These were the big questions posed to students at the Perelman Jewish Day School's Saligman Middle School last week as they gathered to discuss the recent sex abuse case that rocked the Penn State community.
It might seem a touchy subject for middle schoolers, but principal Susan Friedman said the students were the ones to suggest it for their weekly "daven and discussion" time. From an educator's perspective, she said, it seemed like a great entree to teaching youth how to advocate for themselves, and how to prevent hateful or violent behaviors.
"So much of who we eventually become is formed by the end of 8th or 9th grade," Friedman said, so why not challenge teens to think about what they would have done in a similar situation?
She put together a timeline of what had happened along with photos of the people involved and gathered all the 7th and 8th graders — just under 70 students altogether — on Dec. 1. After explaining the key issues and legal terminology (like the difference between sexual harassment and abuse), she asked the students to share their opinions.
"It was one of those rare times in middle school where you could've heard a pin drop — that's how well these kids were listening," Friedman said. "They were so open to listening to each other. They knew they wouldn't get shot down if somebody didn't agree with them."
Since the forum, Friedman said, she's received emails from parents asking for copies of the outline she used so they could continue the discussion at home.
"Who could ask for more?" she said.
So what did the students think of the scandal? Here are a few quotes Friedman recorded:
On the firing of Paterno:
"I believe that Joe Paterno is receiving too much blame for what happened. I think more of the blame should fall on the people who witnessed the assault. I do not know why they didn't call 911 immediately. How can you witness something like that and not call 911? It is ridiculous!" — Avi Lipton
"Even though Joe Paterno did not personally witness what happened, he still had a responsibility to alert the authorities when he found out what happened. The witnesses also should have told the police what happened. When he found out, Joe Paterno was just as guilty as the witnesses about not telling the police. By not telling the police, they are ruining children's lives the same way that Jerry Sandusky did. I think that the people from Penn State who think he [Paterno] is innocent are being biased and just love their coach." — Jesse Shuter
"This is not just a small thing that one man did. His actions affected a large community. One bad thing can really change everything that is happening." — Noah Kalandar
On why witnesses were hesitant to speak up:
"People don't always report everything they see to the authorities because they are afraid that they might get involved in something big and be in a lot of trouble, and lose their job. Joe Paterno has been coaching at Penn State for over 60 years. He devotes his time to his job. He probably wouldn't want to lose his job for something like this and might have wanted to avoid the stress." — Natan Yakov
"Sandusky was powerful and was respected. People were scared that if they did speak up, then everyone else would think that they were crazy. They also could have been worried about getting in trouble for slander because everyone would have thought they were lying." — Aaron Block