Writing About Violence, Abuse, and Family Life

Visits to all of our field sites in Sociology 215 are meant to do three things:

(1) Encourage you to think about readings and class topics and to use those materials in your discussion of the field experience;
(2) Raise issues for you about participation in community life and political activity and to discuss how engagement and social responsibility, or disengagement and social irresponsibility happen;
(3) Give you field experiences to prepare you for other courses that will have more intensive field experiences, like Anthropology/Sociology 201.

Your paper is not meant to be long. Three or four pages is enough. You also should not try to write about all of the themes given below. Pick your focus, state it, and give lots of description and detail to develop your points.

Watch the video, "Bad Dads" about the Bethesday prison parenting program. It is on reserve in the library.

There are three objectives in thinking about the connection between family life, abuse, and the violence or illegality of kids' behaviors.

First, the main focus of this assignment is on your own knowledge and experience of family relationships, of altruism, and possibly of abuse. Appreciate that it could be very uncomfortable and even dangerous for you to be too aggressive or probing in asking students in the school you visit about the issues covered in this assignment. Be mindful that we all have complex family lives and that one benefit of visiting a school for delinquents is that we learn about ourselves. Make this assignment reflective, drawing on events that happen in the facility to sharpen thoughts about family life as you understand it and have experienced it.

Second, examine and think carefully about family relationships as altruistic interactions. We want to look closely at how and why family relationships are important. We want to think about the gift of being a parent, and what gifts are involved in being a child. We want to think about why gifts of love are offered, what happens when they are not, and the challenge of giving love when someone has hurt us.

Third, collect information about how hurtfulness is related to emotional repression and, in turn, to the inclination to hurt others. The Bethesday program described in the video is based on the premise that criminality is anchored in personal abuse suffered by offenders as children and that overcoming the inclination to commit crimes requires confronting and overcoming the consequences of this early pain. It is important for us to recognize this dynamic and to see that it shapes the lives of successful people like Bucknell students and professors just as it does the lives of the offenders we will meet.

This assignment has the potential to be very sensitive and intrusive in terms of the people you are observing, meeting, and thinking about. It is important not to violate their confidentiality. For that reason, DO NOT use actual names. As far as you can do so, either do not describe individuals in a way that would allow others to recognize them or falsify descriptive details so that it protects the privacy and anonymity of the people you are writing about. Do not assume that your world at Bucknell is either distant or insulated from the worlds of the people you meet in the delinquency facility. Do not share things you observe or learn about with friends or roommates. At a minimum keep all descriptions of experiences within the group of people who make up our class. If events seem especially upsetting or shocking, you may consider asking your professor to retain the confidentiality of your paper. That means that only your professor will read it and it will not be shared with other students in the class (we sometimes read the papers of other students to learn how to improve writing).

1.Before you begin this paper, write a brief autobiography particularly reflecting on aspects of your family life in which something you could call abuse occured. You do not need to share this writing. The purpose is for you to think about how issues of family altruism and abuse relate to your own experience so that you can sharpen your focus on what you hear and learn about when visiting students.

2. Engage in passive observation to learn about the family backgrounds of students you meet and how this background relates to their present circumstances. You should only write this paper if material on students' backgrounds and how this relates to their recent violent or illegal behavior comes out in classroom activities or conversations. Do not start conversations or try to collect information on this theme. If a student talks to you and brings up themes related to this paper do not press the student for details. Let the information come to you.

Since you are an inexperienced observer it can be disruptive and threatening for you to ask probing questions about family issues and crimes. The assignment is meant to allow you to reflect on instances where these issues come up in the course of your field experience. In many respects, the purpose of this assignment is for you to reflect on your own life as much as on the lives of the young people you meet.

Many Bucknell students do not think that they have experienced abuse and that therefore they cannot respond to this writing assignment. I asked the group leaders about this and their comment was that everyone has abuse in their families. It is the case that when we spent an extended time talking about abuse in my summer school capstone, eventually everyone did find real instances although in some cases it involved cousins rather than immediate family members. Some of the reluctance to acknowledge abuse is that this is something Bucknellians are likely to want to hide or may not even acknowledge to themselves. One way to approach this is to think about how "abuse" may be defined in terms other than when someone beats someone else up. Consider emotional abuse or abuse of identity or abuse of freedom to develop and express one's inner desires.

3. When a visit leads you into the themes raised in this assignment, write a brief description of the experience. You want to describe things in specific and particular ways. You do not need to describe everything that happened. The emphasis should be on specific things that caught your attention and that you found surprising. Reflect on why you noticed these things and what you learned.