Friday, October 1, 2010

Lesson plan to discuss the death of Tyler Clementi

This lesson is meant for high school students. Warning: it’s explicit and where you work might not receive it well. Also, this is for Jewish high school students, but that's just who I teach. The messages are universal.

Opening: Ask the students whether or not they have heard about the death of the Rutgers’ student.

Review what happened: This LA times story is good, but it’s better if you can use a news clip like this one:;photovideo

Like the synagogue I work at, you might not have easy access to internet, so here is the link to a print story:,0,2307696.story
Hand the students the quotes of Jewish “values” text and have them mark which ones were violated in this tragic event.

Ask the students how many values on the list were violated in this situation. The number will range, but it will be a significant percentage of the many values listed. 

Ask the students if they think the number of values violated correlate to the ultimate tragedy: the death of a human being and why or why not?

Ask the students what, if anything could have been done to prevent the tragedy?

According to the LA times article, one of the alleged perpetrators tweeted:: "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."

Read the following from
Hakaim Takim Imo – הָקֵם תָּקִים עִמּוֹ – you shall surely lift up with him – A law designed to encourage aid to one in distress, even one’s enemy (Exodus 23:4; T.B. Baba Metzia 32a).

Halbanat Panim – הַלְבָּנַת פָּנִים – avoidance of humiliating someone in public – The loss of personal dignity at the hands of others is considered one of the gravest wrongs in Judaism, akin to murder (T.B. Moed Katan 9b; T.B. Baba Mezia 58bff.; Tractate Kallah, Minor Tractates of the Talmud).

Hochai’ach Tochee’ach – הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ – you shall rebuke – The obligation to be a social critic when you see that society or individuals are making terrible mistakes. Such criticism is viewed as an expression of care for others (Leviticus 19:17; Genesis Rabbah 54).

It is unclear if Molly was in the room, however persons must have seen that Tweet. Had they adhered to the above, perhaps something in motion could have been stopped.

Why is it so hard to stop others from doing evil?

Print this and use some of the questions: and discuss the bystander effect.  Print out this story:
If you have internet access, play this:

Ask the students when they have been bystanders, for incidents on the net or even for small off line incidents. As the teacher, you should have a story prepared to start the ball rolling. Discuss why it’s so hard to “interfere” with other people’s business. Ask the students what do they you do if they see that:

Janet has wrote on Cindy’s Facebook wall: “You are such a slut for screwing my ex.”
You receive an SMS that includes a picture of someone’s private parts.
Your friend mass texts to everyone “Jamie is a faggot.”

Takeaway: The students who secretly taped the 18 year old of having sex are easily condemnable, whatever their intentions. (I doubt they thought their actions would lead in a loss of life). Less obvious are those who knew what was happening and did nothing to stop it or to prevent the video from being disseminated. Actually, it is obvious: Judaism commands you to not be a bystander. The wisdom of our sages applies especially in the digital age:

May Tyler Clementi’s memory be for a blessing.

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.- Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 37a

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