Wednesday, February 5, 2014

'Cross the Line' - Marinette Middle School

Shawn Limberg, Marinette Middle School Principal, utilized a "game" called "Cross the Line" to "build stronger, more respectful relationships among students" at his school.

That's a good thing.

However, the method he used to achieve this alleged goal is outrageous. It's a stunning invasion of privacy.

When I learned of this story while listening to Charlie Sykes this morning, I was truly horrified that middle school kids would be subjected to this sort of activity WITHOUT notifying their parents before participating.

Here's a report from WLUK, FOX11:

On Wednesday, fifth through eighth grade students played the game called “Cross the Line”.

Parents say their children were asked personal questions like, do your parents drink and has anyone in your family been in jail?

Students were also asked to step forward if they answered yes to any of the questions.

Neither the school principal nor the district superintendent would answer questions on camera, but in a written statement, the principal said participation was not required and students could have said no.

However, parents claim their students told them that if they didn’t participate, they’d receive an in-school suspension.

Sarah Maitland was one of the students who played the game.

“She asked if you ever wanted to commit suicide to step forward and then after that she asked if you ever experienced or wanted to cut, to step forward,” said Maitland.

The school says the activity is a part of a bullying prevention program.
Here's video:

If my child had been exposed to this sort of classroom activity without my permission and my full understanding of the sort of questions they would be asked to answer publicly, I would have gone ballistic.

Trying to get this information out of children, about themselves and their families, is nothing short of abusive.


The individuals responsible for selling "Cross the Line" as anti-bullying should be selling swampland in Florida.

The questions not only invade the privacy of the students, but they also seriously invade the privacy of unsuspecting family members.

How in the world would supplying bullies with more fodder to be used against their victims stem a bullying problem?

It's terrible.

Furthermore, some of the topics discussed were potentially confusing to some of the kids.

A caller to the Charlie Sykes radio program this morning, a parent of a child at Marinette Middle School, said Principal Limberg claimed only TWENTY parents have complained about "Cross the Line."

If that's true, I'm sure it's because parents didn't know this school activity had occurred, or they didn't understand the type of questions being posed.

If a child is receiving counselling, such questions may be pertinent. The setting offers confidentiality. In this "game" situation, no such confidentiality exists.

Did the "education professionals" at Marinette Middle School consider the consequences?

A child's medical conditions are not the business of classmates.

Considering suicide is an extremely personal topic. Good grief!

It's certainly possible a parent wouldn't be happy with his or her child for telling the class his or her parent had spent time in jail or was a drug addict.

Read a sampling of the materials for this classroom program here.

    The Questions
• Cross to the other side of the room if you are not from ___________.
• Cross to the other side of the room if you feel your home is ________.
REMEMBER, all the legal and philosophical questions about "home" don't matter. What matters is what the word "home" means to you. If you are confused or uncomfortable, the best policy is NOT to cross to the other side of the room.
• You are male
• You are female
• Since joining (this program), you have broken off a serious relationship.

No talking... (Consider issuing this and other reminders as an ounce of prevention, even if a problem isn't coming up at the moment.)
• In the past year you have been in a relationship and been hurt.
• You feel that you have not formed a close friendship in national service.
• You take pride in your work in national service.
• You are Catholic
• You are Protestant
• You are Jewish
• You are another religion other than those three major U.S. religions.
• You are an atheist or agnostic.
• You are a person of color.
• You know little about you cultural heritage
• You wish you had more money
• You consider your family as working class
• You consider your family as middle class
• You have felt embarrassed about the economic class your family is in

Walk across the room only when you feel comfortable identifying yourself in this way.
• You come from a family of four or more children you are an only child
• You live independently of your parents
• You have taken primary responsibility either for raising another member of
• your family or caring for an elderly member of your family
• You have low self-esteem
• You would like to lose ten or more pounds
• You have been to college or plan to go to college
• You have not graduated from high school
• You have had serious thoughts about leaving national service
• You feel physically unattractive

As the workshop is structured it makes one dip into the personal with the previous question. Then we back up to what is easier before making a deeper trip.
• You consider yourself a Democrat
• You consider yourself a Republican
• You consider yourself a socialist
• You consider yourself a feminist
• Your parents have either divorced, separated, or never married
• At least one of your parents have died
• You feel estranged or unconnected
• There have been times when you have seriously felt that, if you could choose, you would not choose
• the ethnicity into which you were born
• You find yourself thinking about food considerably more often than you want
• You have medical problem
• You have a learning disability
• You have a physical disability
• You have questioned your sexual orientation
• You have experienced the effects of alcoholism in your family
• You have experienced the effects of drug addiction in your family
• You have had a sexual experience that you regretted
• You have experienced suicidal thoughts at some point in your life
• You have cried at least once this year
• You have cried at least once this year for someone or something other than yourself
• Since you joined _____________, you have laughed at yourself at least once
• Cross the room if you could use a hug right now. (People generally begin hugging each other during this time.)


Remind everyone again that whatever was said in the room stays in the room. It is a serious breach of respect and trust if you share any of this with anyone outside this room. If you feel like you need to speak with an individual about something he or she said, please ask them first.
"[W]hatever was said in the room stays in the room."

YEAH, RIGHT! That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Absurd!

Clearly, some of these questions aren't applicable to middle school students, such as having "serious thoughts about leaving national service."

But, we do know the children at Marinette Middle School were asked about thoughts of suicide and cutting. They were confronted with very, very sensitive matters in a classroom setting.


As an adult, if I had been blindsided by such an intrusive and potentially abusive activity, I would have strongly objected and walked out.

A middle school child is not likely to respond that way. I hope most just kept quiet, protecting themselves and their families from possible ridicule and harassment.

"Cross the Line" is way, way out of line, thoroughly inappropriate.

Marinette Middle School had no right to try to mine personal information on intimate subjects from the students without parental permission.

It seems the "professionals" there are clueless when it comes to the mindset of middle school children.


Katie O'Brien said...

As an educator, I can assure you that this activity isn't what it first seems. I used it as both part of an anti-bully program and in my own classroom. I watched barriers breakdown, respect grow, and even friendships form from this activity. The person guiding the activity has the right to choose which questions to ask, and they can leave out ones they think would be too intrusive, cause issues for individual students, or just not be appropriate for the group they are doing it with. I was a bit skeptical, too... until I saw the amazing transformation this activity can bring about to reduce bullying among young people.

The students don't just start out doing this activity. There are MULTIPLE activities done before that to allow students to get to know each other and build a safe environment, including creating a social contract among themselves as to how to handle the training, things they hear, things they learn about each other, and how to protect privacy. This activity is done AFTER they build a rapport with each other.

Also, there is not and never should be forced participation. Nobody has to cross the line during the activity. It is voluntary. That is the issue I see with this particular school, that students were coerced into participation, rather than freely being allowed to opt out.

I loved "Cross the Line". I stood next to the students and participated with them. Yes, some of the questions were hard for me to admit that I had to cross the line... but the rich depth of that experience was worth it.

Mary said...

Your experience with the activity is interesting.

A few things--

You don't say how old your students are. That makes a big difference.

I think the personal nature of the questions is highly intrusive for a classroom setting. The kids at Marinette were asked about suicide and cutting themselves. I can't believe a "safe environment" was established to discuss such personal topics in a 6th grade class.

You mention the voluntary nature of your activity. However, that can get a little messy, considering peer pressure, etc., especially with children in middle school.

I know educators have good intentions, but they can be incredibly blind when it comes to bullying. Sometimes, that's out of cluelessness. Sometimes, that's out of convenience.

You determined which questions to ask the students. You certainly were wielding a lot of power. Were parents informed of the specific questions you would ask their children?

Bottom line: What happened at Marinette Middle School was wrong, and potentially very damaging to the children and their families.