Slam Books: Then and Now

Back when I was a kid, we didn’t harass each other on Twitter or Instagram. But we found our own way. We called it the Slam Book. It was a notebook passed among students when the teacher turned to write on the chalkboard.

The keeper of the book wrote questions on the tops of pages—questions like Who is the most unpopular boy in the class? Or Who won’t get a date to prom? or even What do you hate about Emma Jean? And in the guise of writing an English report or doing quadratic equations, students would leaf through the pages, writing their comments.

The Slam Book never landed on some kids’ desks. Maybe because their names were in it. Maybe because they weren’t really part of the class. Maybe because nobody cared what they thought. But those kids, especially, watched as the book made its way up and down the rows. And if the book lay carelessly open on someone’s desk, their eyes strained to see what they dreaded to find—their names.

The Slam Book had the power to hurt. It spread rumors and ridiculed the weak and destroyed relationships. But unlike the social media of today, its influence was physically limited to one classroom in one school. And it took only one alert teacher to destroy it.

But now Snapchat and Facebook can reach far beyond the classroom, sending out humiliation for all the world to see. Once public, the damage can be amplified with comments and further sharing.

I don’t think kids are getting worse. With some time-travel, the bullies of my childhood could take on the bullies of today. But there’s a difference. Today’s social media tools are more potent. And the challenge for my grandchildren and their generation is to use these tools to build people up and bring them together, not to pull people down and tear them apart.

2 Replies to “Slam Books: Then and Now”

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