When necessary warnings are poorly communicated

I’m disgusted.  A California High School took a visit from highway patrol officers who informed pupils that several of their classmates had been in car crashes that involved drunk drivers.

Understandably, the news led to deep upset amongst many of the students.  They had lost friends.  Such a shock can be difficult to take in, let alone cope with ongoing.

Fast forward a few hours and the students are told…IT’S NOT TRUE!

Yes, none of the students had been killed at all.  It was all a hoax to get the pupils to think about the consequences of drinking and driving.

This is a bad move, in bad taste.  It certainly won’t put the right message across about the dangers of drinking and driving.  All it manages to do is distance young people from those in authority, mess with their heads and provoke them to trust nobody.

These students will have first been dealt a massive shock at the death of a friend.  No consideration of drink driving there, I’m sure.

Second, their upset would be focused on remembering the individuals, digging up memories from the past, thinking about the good times, and so on.  They wouldn’t be sitting, considering how things might be different without drink driving.

Third, the pupils would act as a support for each other in such a difficult time.  Again, no consideration other than right there and then.

With all this going on, I doubt they would have had much further time to think about anything other than the people that had died.  Not how the deaths occurred.  The officers waited a few hours before explaining the hoax, so it was enough time to screw with heads in completely the wrong way.  Even worse, many students only heard about the ‘deaths’ in between classes.  A lie spreading between students, which could have backfired and caused even more trouble.  High school students in their teens are not the people to be casually telling other students of upsetting deaths, regardless of whether or not the news is true.

Obviously, after finally being told the truth, the students were livid.  I’m not surprised.

A completely false story, designed to shock and upset to such a massive degree, is so misguided that I’m amazed it went as far as to take place.

But officials didn’t consider this a mistake:

“They were traumatized, but we wanted them to be traumatized,” said guidance counselor Lori Tauber, who helped organize the shocking exercise and got dozens of students to participate. “That’s how they get the message.”

No, that’s not how they get the message.  The chances are very slim that students have taken away any proper message about drinking and driving whatsoever.  I can’t see anything positive from this action.

Schools Superintendent Larry Perondi said:

“We did this in earnest…This was not done to be a prankster.”

It doesn’t matter.  It ended up looking like a prank anyway and that’s why it was a mistaken move.  No defending the situation can help.  It shouldn’t have happened.

The move is clearly a mistake when counselors had to announce the whole thing as a stunt to some pupils who were getting particularly distraught.  It’s clearly a mistake when students end up spreading the news around the school out of anyone’s control.  It’s clearly a mistake when it confuses students into questioning their own emotions, as this student did:

“You feel betrayed by your teachers and administrators, these people you trust,” said 15-year-old Carolyn Magos. “But then I felt selfish for feeling that way, because, I mean, if it saves one life, it’s worth it.”

Students shouldn’t feel anger and betray at those people they (generally) look up to.  And they certainly shouldn’t go on to feel selfish about it when everything is found to be untrue.  Remember, the students were misguided by officials, not the other way around.

Okay, so if anything can save a life, it’s worth it.  But in the case of situations like this one, I find it hard to believe that a life will be saved as a direct consequence of what happened here.

Of course, nobody will be able to prove that either way.  But that’s no reason to believe stunts like this should be allowed to take place.

Am I overreacting, or am I right to think that students (or anyone for that matter) should not be treated in this way?

[Source of information and quotes: MSNBC / Associated Press]