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March 10, 2013

The overblown case of the high school Harlem Shakers


By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor

Oh yes, one teen is patting and shaking his bootie. Another boy is shirtless and is moving it. A handful of kids – Notify the authorities! – are dancing on the tables. But that's not what’s so gasp-worthy about a viral YouTube video (that now appears to be taken down) of high-schoolers in an ordinary schoolroom in Grand Rapids, MI. What’s unusual is that we are witnessing something rare: an outburst of joy at school by those champion sulkers and eye-rollers: high-schoolers.

The students were supposed to be studying for an ACT test. Instead, given the go-ahead (or so the students claim) by their substitute teacher, the kids launched into an impromptu version of the Harlem Shake. For their misconduct, nine of the students and the teacher were suspended. "This was just extremely poor judgment," school spokesperson John Helmholdt told a TV news reporter. "You know, it's one of those situations where they’re now an examples of what not to do.… They knew that this was not a good idea. It's unfortunate that they took it this far."

Dirty dancing, (pretty) clean fun

Granted, the gyrating miscreants violated the school’s dress code and breached the code of conduct. But no one was hurt, setting anything on fire, or throwing furniture out the school window. Matter of fact, it was inspiring to see teens having what – dirty dancing aside – was some genuine, goofball fun. At school.

To quote Alfie Kohn, who quoted John Goodlad from his 1984 book, A Place Call School: "Why aren’t schools places of joy?" To pull further from Kohn’s book, Feel-Bad Education:

Even in the absence of active misery, the mood in many schools calls to mind Thoreau’s famous phrase: quiet desperation. Students count off the hours remaining until dismissal, the days until the weekend, the weeks until vacation. It is the common experience of tots and teenagers, strugglers and achievers.

Giving the brain a boogie boost

But what if kids nationwide did just as these students and broke out into song and dance on a daily basis? (Does seem to be a trend. My 15-year-old said kids are doing the Harlem Shake at schools nationwide.) Yes, just imagine! Would our kids’ test scores go down… or maybe up? What if every school day started with an energetic, let-it-rip dance session, that got the neurons firing? (At my daughter’s former elementary school, they did just that every Friday morning…the entire school body boogying on the blacktop. It was chaos, but it was spirited chaos.)

Imagine, too, if an inspired administrator had taken an entirely different approach than a two-day suspension. ("That sounds fun!" my 7-year-old said when I told her about not having to go to school for two days. Even at a young age, she's already absorbed the "school is a drag" message.) Rather than suspend the kids for two days, what if he said to them, "OK, you’ve had your fun, but you were breaking the rules. What do you think your punishment should be?" Maybe they could come up with something inventive, like doing a fund-raising music video.

Dancing with the students

I asked my son what he thinks: does the punishment fit this two-stepping crime? "I think it puts teachers in a hard position," he says, "because while they do want to keep the students in line, it's also important to not let school become a sadistic institution where fun is looked down upon and students feel less inspired to learn. If a teacher is put in that position, probably the best thing for them to do is to dance with the students."


As my son suggests, how about tapping into what moves students, rather than squash it like the sourpuss principal in "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off"? At the very least, by encouraging joy, maybe kids would come to like school a little more? Why, as Kohn asks, do we take it for granted that school isn't a joyful place for most kids?

As for the dancing delinquents, did they learn their lesson that day in class? "I kind of think it was worth it," said student Luis Romero, who shot the video. "[It was] just a video, we’re trying to have some fun at school you know…."

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I never heard of the whole Harlem Shake thing u til this week. Aidan's afterschhol program did their own version on Wednesday... I think they did a great job!

I do think it's a shame that the school came down so harshly. Numerous schools here have encouraged student viral videos as a way to build camaraderie.

It takes a lot of planning to do one right.

What exactly do the kids learn while on suspension?

I loved it! what a great way to allow our students to show their talents!!! Come on people loosen up, you were young too and you did the DOG! that was surely more shall we say....expressive than their version of the Harlem Shake

Ms. K

Unfortunately it seems that punishments no longer suite the behavior when it comes to school age children, which in my pinion creates an environment where in the students feel if they are going to be punished so harshly they may as well not bother behaving properly

In my children's school for instance, my son who was breaking up a bullying incident involving 3 students tormenting a special need child, the teacher who didn't bother to ask the only innocent party --the child that was being tormented-- so rather than the 4 students, 2 bullies and my son... The only one that ended up being punished was my son.... 3 weeks later the other 3 students were reprimanded when once again they were tormenting the same kid!-- which was too late to get back the 2 weeks of suspension my son was subjected to.

We teach our children; if you see something wrong, do something about it-get involved, my son did what we as a family do-we get involved. And he was suspended for 2weeks! The 3 bullies? 2 days 3 weeks later!

I do not understand the entire system anymore .... My son is a child with learning disabilities himself, he's got problems verbalizing, and yet when he saw a problem he did something! And for his effort? He was penalized and given a harsher punishment then the 3 kids that were doing the bullying. Nice way of enforcing the rules Patchogue Medford!!!

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