Lynn, Lynn, City Of Bad History Assignments

So there's this front-page story in the Boston Globe today...

LYNN - A videotaped afterschool brawl in which two girls battle while onlookers egg them on has resulted in suspensions for 29 Lynn English High School students, possible criminal charges for the two combatants - and term papers for all involved.

The subject of the paper? The 1964 murder of Catherine “Kitty’’ Genovese, whose shouts for help went unanswered as she was stabbed to death in New York City. The thesis: the consequences of apathy.

“We felt not only should it be a discipline approach to this, but also a learning approach, so they don’t just walk away and say, ‘Oh, got a day off from school,’ ’’ said Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, who is also chairwoman of the city’s School Committee.

She said she and the school principal, Thomas Strangie, want students to “learn a little bit about what happens when we stand by and take no action when we should be taking action to help another human being.’’

I kind of glazed over this, until someone reminded me that the famous Kitty Genovese story has been pretty well debunked -- that is to say, bystanders did attempt to call police and assist in various ways. The story apparently got spun, to a large degree, by a police department trying to cover their own failure to respond and newspapers ginning up a good story.

Some of the debunking was in Superfreakonomics, among other places. In fact, there seems to be an active Kitty-Genovese-myth-debunking-squad that tries to push back whenever someone tells the old story -- the story that the Lynn mayor and principal have assigned these students to write.

I wonder whether their punishment will be deemed completed if the students write that the Kitty Genovese story doesn't teach them the lesson they were supposed to learn, but actually taught them that authority figures don't always know what they're talking about?


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