About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.

Department of Education Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi sent out a letter last week to parents warning about harmful TikTok challenges happening in schools.

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“The latest trend on the social media platform encourages students to participate in monthly ‘challenges’ involving vandalism, violence and other inappropriate behavior while at school,” the letter says.

A number of schools in Hawaii have already experienced behavior associated with these challenges, most notably the “devious lick” challenge which dares students to make huge messes in school bathrooms and/or steal items from school. I had a trash can go missing from my classroom last month, a truly devastating casualty for kids who yell “Kobe!” when disposing of crumpled-up papers.

TikTok has since banned videos associated with the devious lick challenge, and while lists of other supposed challenges have circulated online, there is reason to believe they are not actually intended to be put into action so much as rile up the “kids these days” crowd. Fittingly, the Wikipedia entry for devious licks includes a link to the page for “moral panic” as a related topic.

Still, local schools have reported an uptick in theft and vandalism recently, much of which is not as harmless as my missing trash can. It’s reasonable to connect the behaviors with the TikTok challenges, even though kids have been making messes in bathrooms and stealing things from school long before the internet existed.

These challenges have engendered a great deal of pearl-clutching discussion, but the real discussion we should be having now is about what the role of school is, what it should be, and how to bridge the gap between them.

Schools should, of course, teach academics. That’s the most traditional notion of what schools do, though there are debates about what should be taught and why.

Other functions of school are less obvious. Education professionals once bristled at the notion of teachers as babysitters, but the pandemic has clearly shown that providing child care is a fundamental role of schools now. Sending children to school allows parents and guardians to go to work, and school-based food programs have become vital sources of food for an increasing number of families.

Most people would also agree that schools should teach more than academics: how to behave, how to be hygienic, how to interact with others, how to manage emotions, among other things. Many of these skills fall under the category of executive functioning, which are at least equally important as academics, if not more.

If you’re easily pressured by social media to act in a way that could land you in jail shortly after high school — when kids are legally adults — then your knowledge of algebra may not be the most urgent concern.

The Good Teacher might say that we should embed executive functioning skills into academic lessons, that we should meet student needs where they are individually instead of where we think they collectively should be based on their age. That’s sound in theory, but it becomes less feasible when school funding is wildly variable and teachers are overworked, underpaid and in short supply.

So who is responsible for teaching kids how to think about potential consequences before acting, how to choose what they spend their time and attention on, or how to behave appropriately in social settings?

After a certain age, schools don’t teach how to behave so much as respond to misbehavior, which is no doubt a form of education, but it’s built on a tacit assumption that kids are coming to school already knowing how to act. That’s simply not always the case.

Is it reasonable to expect that learning will also happen at home? It’s hard to answer “no” to that question, but it’s not much easier to figure out what “yes” means exactly. What’s clear to me, however, is the key ingredient to student success is how involved their parents are in their learning, academic and otherwise.

Prince David Kawananakoa Middle School 6th grade teacher Corrie Izumoto’s classroom.
Stealing stuff from the classroom is just one of the TikTok challenges suggestions. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

In her recent book “Educating with Aloha,” longtime Hawaii educator Jan Iwase stresses the importance of family and community involvement with schools. It’s an intuitive argument: consistency and cooperation between homes and schools will be mutually reinforcing. If there are two horses pulling a carriage together in the same direction, it’ll go a lot farther than if the horses were pulling in different directions, or if one of them was simply too tired to move.

But Iwase also underscores why this can be so hard: “Single-parent families, parents working more than one job to make ends meet, and older children taking care of their younger siblings can be barriers to a positive home/school partnership and, ultimately, to student success,” she writes.

That is a tragically accurate description of the environments many of my most behaviorally challenging students have come from. Most parents genuinely want to be more involved with their kids’ education, they simply can’t. They’re busy working and trying to pay bills like everyone else, and exhausted when they’re not busy.

Jan Iwase’s book stresses how important it is for parents to be involved with their child’s education. Screenshot

When parents are unable to be involved, not only are lessons from school not being reinforced, kids also become more susceptible to negative outside influences. When parents have the time and means to check homework, talk to their kids about their lives, help organize their backpacks, enforce a consistent bedtime, and stay on top of their communication with the school, it’s a lot less likely that kid will go to school the next day and destroy soap dispensers or steal trash cans.

The question is not what should schools teach versus what should families teach; it’s what are the problems that schools can best address versus what are the problems that society can best address.

If we truly care about children in Hawaii, we need to improve the economic conditions of local people. That means raising wages and improving health care benefits for hourly workers, and investing more in social services like post-birth care and education for new parents.

It is impossible to fully eradicate all bad behavior in schools. Students will always misbehave, but one of the most important roles of school is providing a safe arena in which to make mistakes and learn from them.

My fear is that people will focus so intently on TikTok challenges that they begin to think of them as a unique problem instead of what they really are: a fresh-looking symptom coming from an old, stubborn illness.

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at ericstinton.com.

Latest Comments (0)

While I often disagree with Eric Stinton I do appreciate his writing and asking difficult questions.

M.E.L. · 2 years ago

No. We shouldn't forget Tik Tok. It is debasing our youth. Sure the education system has many challenges.

zz · 2 years ago

Quality education at the lower levels is the primary reason why younger professionals with school aged kids do not move to Hawaii. I am sure Hawaii's Education Dept. knows how to fix the problem. Why don't they? Is it because every time they try they are hit with not having enough Aloha and they back off instead of instilling the 'tough love' needed to move past the horrible school ratings? I was taught growing up that it is better to be respected than liked. Hawaii's Universities need some of the same 'tough love'. My daughter goes to UH and after a year and a half has yet to have an in-person class. Not even one outdoors. That's a travesty for her and the education system as a whole. I understand Covid and Hawaii's unique challenges. I also understand almost all other US universities found a way to be more engaging and to bring a better college experience to their students. And for those who wonder, we have not been offered any type of reduction of fees during this time of compromised deliverables on education. The classrooms and campus facilities look more and more run down. I don't see improved landscaping. No fresh paint. I see more rust. Hawaii deserves better. 

LoveHawaii · 2 years ago

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