16 November 2009

“It’s Really About Language.”

Last week I read a short news item in a great metropolitan daily that puzzled me so much I went to the original report in the Salem (Massachusetts) News for more detail.

I found it, but the story only deepened the mystery:

Danvers High parents recently got an automated call from the principal warning them that if students say or display the word “meep” at school, they could face suspension. . . .

Murray did not elaborate on how the students were acting out. But he did say the phone call home was an attempt to head off a disruption being planned on the social networking Web site Facebook.

The disruption never happened, and Murray credited students for heeding his warning.

Murray said the school must react when online activity crosses paths with the school day. To that end, some students — Murray did not say how many — were suspended, but there were additional factors involved in their suspension unrelated to simply saying “meep.” . . .

Murray said students were not using the term to harass another student or a teacher.

“It’s really about language and conduct,” Murray said. “For me, it boils down to respectful conduct.”

It’s unclear what meaning “meep” has, other than it is a popular thing for kids to say when they are at a loss for something to say, according to various Web sites.

A group on Facebook called Meep has 370 members, for instance, and lists three Danvers High students as members. . . . Entries for the word “meep” in the online Urban Dictionary include “ouch,” “uh-oh,” a substitution for a swear word, a greeting, an exclamation or ”a random expression of happiness used to fill gaps in conversation.”

Some Danvers High students said yesterday they were not sure what “meep” means. . . . One student said nearly all the students think the whole thing is ridiculous.

Murray said the matter should be a wake-up call to parents about how kids are using social networking sites.
That’s so much clearer, isn’t it? And obviously we should blame Facebook because…it’s new relatively technology that we don’t understand so well.

This must have been a curious article for reporter Ethan Forman to write. He obviously asked the principal what the trouble was (“Were kids using this word to tease someone?”), and got no useful answer. He talked to high school students, and none of them could offer much. He looked up the word online, and found nothing. You know a journalism job isn’t going well when you’re reduced to scrounging in Urban Dictionary.

The principal declined to talk to National Public Radio later in the week, but the network was able to track down a student in the thick of things who explained the meaning (none) and derivation (videogames) of “meep.” Meanwhile, that Facebook group grew to over 1,000 members by Saturday.


Monica Edinger said...

I saw this and, working in a school as I do, wondered if this was something some students came up with after some already simmering tension between them and the administration. Sort of like frindle, isn't it?

dlz said...

sometimes i see situations like this in the news and wonder if "proactive" principals getting their names/schools some attention isn't a boost to their resumes – and the whole reason they behave this way. i mean, it isn't as thorny as having pregnancy clubs or book banning, they can throw around terms like "social networking" and prey off parents fears that they don't know what their kids are up to...

remember that story about the school here in boston that had to send home a message that there were no vampires (or was it zombies?) in the school? like saying "nothing to see here, move along" only makes people want to look closer. of course, this can backfire when it turns out that it's the principal drawing attention to themselves, but how they spin that in an interview down the road is their business.

J. L. Bell said...

This principal’s reaction obviously raised more questions than it answered, eventually becoming national news. I suspect it caused more stir than the undefined and possibly chimerical “disruption” that never happened. The fact that he chose not to speak to the press about something he’d felt was important enough to alert all parents suggests that he might wish the whole thing had never happened.

And yes, I thought this sounded like an Andrew Clements novel as well. But would anyone believe it?

Carl said...

It was about behavior more than language, which the student in the NPR piece admitted. After all, he said they were standing in front of the teacher's lounge, repeating this word, and interrupting classroom time with it. Not a big deal, but it couldn't continue. So he sent a note, it stopped, the kids aren't interrupting anymore, and life goes on. As I said, it wasn't a big deal, so why should the prinicpal spend a lot of time talking to the press about it?

J. L. Bell said...

I don’t see any statement from the principal about “interrupting classroom time.”

And it remains quite unclear to me how saying the word “meep” in a school hallway seriously disrupts the educational process.