013 Pentagon report.

- The Defense Department estimated that more than 26,000 troops experienced an episode of "unwanted sexual contact," a huge jump from the 19,300 figure in the 2010 report.

When I read these reports, I think about my daughter, my wife, and my sisters. I’ve often mused about the nature of men. Why is it that during war one of the first casualties is the barrier that prevents men from sexually assaulting women? I have no answer, but my gut tells me that whatever routinely keeps men “in check” is surfacing this weekend.

Never in the history of an American election has a party’s leaders “unendorsed” their candidate 30 days before Election Day. This signals a tipping point, a red line that has been crossed; a new low reached that even partisans are saying is unacceptable.

We are living in bitter, divisive times. Thats' why I’m encouraged to see so many Americans breaking ranks, speak up and drawing the line. On Monday, teachers and principals will have a chance to do the same. Is this an epic teachable moment?

Is Silence an Option?

Whether educators say a word about the Trump video, it’s reasonable to assume that students will be talking, watching and sharing their thoughts. If I had to walk into a school on Monday, I would be thinking about how I’m going to use this historic moment to help draw the line for those in my charge. What are your thoughts? Should educators open and encourage discussion on this issue? If so how? If not, why not?

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I'm the executive producer of BAM Radio Network, which means I get to eat, sleep and drink education talk radio. Over the last 10 years, I've been a fly on the wall in over 4,500 discussions between some of the most thoughtful, passionate and fascinating educators in the nation. On these pages I share the most important lessons I've learned from them, along with an occasional rogue insight of my own. BACKGROUND: I am a 25-year veteran of the media. Over those two-and-a-half decades, I had the opportunity to author four books; write for The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times; and spent three years as a popular radio talk show host on KIEV in Los Angeles. I worked for seven years as an "on air" political commentator and co-hosted the Emmy Award-winning program Life and Times on PBS television. I eventually moved on to become a business reporter at KTLA in Hollywood. Owing to some great mentors, some good timing and perhaps a shortage of available talent, I managed to pick up five Emmy nominations and one Emmy Award along the way. Oh by the way, I went to Harvard. Well … actually, I was invited to speak there once, but I really learned a lot from the experience. :)

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Guest Thursday, 25 April 2019