Other stories filed under Focus
What would you do if…
February 14, 2018
…Someone offered to sell you answers to a test?
*DISCLAIMER – I accepted no money in this test, and all names will remain confidential.
Teens are seen today as teens have been seen throughout history – lazy, ungrateful, and generally awful. The baby boomers’ war on millennials sees the teens of our generation avoiding the brunt of the ageism, but a highly evolving job market and the resulting academic pressures has seen a steady increase in anxiety amongst teens over the past century. In fact, an estimated quarter of teens suffer from some form of anxiety today.
It’s not surprising how many responses I got asking for test answers, given this climate.
AP US History (APUSH) is considered one of the harder AP classes the school has. Advanced Placement social studies are generally seen as a given by the overachievers, and beastly to the incoming AP kids. Kiedrowski, while being a great teacher, is tough. I’m not ashamed to admit I have to work hard in his class to learn all the material.
That being said, I have the time to put into his class. For some students, that time just isn’t there, be it due to sports, speech and debate, music, theatre, or any of the multitude of extracurricular activities the school has. Pressures put on students to gain a ‘spike,’ (if they’re looking at an Ivy League school or it’s equal), or to be as well-rounded as possible (if they are looking to go to pretty much any college) lead to overcommitment and these mental illnesses seen amongst our teens.
I approached kids in my APUSH class to tell them I had the answers to the upcoming unit test. I said that Kiedrowski had accidentally put the test responses on his Moodle page. In my scenario, they had been since taken down, but I had saved the PDF and was charging $10 per key.
I first did a dry run on my best friend Aurora (whose name will be the only I mention in this story). I told her that I had the answers, but didn’t offer to send them to her, since she had already taken APUSH.
That went over like a popped balloon so to speak – she was highly unfazed, told me all the answers were on Moodle anyways, and continued eating lunch after voicing her assumption that 1) I didn’t need them, and 2) I was messing with her anyways so why did it matter?
When I told a couple of groups in my history class, it went over quite differently.
I approached small groups of students talking after we got back from lunch. My class is predominantly male, which of course skews any statistics derived from this little experiment.
The first cluster I approached, who I would say I know decently well, completely believed me. I told them, they all started laughing a bit, and I was asked if I would break a twenty by one of them immediately, another saying they had no money on them at that time. The others said they would get back to me, so they could see how well they were doing before they bought the “key.”
As I was walking over to the next group, one of them called after me, “You know, Abby, I respect the f*ck out of what you’re doing here. I look up to you now.”
I approached a group in the center of the room, my hypothesis being this particular demographic would be a bit more action heavy. Immediately after I made my proposition, I was asked to “verify” that they were the correct answers and that it was the actual test.
“Abby, just let me tell you that you have picked the right group to come to,” one said, and the whole group laughed. I was asked if I had the DBQ (Document-Based Question, a part of the essay portion of our exam) prompt as well.
They then discussed amongst themselves who was going to do it, more than one wallet emerged from a backpack or pocket, and I moved onto my next group.
This was bit calmer, as I had approached easily some of the smartest kids in the school, much less my class. Both burst out laughing as I told them, and both refused, saying they didn’t need it.
One of them later told me I would “make bank,” doing this.
I let the rumor mill take its cycle for the next day, planning to tell everyone the truth on Friday during class.
The following day, Kiedrowski received an email from a student, naming me specifically (I had no idea who she was, we had never met) and letting him know about test answers circulating.
“The more I thought about the situation the more I realized that it’s really unfair for people who actually try hard to do well on these tests,” the student said in the email.
When I finally came clean to my class, minutes before the test itself, I had already been asked by two people that day if I was still selling and/or using the answers.
However, when I did finally tell the class, one of my classmates immediately yelled, “I told you it was a sting!” A couple of other similar side conversations proceeded, and the class went on as normal.
“I think students on the whole are willing to cheat or cut corners on any kind of assessments if they feel like it will give them the grade that thy think they need to get into the college that they think they want to go to,” Kiedrowski told me later. “Four-year colleges have gotten more competitive [during time teaching] to the point where students feel like they have to have a certain GPA or ACT score, otherwise they won’t get into a certain college, and therefore their vision of what their life will be won’t be accomplished. The reality is, it’s so unlike that.”
Throughout this whole experiment, many of the kids I talked to discussed buying the answers from me, but none did. This may be because I, as illustrated by the classroom riot, am a massive overachiever and would never actually do any of this – partially because I’m a huge wimp. It also may be because I only stayed long enough to get an impulse reaction from anyone, moving on and being altogether cagey about the entire situation before anyone could actually offer me any money or confirm that they wanted to buy my “answers.”
I’d like to believe that they weren’t actually going to buy those answers though. Maybe it’s naivete on my part, but all of the kids in my class are extremely bright capable people. They don’t need the answers spoon fed to them. But the fact remains that kids deal with the pressures put on them by the school every day – and people are fully capable of actually cheating if they so choose to.
…You found out your best friend was being cheated on?
We waited at a red light while the sun set. “I think Isaac is cheating on her,” I said. Adults were driving home from work and teens were heading out on the town, my friends and I on our way to dinner. I turned to senior Payton Filipiak who was sitting beside me in the passenger seat and referenced our friend’s boyfriend. “I heard him talking about it to his friend Charlie,” I said. “Are you serious?” Payton asked.
I told three of my friends that one of our best friend’s boyfriend was cheating on her. While two became stunned and silenced, the other reacted with a threat to the boyfriend, strewn from frustration and ferocity. Which of these is the typical reaction to heartbreaking news? It’s hard to say what the normal reaction is to trauma. Some may react with sadness, some with sorrow, some with anger, and many more emotions. This is only a small sample of what the natural human reaction is to bad news.
“I was mad. Oh boy. I was shocked. I believed you 100 percent,” Payton said. “I was shocked because Isaac is a good kid and they’re just cute. I 100 percent thought you were telling the truth because you wouldn’t lie to me about such a serious issue.”
My friend, senior Hannah Boardman, has been dating senior Isaac Goetzke for nearly two years. He gets along with our friends unbelievably well. This is why our friends could not believe the news that he was cheating on her. Of course, Isaac knew that we were going to do this in the case that someone reached out to him about it. We had laid out a plan and a complete story only a day before. I had supposedly heard Isaac talking to his friend, senior Charlie Korman, on his way into school during third hour after his Emergency Medical Technician class at Century College. He was talking about another girl in more than a friend way. Fortunately, he has talked to my friends and I about a girl in his class, so I used her as a guise.
“I’ve heard about this girl in his EMT class and I was like, ‘Wow, they just threw it over to the next level,’” Payton said. “That was the most believable part.”
I tried to tell Payton about the supposed cheating multiple times throughout the day, but could not find the time in the day. That night we decided to go out to dinner, and while Hannah drove separately, Payton hitched a ride with me. I told her on our way there. Consequently she only had about five minutes to react, and then had to sit through dinner without mentioning it to Hannah. Shortly after we all went home, she messaged me on Snapchat and came up with a plan of her own.
“When we were hanging out I kind of forgot until she mentioned his name all the time. Then I was glaring at you. I really didn’t know what to do. I pretended it wasn’t happening. But then after we hung out that’s when I stalked his Instagram and her Instagram and that’s when I got heated. Furious,” Payton said. “But that night was when I started confronting him because he just made me sick to my stomach. ‘You have until Sunday to tell her. If you don’t, I will. Don’t ruin her Snoball,’ [is] what I said.” This is also when I found out she had told other people, but not our close friends.
Coincidentally, I had told Payton about the cheating the night before Snoball. The following day she had to go to the venue early and set up all day since she is a Student Council member. There, she continued to message Isaac occasionally. We had previously instructed him to leave all of her messages opened, but not to respond. This frustrated Payton immensely, so she decided to take action.
“Okay so it was the day after [you told me]. It was Snoball,” Payton said. “I did not want to see the kid and I knew he was going with Hannah, so I talked to some of my Student Council friends that will not be named. I talked to them and I was like, ‘Yo, I have a mission for you guys,’ and yeah, I told them to beat him up. Then they figured out it was Isaac. Then they had some thinking to do and they said no but, whatever.”
I was shocked when she revealed to me that she attempted to make plans for Isaac to be roughed up, and made me question how Payton could react so abruptly and violently while our other two friends sat still in their seats while I told them the whole story and did not want to take action themselves. This made me think about an action which most people avoid: confrontation. I am doubtful that most people would confront the cheater, which is part of what makes this reaction unique.
Once Payton had told me about her plan to have Isaac beat up, we decided it was time to tell her the truth. I told Payton the night of Snoball, while she was deejaying. She could barely hear over the music as I told her it was fake. She still remains somewhat upset.
“Sometimes when I forget that this was all a joke I look at him in English and I kinda get mad but then I’m like, ‘Oh. Nevermind,’” Payton said.
While Payton reacted roughly, seniors Jack Lange and Amelia Torgerson took what felt like two minutes to respond to the news. They remained silent and in shock while I gave them the details of how I knew. They, like Payton, wanted to take action, but they were not about to do it themselves. Instead, they offered to come with me to tell her, but definitely had their reservations.
“At the time I hated him with everything in me. I was so angry he would do his to her. For a little while after I was told, I couldn’t help but still hold a bit of anger towards him, but it quickly faded back to normal,” Jack said.
Luckily for me, none of my friends are too upset with me for lying to them, but according to them, they may not trust me anymore. Distrust, I’ve concluded, is a common theme with the delivery of tragic news, something that I’ve experienced with each trail of this experiment.
“I wouldn’t say I was ever really upset with you in the first place,” Amelia said. “It was kind of mean, but it was really well executed and thinking back on the joke, it’s funny.”
This experiment definitely made for a funny story, but also provided a little more insight to human reactions, especially when it comes to tragic news which could change a life. Still, the question begs, how do you break heartbreaking news to your best friend, and would you, if you had the chance? Was Payton’s reaction typical of most people? It’s challenging to say whether her response was one of a kind, but from my experience, it definitely seems like she is the outlier here. In the five stages of grief, people experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. While Lange and Torgerson were able to move past the first three phases, they were stuck in depression. Payton, oppositely, was unable to get past the second stage, stuck in anger. I’ve concluded there is no typical response to heartbreaking news, which means the only predictable part about delivering bad news is that the people receiving the news’ reactions are unpredictable.
What would you do if you witnessed bullying?
Bullying is a common word heard around schools across the country. From kindergarten through senior year, students are taught signs of bullying and what to do in bullying situations. They are taught through programs, videos and instructional tasks in many classes. Kids are taught that if you see bullying, you must step in no matter what. Today, there are opportunities for many different bullying situations. In the hallway, or the classroom, the bus, even online: these are all common places that bullying is seen.
According to stopbullying.gov, one in four kids are bullied. These statistics are alarming, and as I read them I began to wonder why so many kids were bullied if from a young age everyone is taught to step in and stop it. Running an experiment to see what kids would step in and when seemed like the best idea.
The set up
Since bullying is defined as a repetitive confrontation and extreme difference in power between two people, it would be difficult with the time constraints to set the scene repetitively. A scene of confrontation seemed like the next best thing. I decided that the best way to test this would be between a freshman and a senior, a huge difference in power. Since people often think of these situations in terms of someone much bigger and stronger picking on someone that seems like they’re at a disadvantage, this pairing was the first thing that came to mind.
The plan was to conduct the experiment in two places around the school: the new addition, where mostly freshman have their lockers and an upstairs hallway where the majority of upperclassmen have their classes. The two different areas provided two different audiences, one that was more similar to the victim and one that was more similar to the tormentor.
“I was a little worried [before it happened] about either messing up or gaining too much attention,” sophmore Nathaniel Willius said. He was recruited to play the victim.
The experiment would begin when Willius would run into Koivu, in the hallway. Koivu would then begin to raise his voice at Willius, calling him names and telling him that he needs to learn to walk on the right side of the hallway. Koivu was to get up in Willius’ face, without physically touching him at all. The hope was that the interaction would draw many students attention and reactions.
“I was a bit nervous because I was thinking about what other people would think. Would they think it was real and that I was mean,” Koivu said.
The first experiment took place on the morning of Feb. 6, in the passing times between third and fourth hours. We first took the experiment to the underclassmen hallway. Once the bell rang we all got into place, Koivu walking down the hall one way, Willius coming from the other, with me in the middle to witness the whole interaction and take note. As soon as Willius “ran into” him, Koivu began to get up in his face. He followed him down the hallway, tormenting him the entire way.
The hall was full of kids, coming both ways around the hallway. At the beginning, no one was obviously noticing or looking at it. As the time went on, however, more people looked. Kids at their lockers were watching and peoples heads began to turn. At either end of the hallway, two editors were posted to help get people’s attention and help them understand that it was an experiment as well as gauge reactions. When they asked people if they saw anything everyone said no, even if it was obvious that they had due to their stares.
“When I first saw, I thought he was joking with him, but then the kid felt really uncomfortable and looked really uncomfortable, so I was going to go and say something to stop him,” sophmore Omar Omar said, who has Spanish with Willius.
Omar and Osei both begun to react. When they say what was happening they planned to step in. They were the only two students in the entire hallway to outwardly react. Of all the students who heard or saw anything, only two tried to help.
“When I first saw what was happening I was kind of shocked…[these situations] rarely happen. I was about to turn around and go stop the guy from bullying him,” sophomore Millie Osei said.
The second time we conducted the experiment it took place in the upstairs hallway, between B and C lunches. Since there was a much smaller audience this time, I was unsure what the reactions would be like. This audience consisted of mainly upperclassmen, some of whom knew Koivu. My predictions for this audience were somewhat different, thinking some people may step in, but after seeing the first round I was apprehensive.
“I was kind of expecting people to look but not maybe do a whole lot, it wasn’t that surprising I think,” Koivu said.
As Koivu and Willius began to run through the scene a second time, I saw many more heads turn. People were watching and obviously concerned, but again no one stepped in. When asked, one student said he knew it was fake, and many others denied seeing anything. A common theme that I could see developing was denial, since the majority of people asked said they didn’t notice a thing, when in reality they had blatantly stared at the confrontation.
One senior, Thomas Johnson, did notice what was happening, however, and he said he was surprised to see Koivu in a situation such as this. As he walked by he had a look of confusion on his face, and he couldn’t look away.
“I noticed Harrison was talking to the kid. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but then I kind of saw his face was mad and I thought something was off,” Johnson said.
Reflecting on the experiment after the fact, I was surprised at the amount of students who denied witnessing any situation. As common as these scenes of confrontation are in our society, people seemed to be oblivious to the signs. Koivu was close to Willius, and was speaking to him in harsh manner with harsh words, yet people were slow to notice or even care.
The results were surprising, and I am somewhat disheartened by the lack of reaction. People should be standing up for one another, not putting their heads down and walking away. Too often are people labeled as bystanders in situations that could be putting young people at risk. Not only do these situations and bullying put people at a potential risk physically, but also mentally. When we witness an act of bullying or confrontation, we need to stand up. Although it may not be found constantly, if you see something, say something. It’s better to stand up for someone now, than wish you did in hindsight.
…Someone had lipstick on their teeth?
People would rather try to subtly and politely tell a person that they have something in or on their teeth than tell them outright. If someone were to point out something in a person’s teeth they could be considered rude, and risk embarrassing the person with stuff in their teeth. When someone has something on their teeth the responsibility of politely telling them falls on the person they are locked in a conversation with, which can sometimes lead to some awkward and maybe even embarrassing conversations.
I put this to the test to see if anyone would tell me that I have lipstick on my teeth in a high school setting. In high school, it is expected that outfits be polished and makeup pristine. There is not to be a hair out of place, so the idea of purposely having messy lipstick was a little daunting. Discretely reapplying my messy lipstick between classes was humorous to me even after loosening my nerves after the first round of experiments.
“It was my first instinct to tell you, but I did consider that you might think it was mean,” senior Isabel Solheim said. She was the first of many throughout the day to let me know there was lipstick plastered on my two front teeth, though none of them knew it was put there intentionally.
I was a little scared of how people might tell me that there was lipstick on my teeth, but I wasn’t sure I would prefer it if my friends and peers left me in blissful ignorance for the rest of the day and discover in horror that my teeth had been bright red for the whole day. My mission was set and I intended to set out and find the answer, not only for myself, but for everyone who has realized hours later they had been in a compromising situation for the entire day.
“It feels like a very Minnesota thing to ignore it,” senior Sintra Nichols said. “I thought it would come out on its own eventually.” She had tried to subtly tell me there was lipstick on my teeth a few times, but eventually just came right out and said it, making sure to apologize beforehand.
Before each person through the day told me I had lipstick on my teeth I saw three tell-tale signs: they would glance down at my teeth at least twice, they would lick their own teeth as if trying to tell me to do the same without having to actually say the words then they would purse their lips as they waited for me to finish talking so they could confess as politely as they could that I had a smear of lipstick on my teeth.
“It comes out of personal experience, people know what it’s like,” senior Emily Scherber said. “Everyone knows that type of embarrassment.”
She made an excellent point, and when I stopped to reflect after every test subject I kept coming back to this idea. People are empathetic creatures by nature, and when we see someone going through something we know and have personally felt we feel compelled to help.
Most people who saw the lipstick on my teeth told me as soon as they could. This is a pattern that followed through my whole day, some people even went as far as interrupting me as I was speaking so they could tell me. One trend I noticed particularly often was if we were surrounded by a group of other people the lipstick went ignored.
“If there were other people around you I probably wouldn’t have told you,” math teacher Rob Benson said. This was a popular train of thought throughout the day as a few people let the swipe of lipstick on my teeth go untold to spare me what they expected to be a wave of embarrassment in front of my peers.
Why would they try to spare the embarrassment of being told that I have lipstick on my teeth, yet they were alright letting me go through my day beyond them with bright red lipstick staining my teeth? The only thing almost everyone of my test subjects had in common was a similar thought process in how they would handle this situation with a stranger.
“If I didn’t know you I wouldn’t have said anything,” Solheim said. “Someone I was passing in the hallways I wouldn’t have said anything to.”
We feel a desperate need to please and impress people, particularly strangers. This could be considered an advantage and yet also a negative. whether positive or negative, it is certainly something that is wired into all of us.
People desperately want to be accepted at every level in society. We wish to be accepted by our peers, our co-workers, our friends and so we act politely and ignore imperfections no matter how small or fixable they are. We smile politely and make it a point to look every where but at the thing glaring at us like a swipe of lipstick on someone’s teeth while they are talking.
“Just meeting people I don’t want to make a bad first impression,” Benson said. “Because they’re just meeting me they might be embarrassed so I might not tell them.”
My experiment led me through some humorous conversations that always ended up back in the same place: societal expectations. Because of the strict regularity of society we would rather let someone discover something embarrassing about themselves out on their own, whether we realize it or not. The one thing we all have in common though is that we sure know how to fake a polite smile.