My best assembly - Keep it to yourself

3rd October 2008 at 01:00
When you think about it, nobody benefits from gossip. So why bother, asks Emma Webb

We all love a gossip. Whether it's in the playground or the staffroom, the rumour mill is part of everyday machinery for pupils and staff.

Oscar Wilde said that there was only one thing worse than being talked about and that was not being talked about. This may be true in the world of celebrity, but in school it is more a case of careless talk costs reputations.

After seeing the heartache a loose tongue caused for a member of my form, I developed this assembly for Years 7 through to 13. Before the assembly it can be an interesting social experiment to choose a few indiscreet pupils (you know who they are) and spread your own juicy, but harmless, rumour.

The most effective and swiftly transmitted porkies are usually about those in authority: a senior member of staff leaving, for example (although it is always wise to check first that they have no plans to actually do so) or a draconian change in uniform policy always work well.

You can then use part of the assembly to get a show of hands to see who has heard the rumour compared with how many were originally told.

Pupils enter the hall to "I Heard it on the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye, a song about love destroyed by gossip, and a rotating PowerPoint of front covers of Heat and OK!

I introduce the powerful riddle poem Who am I? (see below) by asking some pupils to read it, perhaps taking a few lines each.

The pupils then guess at the answer to the riddle based on the music, images and poetry that they have heard so far. And then I ask: "Who do you think gossips more - boys or girls?"

The answer is surprising. Gossip accounts for 55 per cent of men's conversation and 67 per cent of women's. I go on to use the front covers as a prompt for speaking about how gossip is legitimised by the mass media for its own ends. Why do we love these magazines? Do they inspire feelings of power, of insider knowledge? At whose expense are these brief feelings being created? Try to elicit answers from the audience.

I then lighten the mood a little and play a true or false game using some of the amusingly ridiculous rumours from www.snopes.com. The site is a veritable encyclopedia of gossip, exaggeration and urban legend that lists rumours including the dangerous assertion that Barack Obama is being endorsed for president by the Ku Klux Klan and the more believable (but untrue) suggestion that a tooth left overnight in a glass of Cola will dissolve.

I end the assembly on a more serious note. The next time pupils feel the need to pass on a juicy snippet of information, they should ask themselves the following questions:

- Is this person here to defend themselves? What would they say and how would they feel if they were?

- Am I doing this to make myself feel superior to the person I am talking about?

- Am I passing this on in order to feel more powerful or popular?

- What are the potential consequences of this rumour?

It is a powerful message for them to consider.

Emma Webb teaches at Teign School in Kingsteignton, Devon

Who am I?

I have no respect for justice.

I maim without killing.

I break hearts and ruin lives.

I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age.

The more I am quoted the more I am believed.

I flourish at every level of society.

My victims are helpless, they cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face.

To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become.

I am nobody's friend.

Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same.

I topple governments and ruin people's marriages.

I end ministries set up by God.

I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartache and indigestion.

I always spawn suspicion and generate grief.

I make headlines, headaches and heartaches I make innocent people cry in their pillows.

Even my name hisses.

Author unknown.

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