19 Minutes excerpts and questions —by Jodi Picoult

Discussion in 'Bullying and Violence' started by Tess_Doerner, Dec 5, 2008.

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  1. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    In Sterling, New Hampshire, seventeen year old Peter Houghton has always been the but of his classmates jokes. Until one day, a final incident of bullying causes him to commit an act of violence that changes the lives of everyone in time. In the aftermath, the towns residents must come to terms with the roles they each played in the tragedy. For them, the lines between truth and fiction, right and wrong, insider and outsider have been obscured forever. Peters parents, thrust under public scrutiny, struggle to understand whether you can still love a child who's done something reprehensible. Alex Cormier, the judge assigned to Peter's trial, is torn between presiding between the biggest case of her career, and taking care of her own emotionally fragile daughter Josie, the State's best witness. But Josie a popular girl, who a lifetime ago was Peter's best friend, claims that she can't remember the tragedy that unfolded before her own eyes- or can she? As the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show, destroying the closest of friendships and families. 'Nineteen Minutes' holds a lightning glass up to the moment when your own child becomes a mystery to you. What does it mean to be different in our society? When is it okay for the victim to strike back? And perhaps most importantly, who, if /anyone/, has the right to judge someone else?
  2. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    " She expected the teacher to talk about a time-out chair, or some retributive punishment that would be handed out if Peter was again taunted by the in crowd. But instead, the young woman said, “I’m showing Peter how to stand up for himself. If someone cuts him in the lunch line, or if he’s teased, to say something in return instead of just accepting it.”

    Lacy blinked at her. “I…I can’t believe I’m hearing this. So if he gets shoved, he’s supposed to shove back? When his food gets knocked on the floor, he should reciprocate?”

    “Of course not—“

    “You’re telling me that for Peter to feel safe in school, he’s going to have to start acting like the boys who do this to him?”

    No, I’m telling you about the reality of grade school,” the teacher corrected. “Look, Mrs. Houghton. I can tell you what you want to hear. I can say that Peter is a wonderful child, which he is. I can tell you that the school will teach tolerance and will discipline the boys who’ve been making Peter’s life miserable, and that this will be enough to stop it. But the sad fact is that if Peter wants it to end, he’s going to have to be part of the solution.” (pp. 72 – 73)"

    What does SAFETY IN SCHOOL mean?

    Is it fair to ask everyone to advocate for him/herself?

    Where does the responsibility lie for ending peer cruelty?

    “We live in a country where American kids are dying because we’re sending them overseas to kill people for oil. But when one sad, distraught child who doesn’t see the beauty in life goes and wrongly acts on his rage by shooting up a school, people start pointing a finger at heavy metal music. The problem isn’t with rock lyrics, it’s with the fabric of this society itself.” (p. 110)

    What is the FABRIC OF SOCIETY?

    What can YOU as individuals do to change the fabric of your SCHOOLS?
    " He was staring in a way that cut her to the quick. Josie shivered. “I’m not,” she said quickly, and she took a deep breath. “I just…I don’t like the way you treat kids who aren’t like us, all right? Just because you don’t want to hang out with losers doesn’t mean you have to torture them, does it??

    “Yeah, it does,” Matt said. “Because if there isn’t a them, thee can’t be an us.” His eyes narrowed. “You should know that better than anyone.” (pp. 218 – 219)"

    What is your role to step in when you see others being treated inappropriately?

    In a high school setting…talk about the “them” vs. “us.”

    Can high school ever break down the barriers so that each and every student feels a part of the school?
    " “Derek,” Drew picked.

    “All right,” Matt said, “I’ll take the homo.”

    Peter shuffled toward the back of Matt’s team. “You ought to be good at this game, Peter,” Matt said, loud enough so that everyone else could hear. “Just keep your hands on the balls.”

    Peter leaned against a floor mat that had been strung on the wall, like the inside of an insane asylum. A rubber room, where all hell could break loose.

    He sort of wished he was as sure of who he was as everyone else seemed to be.

    “All right, “ Coach Spears said. “Let’s play.” (p. 228)"

    What are the adults’ roles in helping diminish peer cruelty?

    Discuss the pervasiveness of homophobic language.

    What can you do to intervene when others are cruel?

    " Ask a random kid today if she wants to be popular and she’ll tell you no, even if the truth is that if she was in a desert dying of thirst and had the choice between a glass of water and instant popularity, she’d probably choose the latter. See, you can’t admit to wanting it, because that makes you less cool. To be truly popular, it has to look like it’s something you are, when in reality, it’s what you make yourself.

    I wonder if anyone works any harder at anything than kids do at being popular. I mean, even air-traffic controllers and the president of the United States take vacations, but look at your average high school student, and you’ll see someone who’s putting in time twenty-four hours a day, for the entire length of the school year.

    So how do you crack that inner sanctum? Well, here’s the catch: it’s not up to you. What’s important is what everyone else thinks of how you dress, what you eat for lunch, what shows you TiVo, what music is on your iPod.

    I’ve always sort of wondered, though: If everyone else’s opinion is what matters, then do you ever really have one of your own? (p. 241)"

    Is popularity more important than anything else…dying of thirst?

    What is the difference between being popular and belonging to the group?

    Can everyone be popular?

    "Selena sat down with the principal of Sterling High in his modified elementary school office. Arthur McAllister had a sandy beard and a round belly and teeth that he didn’t show when he smiled. He reminded Selena of one of those freaky talking bears that had come onto the market when she was a kid – Teddy Ruxpin – which made it all the more strange when he started answering her questions about anti-bullying policies at the high school. “It’s not tolerated,” McAllister said, although Selena had expected that party line. “We’re completely on top of it.”

    “So, if a kid comes to you to complain about being picked on, what are the repercussions for the bully?”

    “One of the things we’ve found, Selena – can I call you Selena? – is that if the administration intervenes, it makes it worse for the kid who’s being bullied.” He hesitated. “I know what people are saying about the shooting. How they’re comparing it to Columbine and Paducah and the ones that came before them. But I truly believe that it wasn’t bullying, per se, that led Peter to do what he did.”

    “What he allegedly did,” Selena automatically corrected. “Do you keep records of bullying incidents?”

    “If it escalates, and the kids are brought in to me, then yes.”

    “Was anyone ever brought to you for bullying Peter Houghton?”

    McAllister stood up and pulled a file out of a cabinet. He began to leaf through it, and then stopped at a page. “Actually, Peter was brought in to see me twice this year. He was put into detention for fighting in the halls.”

    “Fighting?” Selena said. “Or fighting back?” (p. 271)"

    If somebody strikes someone else…does it matter if they were provoked?

    Should anyone care if a student who strikes another was teased and taunted?

    Do any of you have a responsibility to intervene when peers are hurt emotionally?

    "Josie already knew the answer. This group of kids – they weren’t her friends. Popular kids didn’t really have friends; they had alliances. You were safe only as long as you hid your trust – at any moment someone might make you the laughingstock, because then they knew no one was laughing at them. (p. 318)"

    Is Josie right? Are alliances different from friends? Are they more important?

    What is more important? Alliances? Or friends?

    Do popular kids not have friends? Is this important?
    " “Did you every bully him?”

    “No, Ma’am,” he said.

    Patrick felt his hands curl into fists. He knew, from interviewing hundreds of kids, that Drew Girard had stuffed Peter Houghton into lockers; had tripped him while he was walking down the stairs; had thrown spitballs into his hair. None of that condoned what Peter had done…but still. There was a kid rotting in jail; there were ten people decomposing in graves; there were dozens in rehab and corrective surgery; there were hundreds – like Josie – who still could not get through the day without bursting into tears; there were parents – like Alex – who trusted Diana to get justices done on their behalf. And this little asshole was lying through his teeth.

    Diana looked up from her notes and stared at Drew. “So if you get asked under oath whether you’ve ever picked on Peter, what’s your answer going to be?”

    “Let me ask you again, Drew,” she said smoothly. “Did you ever bully Peter Houghton?”

    Drew glanced at Patrick and swallowed. Then he opened his mouth and started to speak. (pp. 352 – 353)"

    Is it a badge of honor to “bully” another?

    Have any of you “bullied” another person? How do you feel afterward?

    Why would Drew have lied about bullying Peter?

  3. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member


    " “Derek,” the lawyer said, “you’ve been friends with Peter since sixth grade, right?”


    “You spent a lot of time with him both in and outside school.”


    “Did you ever see Peter getting picked on by other kids?”

    “All the time,” Derek said. “They’d call us fags and homos. They’d give us wedgies. When we walked down the hall, they’d trip us or slam us into lockers. Things. Like that.”

    “Did you ever talk to a teacher about this?”

    “I used to, but that just made it worse. I got creamed for being a tattletale.” (p. 383)"

    Telling a teacher. What are the ramifications?

    What has happened when you’ve tried to tell a teacher that someone is doing something to hurt another person?

    Have you thought about telling a teacher but decided it wasn’t worth the effort?
    " She [Lacy, Peter’s mother] did not know quite what to feel when confronted with Josie Cormier. They’d spent the day playing hangman – the irony of which, given her son’s fate, wasn’t lost on her. Lacy had known Josie as a newborn, but also as a little girl and as a playmate for Peter. Because of this, there had been a point where she had viscerally hated Josie in a way that even Peter never seemed to, for being cruel enough to leave her son behind. Josie may not have initiated the teasing that Peter suffered over his middle and high school years, but she didn’t intervene either, and in Lacy’s book, that had made her equally responsible. (p. 385)"

    Talk about any time you have been a witness to the teasing of others. How did you feel? What did you do?

    Is it OK to witness, but not participate in hurtful behaviors?

    Is there any responsibility for students to step in and attempt to stop peer cruelty?

    "Being unpopular was a communicable disease. Josie could remember Peter in elementary school, fashioning the tinfoil from his lunch sandwich into a beanie with antennae, and wearing it around the playground to try to pick up radio transmissions from aliens. He hadn’t realized that people were making fun of him. He never had.

    She had a sudden flash of him standing in the cafeteria, a statue with his hands trying to cover his groin, his pants pooled around his ankles. She remembered Matt’s comment afterward: Objects in mirror are way smaller than they appear.

    Maybe Peter had finally understood what people thought of him.

    “I didn’t want to be treated like him, “ Josie said, answering her mother, when what she really meant was, I wasn’t brave enough. (p. 387)"

    Talk about what is needed to stand up to peers who hurt others.

    Have you ever thought to yourself: I’m not responsible for stepping in and helping a peer?

    What responsibility do you have to a student who has difficulty being integrated into the social fabric of the school? Does that student have a responsibility to try to fit in?

    "Jail wasn’t all that different from public school, really. The correctional officers were just like the teachers – their job was to keep everyone in place, to feed them, and to make sure nobody got seriously hurt. Beyond that, you were left to your own devices. And like school, jail was an artificial society, with its own hierarchy and rules. If you did any work, it was pointless – cleaning the toilets every morning or pushing a library cart around minimum security wasn’t really that different from writing an essay on the definition of civitas or memorizing prime numbers – you weren’t going to be using them daily in your real life. And as with high school, the only way to get through jail was to stick it out and do your time. (p. 388)"

    School and jail…are there similarities? Differences?

    Students are free to make choices in school. What choices do you have to help peers who struggle?

    "When I was little I used to pour salt on slugs. I like watching them dissolve before my eyes. Cruelty is always sort of fun until you realize that something’s getting hurt.

    It would be one thing to be a loser if it meant no one paid attention to you, but in school, it means you’re actively sought out. You’re the slug, and they’re holding all the salt. And they haven’t developed a conscience. (p. 391)"

    Is cruelty fun?

    Are certain students “fair game” to hurt?

    "If just one teacher had stopped a kid, once, from tormenting Peter in the hall. (p. 395)"

    Should teachers intervene when they witness peer cruelty? To what extent?

    What role should adults in school have to diminish peer cruelty?

    Do you think teachers “get it”? Why or why not?

    " “I didn’t ask him any more questions,” Ducharme said evenly. “I have no idea what kind of shape he was in.”

    “So you took a kid – a seventeen-year-old kid, who was crying for his mother – back to your holding cell?”

    “Yes. But I told him I wanted to help him”

    Jordan glanced at the jury and let that statement sink in for a moment. “What was Peter’s response?”

    “He looked at me,” the detective answered, “and he said, ‘They started it.’” (p. 399)"

    Is it important who “started it?”

    When in the cycle of peer cruelty should you step in, if ever, and help another peer?

    " “When he first reached the school and saw a friend in the parking lot, he tried to warn him off, for safety. He lit a pipe bomb in a car before going into the school, to serve as a diversion so that he could enter unimpeded with his guns. He concealed weapons that were preloaded. He targeted areas in the school where he himself had been victimized. These are not the acts of someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing – they’re the hallmarks of a rational, angry – perhaps suffering, but certainly not delusional – young man.” (p. 400)"

    Are there areas of your school that are more unsafe than others? What should be done?

    Does being “victimized” give anyone license for revenge? What should be done?

    How do you feel and think when you hear that there was planning for an attack of this sort?

    " “Most of Peter’s childhood memories involved situations where he was victimized either by other children or by adults whom he’d perceived as being able to help him, yet didn’t. He described everything from physical threats – Get out of my way or I’m going to punch your lights out; to physical actions – doing nothing more than walking down a hallway and being slammed up against the wall because he happened to get too close to someone walking past him; to emotional taunts – like being called homo or queer.”

    “Yes. Peter loved his parents, but didn’t feel he could rely on them for protection.” (p. 405)"

    Do you think parents can help students in school-related social problems?

    What is parents’ role in helping?

    When parents help their children, does it work? Or does it make things worse?

    "“A child who suffers from PTSD has made unsuccessful attempts to get help, and as the victimization continues, he stops asking for it. He withdraws socially, because he’s never quite sure when interaction is going to lead to another incident of bullying. He probably thinks of killing himself. He escapes into a fantasy world, where he can call the shots. However, he starts retreating there so often that it gets harder and harder to separate that from reality. During the actual incidents of bullying, a child with PTSD might retreat into an altered state of consciousness – a dissociation from reality to keep him from feeling pain or humiliation while the incident occurs.” (pp. 407 – 408)"

    How does it feel to be hurt socially at school? Rejected, made fun of, laughed at or pushed around?

    Whose responsibility is it to stop peer cruelty?

    Have any of you witnessed the kind of cruelty Peter experienced? What goes on in your head?

    " “In Peter’s case, I saw an extreme emotional vulnerability, which, in fact, was the reason he was teased. Peter didn’t play by the codes of boys. He wasn’t a big athlete. He wasn’t tough. He was sensitive. And difference is not always respected – particularly when you’re a teenager. Adolescence is about fitting in, not standing out.”

    “How does a child who is emotionally vulnerable wind up one day carrying four guns into a school and shooting twenty-nine people?”

    “Part of it is the PTSD – Peter’s response to chronic victimization. But a big part of it, too, is the society that created both Peter and those bullies.” (pp. 408 – 409)"

    Is adolescence really about fitting in and not standing out?

    Is there a CODE OF BOYS at your school? And, is there a CODE OF GIRLS? What do these codes allow you to do?

    Your peers who do not fit in socially and stand out…Do you have any responsibility to them?

    " “There were instances in the school records where bullying was mentioned – although there was no response from the administration. The police package I received supported Peter’s statement about his email being sent out to several hundred members of the school community.” (p. 414)"

    How does cyber-bullying impact your school? Is there a lot of it? What is done about it?

    Is being mean or cruel the same thing as bullying? What difference does it make what it is called?

    Do administrators respond to “bullying” in your school? How often and what do they do to manage it?

    " “I tried,” Lacy admitted, “to toughen him up.” As she spoke she directed her words at Peter, and hoped he could read it as an apology. “What does any mother do when she sees her child being teased by someone else? I told Peter I loved him; that kids like that didn’t know anything. I told him that he was amazing and compassionate and kind and smart, all the things we want adults to be. I knew that all the attributes he was teased for at age five, were going to work in his favor by the time he was thirty-five…but I couldn’t get him there overnight. You can’t fast-forward your child’s life, no matter how much you want to.” (p. 418)"

    Is it enough for parents to tell their children to ignore the hurt and rejection? Does it make a difference?

    Should children/students who are shy and don’t easily integrate social become tougher?

    Do parents and teachers have any responsibility to intervene when a child/student is hurt socially? Do peers?

    " “I [Peter] tried out for soccer, but never got any time on the field. Once, I helped some kids play a practical joke on a teacher by moving his car from the parking lot into the gym….I got detention, but the other kids didn’t, because they were on the basketball team and had a game on Saturday.” (p. 425)"

    Is discipline fairly administered at your schools?

    Do some students get preferential treatment when it comes to discipline?

    How “fair” are your schools in general?

    "She stared at Peter, and she realized that in that one moment, when she hadn’t been thinking, she knew exactly what he’d felt as he moved through the school with his backpack and his guns. Every kid in this school played a role: jock, brain, beauty, freak.” (p. 440)"

    Are your schools as easy to describe as the roles suggested here?

    If there are “freaks” in your schools, how are they a part of the school?

    Are some groups in school safer (physically, emotionally and intellectually) than others?

    " “I loved Matt. And I hated him. I hated myself for loving him, but if I wasn’t with him, I wasn’t anyone anymore.”

    “I don’t understand…”

    “How could you? You’re perfect.” Josie shook her head. “The rest of us, we’re all like Peter. Some of us just do a better job of hiding it. What’s the difference between spending your life trying to be invisible, or pretending to be the person you think everyone wants you to be? Either way, you’re faking.” (pp. 446 – 447)"

    Do kids “fake” who they are at school? Should they? What happens if they do?

    Is your identity determined by whom you hang with? What impact is there socially for choosing to be with some peers over others?

    Do all students see themselves as different and not truly a part of the school?
  4. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    I think that safety in school means not having to worry that you'll be made fun of because of, for example, who you're eating with. You should not have to watch your every move.

    No, I think that some people do not have the ability, in need of a better word. They need the opportunity to try, and after that, you need to step in.

    I think that this question is complicated- parents should teach their children that cruelty is wrong, but it is also the duty of bystanders to interfere.
  5. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    I'm really not sure. About either of these. What do you guys think?
  6. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    I think that to an extent, you need to stop it. Whatever it takes. If that's Reporting, then that's what needs to be done.

    I think it's unique by clique, but that there is definatly a line. There shouldn't be, but there is.
  7. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    I think that the couch should have absolutely interfered. If he sees that Peter can't stand up for himself, that's his duty as a teacher.

    It is completely inappropriate and insulting.
  8. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    No. However, it certainly seems that way, as a high-schooler myself...

    Huge. If you belong to a group, there are different people you could go to if you needed something- anything. If you're popular, everyone wants to spend time with you- until you screw up.

    No. Parents and everyone say yeah, but no. Sadly, Josie's spot on here.
  9. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member



  10. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    Yes. No.

    Friends. They serve as both.

    They do not. This is terrible.
  11. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    No, but it's perceived that way.

    I'm sure I have. But I don't do it regularly. Whenever I upset anyone for any reason, I feel horrible.

    I don't know. He wore it as a badge of honor, and no one made any move to stop it, so... I really don't know.
  12. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    Being called a tattletale, like Derek said. Gaining enemies.

    It depends who I've gone to. Sometimes they've blown it off, sometimes they've interfered.

    Yes. And I felt terrible later.
  13. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    I felt terrible. I Reported.

    No. You need to Report, or interfere.

  14. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member



    Helping them. Sadly, yes. That's the only way for them to make friends.
  15. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    Yes. Yes.

    Should I interfere, or not?
  16. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member


    Yes. Again, Josie's spot on.
  17. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    They should interfere at the first sign.

    No. Some just don't understand how traumatizing it can be.
    Hard to say.

    From the start.
  18. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member

    Yes. Teachers should be actively around and listening at all times.

    Hard to say.


    To speak with teachers.

    Worse, always.
  19. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member


    Yes. Yes. Be like everyone else.

    To be there for them.
    Suspension, and then expulsion.

    Yes. None.

    Yes. Always, and the same as cyber bullying.
  20. Tess_Doerner

    Tess_Doerner Active Member



    Yes. 'Why me?'
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