* Before reading the article, please review this caution statement: It is important, when speaking about any group of people, to keep certain cautions and principles in mind.  Please read carefully the numbered items found next.

Cautions to Observe when Considering Cultural Influences on Learning Style, Behavioral Patterns, and Value Orientations.

Discussing “cultural differences” and the influences of one’s heritage on learning style preferences, behavior patterns, and deeply-held values is fraught with hazards.  At any moment, we are just a few syllables away from inflicting verbal self-injury and perhaps unintentionally alienating ourselves from those with whom we wish to connect.  In order to prevent stereotyping and overgeneralizing (or on the other extreme, denying that cultural differences exist which fails to recognize and honor the characteristics that give a group their sense of peoplehood) we need to remember that:

1. All behaviors are found in all cultural groups.

2. Some behaviors are demonstrated more so in some cultures than in others, but the first point still applies.

3. Individuals within a particular culture display the traditional traits and cultural markers of that group to varying degrees… from “not at all” to “exclusively and intensely”.  These variations can be due to ethnic group differences with the larger culture, socio-economic status, degree of acculturation to the mainstream society, gender, religion, and myriad other factors.

4. If a student displays a behavior that is common and accepted within his/her cultural group, it should be viewed as “a difference” from the ways of the mainstream society that are promoted in the schools; NOT as a “deficiency” or “disorder”.


This manuscript contains background information on a subgroup of urban youngsters: Kids who congregate on the street corners of the poor core areas of North American cities.  It questions whether these students, who are often labeled as "emotionally disturbed" or "behavior disordered", should receive that designation.  It also describes the various streetcorner games/tactics that these youngsters commonly display.  These behaviors often enter the schools where they confuse and frighten staff and students.  Procedures for defusing the tactics and working positively with these youth are presented.  Originally published as: McIntyre, T. (1991). Understanding an defusing the street corner behaviors of urban black socially maladjusted youth. Severe Behavior Disorders Mongraph, 85-97.*

A section of the part on "Woofing" (highlighted below) was quoted in William Safire's weekly column ("On Language") in the New York Times Magazine (Sunday 11/5/00).

      Understanding and Defusing the Aggressive and Manipulative Behaviors of Urban Street Corner Youth

     Schools and students in urban core areas often differ considerably from those described in teacher training programs (Foster, 1986; Yates, 1988).  For teachers new to the urban classroom, it can be a frustrating, bewildering, and at times even frightening experience.  They will be asked to teach, discipline and counsel students who come from an environment of poverty, crime, racial/cultural isolation, and low educational/career achievement and support on the part of parents.

     Poor urban students frequently grow up in an environment in which the milieu outside the home is threatening both physically and psychologically.  Growing up in these neighborhoods often results in the acquisition of counter-culture traits that impede school success.  These behaviors include a more physical style of action, a greater approval of the use of violence, less disguised aggression, lack of subtlety in verbiage, and the ridiculing of others (Chilman, 1965; Crain & Weisman, 1972; Hanna, 1988; Miller, 1959; Scherer, Abeles & Fischer, 1975).

     One lesson that is learned early on is that to survive on the ghetto streets, one must be quick witted and strong.  In the words of one student: "In my neighborhood, if you're not a predator, you're prey."  The meaning is clear--if you are not streetwise and tough, you become the target of those who control the streets.  In these tough urban areas there "emerges a view of life in which contest or coercion is expected in any interpersonal encounter." (Abrahams, 1963, p. 16)  "Consequently, life is seen as a constant hustle, and the one who does the best is the one who manipulates most and is manipulated least". (Abrahams, 1963, p.19)

     Due to the flight of the middle class to the suburbs, there is often a lack of positive role models to provide guidance to these kids.  For many urban youth, the streetcorner serves as a place to meet and participate in activities which oftentimes fall outside the norms of society.  Here they are frequently socialized into adulthood by society's undesirables who promote the callous, manipulative and aggressive lifestyle of the streets.

     The streetcorner sub-culture is found in all urban areas.  While most of youth in urban centers are well behaved and studious, almost all adopt this streetcorner mentality to some degree.  Indeed, "It would be...difficult to imagine a high school student in [an] inner city school not being touched by what is generally regarded as `street culture' in some way." (Kochman, 1976).  Valentine (1978) agrees, stating that in urban core areas "everyone beyond early childhood has knowledge of and at least indirect contact with these operations..." (p.34)

     These learned behaviors are often brought into the schools where they run counter to educational objectives and expectations (Hanna, 1988). According to Foster (1986, p. 177), "Testing their ability to run a game and to hustle or manipulate their teachers helps them develop what their environment has taught them are streetcorner social and economic coping and survival techniques".       Many of these street kids, upon entering the middle class oriented schools, are mislabeled "emotionally disturbed" and placed in special education classes (Foster, 1986; Weiss, 1988).  Usually, "The student breaks the rules of social order for reasons other than a behavior disorder or emotional disturbance." (Behavior disorders resource guide, 1987, p. 17) Roberts concurs, stating (1987, p. 3), "Predictably, the child is diagnosed as emotionally ill and often given the label of psychopath instead of placing the onus for his antisocial behavior on the degrading environment where it rightly belongs."

     While it is possible for these students to be emotionally disturbed, most are not (Conger & Miller, 1966).  They are more properly referred to as being "socially maladjusted".  Rather than reflecting a psychological abnormality, their learned "streetsmarts" are necessary for emotional and physical survival in the confusing and hostile neighborhoods in which they live (Foster, 1986).

     What occurs oftentimes, is that educators, unfamiliar with other cultures, mistake their students' culturally determined behavior as being an indication of an emotional problem in need of special education services or at least disciplinary action (Grossman, 1990).  Behavioral patterns often vary by culture (Light and Martin, 1985; Toth, 1990) and are commonly misinterpreted by teachers not from those cultures (Garcia, 1978; Grossman, 1990; Pusch, 1979).   In fact, according to Garcia (1978), much of the minority group over-representation in special education may be due to this educator ethnocentricity.  Much of the overrepresentation of black students in programs for the behavior disordered may also be due to a cultural misunderstanding (McIntyre, 1990).

     A new proposed definition for "emotional or behavioral disorder" (Forness & Knitzer, 1990) may soon be adopted by the federal government in place of the present definition for seriously emotional disturbance (McIntyre, Braaten, Center, Forness, Mello, & Peterson, 1990), and will require that culturally based behavior be interpreted as different, not disordered.  Whether streetcorner youth will be considered "EBD" is yet to be seen.  Many who wish to deny services to these youth will say that their behaviors have been taught by a culture common to urban lower class areas.  They will argue that these behaviors are "cultural" and therefore fall outside the domain of special education.  This group of socially maladjusted youth may continue to be denied services as is often the case under the present definition.

   According to Hanna (1988), these creative responses are survival techniques that were originally developed by African Americans to win against a society that was hostile toward them.  Although youth from other cultures may emulate these behavioral patterns or display similar actions, Hanna believes that their manipulative games are more subtle, lacking the intensity and frequency seen in the urban black culture.  The games are often so creative that we wish that our streetwise students would instead channel this self defeating energy and wit into more productive activities rather than countering a productive learning climate in the schools.  Indeed, Foster (1986) states that "...had not racism forced black males to develop and exploit this illegal outlet for the preservation of masculinity and ego, and the wherewithal for monetary reward, many of the players would have shown extreme giftedness in their pursuit of middle class, socially acceptable means for gaining economic success" (p.54).

 The degree to which manipulative and exploitive ploys play a part in the lower class youngster's life is evidenced by the finding that one fourth of black vernacular expressions spoken by black youth describe some manner of manipulating or coercing others (Folb, 1980).  Indeed, "... it is difficult to find a black male in the community who has not witnessed or participated in the dozens or heard of signifying,  or rapping, or shucking and jiving, at some time while he was growing up" (Kochman, 1983, p. 57).  This non-mainstream behavior may explain some of why blacks are twice as likely as whites to be suspended (New York Times, 12/12/88; Gibbs, 1988) and are suspended for longer periods and more total days than whites (Gibbs, 1988).

     Most urban educators are unprepared to meet the challenge of teaching these students (Sedlacek and Brooks, 1976).  The likelihood is that they have never had any training in coping with these students (Urbanski, 1986), or even had any instruction in practical, reality-oriented behavior management (Foster, 1986).   Indeed, Foster (1986, p. 17 & 18) writes that "school personnel are very often frightened and intimidated to the point where some black, poor, or minority youngsters are (1) allowed to disrupt their fellow students' education, (2) allowed to behave in a way that would not be accepted from white middle class children, or (3) suspended or placed in special education programs in numbers out of all proportion to their total numbers in the school district... There is no doubt that the problem of disruptive behavior in the classroom has discouraged large numbers of teachers from planning long professional careers in ghetto schools.  It has been responsible in significant measure for the turnover rates in these schools and for the crippling morale problems among professionals who stay on for any length of time."

     Teachers need to become "streetsmart" to avoid becoming pawns in their students' streetcorner ploys (Gonzalez, 1984; Leone, 1986; McIntyre, 1990).  The best way for educators to avoid being manipulated by these streetcorner tactics is to first become familiar with them.  Instructors who realize what is being attempted will be more successful in defusing these contests and achieving the "rep" of a teacher who is "with-it" and can't be manipulated.

     These manipulative/coercive streetcorner behaviors can be categorized into different types of "games."  Most of them contain a verbal component designed to misdirect the other party.  In addition to verbal distractors, some of the contests also add a physical component meant to frighten and intimidate others.  A number of prominent streetcorner "contests" are addressed below.  The names for these street ploys vary by geographic region, and in some areas students may not have names for these tactics, but make not mistake about it, these games do exist in all parts of North America.

     Dissing, also referred to as "ribbing," "busting," "capping," "casing," "chopping," "cutting," "joning," "medling," "ranking," "screaming," "snapping," or "sounding," involves making fun of someone's clothing, belongings, physical features or personal traits.  The insults are delivered in a good natured way among friends and acquaintances, or used to taunt and degrade others.  Often, due to lack of knowledge regarding the game and terminology, a teacher may not even be aware that he or she is being "dissed".  While dissing usually involves one individual's comment to another, it can also develop into a "sounding session" in which two or more students exchange humorous or serious insults.  This session typically draws a crowd that punctuates each remark with laughter and/or positive or negative commentary depending upon their evaluation of the "cut."  Contestants who become known for their skill in ribbing are given great prestige and develop an honored reputation.  Other benefits accrue as they are also less likely to be the target of negative or even good natured ribbing by others due to their fear of being bested.

Dissing example #1
 Victor is proudly wearing a new pair of pink trousers.  As he walks down the hallway, two tough guys start dissing him.  One yells "Yo! Victor! You been in your sister's closet again?"  The other says "Damn man.  If you gonna be stealing from the store, at least lift it from the men's department."

Dissing example #2
 Walking in shorts from the locker room to the football practice field, Demetrius retaliates to an earlier comment by Roger, saying: "Hey Roger, my arms are bigger than your legs.  Man, you look like a bird."

 It is often difficult to know whether, and in what manner, to intervene when dissing occurs.  While a spontaneous, good natured remark may add to the positive tone of the classroom environment, a more personal, hurtful comment can lead to friction which then disrupts the lesson and demands disciplinary action.  However, even if a teacher protects a student from being "dissed," that may only delay a more severe "capping" later from others who view the student as one who is in need of protection by authority figures.

There are, however, standards by which to assess the need for intervention.  Little, if any teacher response is necessary when  both the speaker and the recipient of the commentary view the remarks as being humorous.  This is most likely to be the case among friends.  Students who are adversaries or unfamiliar with each other are more likely to be offended.  Early in the school year, teachers should set and enforce limits regarding this behavior.

The Dozens
 Another game of verbal sparring involves saying negative things about another's family members, usually female, especially the mother.  While usually heard as a series of short insulting retorts, poems or "toasts" are sometimes recited by the participants.  Playing the dozens, also referred to as "your mama," "ranking/sounding/playing moms," or "playing house," progresses through phases with younger children calling another's mother "ugly" or some other insult typical of that age.   A few years later insults place the mother in masculine roles (e.g., "Your mother plays linebacker for the Rams").  Finally it advances (or degenerates) to commentary on the sex life of one's female family members.  At any of these stages, just the two words: "Your mama." can be enough to provoke a fight.

Dozens example #1
 Miss Cowell, a rural teacher, is surprised to see one of her  seven year-olds crying at his desk.  Upon inquiry, she discovers that the new student from Chicago has been whispering from behind: "Your mama's ugly." "She wears army boots." "She eats spam." and so forth.

Dozens example #2
Ricardo: "I saw your mamma down on Peachtree Street (an area    know for prostitution) last night."

Andre: "She was lookin' for your mamma.  You ain't seen her in   3 weeks."

Ricardo: "Yeah?  Well why was your mamma lookin' in the trash?"

Andre: "She was lookin' for your lunch.  What raunchy old  things you got in your lunchbox today?"

Ricardo: "Hey man, I got some dog food in there for your mamma.  Your mamma barks!"

Andre: "Shit man, that was the dog your mamma was f--king."

Ricardo: "Hey, tell your mamma not to come around my house no  more.  I'm tired of f--king her."

Andre: "You got it all backwards, dummy.  Hell, it ain't no coincidence that you look like me, SON!"

Dozens example #3
 "I don't play the dozens.  The dozens ain't my game.  But the way I f--ked your mama is just a god-damn shame."  (This is an example of the "toast" form of the dozens which involves memorized rhymes.)
 A game of the dozens, as with dissing, will draw a crowd which "scores" the insults with expletives, sounds, and their own commentary.  This can place great pressure on the losing contestant to defend his family's honor by physically attacking the more successful protagonist.  At other times, the losing player may choose a more vulnerable member of the audience on which to "sound" in an attempt to place that person in the defensive position.
 Given this susceptibility for disorder and conflict, the teacher must intervene quickly.  Generally, it is recommended that one firmly tell the students to cease and desist, using the name of the game.  For example, one might say "I don't want to hear anyone playing the dozens in this room."  This lets the students know that you are somewhat familiar with this
ritualistic game of insults.

If you should ever be involuntarily brought into a game of  the dozens by a student who insults your family, you must respond in order to maintain prestige among your pupils.  In their eyes, you have been given the supreme insult.  Failure to defend your family name would show a lack of self pride.  However, as a professional, you certainly cannot engage in an exchange of demeaning and derogatory comments.  Show your familiarity with the game while making it appear as if you are "above" it.  Simply state "I don't play the dozens."  It supports your image as a firm, confident, yet respectful teacher.


 Also referred to as "running/working/whupping a game," this behavior usually involves a clever plan, devised and executed to deceive and manipulate others.  The intent is to divorce others from their money, goods or services.  In addition to "conning" another, "the hustle" can also involve gambling, stealing, extortion or the sale of drugs.  In low income areas, it has traditionally been a method of financial survival (Valentine 1978).  Horton and Hunt (1968) contend that "... hustling is the central street activity.  It is the economic foundation for everyday life.  Hustling and the fruit of hustling set the rhythm of social activities".

Other streetcorner maneuvers are often used as part of the con.  For example, woofing might be used to intimidate a victim of an extortion attempt in the lunchroom or a back hallway.  In another variation, a minority student may claim that the reason a teacher of another culture won't give him a dollar for lunch is because that teacher is prejudiced.  An insecure teacher may think "Gee, if I worked with white kids in the suburbs, maybe I would give them a dollar.  I better give this student money to prove that I'm not prejudiced."

Students will often plan deceitful ploys which do not have money as the target of their actions.  These differ from spontaneous jiving (described below) because they are pre-planned attempts to manipulate a teacher.  However, many other streetcorner tactics described herein are often labeled as "running a game" because of the manipulative aspects involved.

Hustling example #1
 A student tells a teacher to give her five dollars or she will report to the principal that he is responsible for the bruise/abrasion on her face.

Hustling example #2
 "Teresa hated going home after school.  She didn't ask her teacher if she could stay after class because she liked school; she wanted to avoid the gang of boys who waited outside for their `collection.'
 The gang demanded different things from different kids.  Willy was told to bring coins, Tracy comic books, and Teresa was to steal gum from the variety store at the plaza.  Punishment for not coming through with the goods was a beating.  No matter how carefully the teachers tried to prevent it, we simply couldn't be everywhere at once.
 So Teresa's mother went to the store each week and bought bags full of gum for the gang members.  She didn't want her daughter to be forced to steal."(Hanna, 1988, p. 162)

Hustling example #3
     Daryl's mother buys barbecued potato chips and candy bars in bulk and repackages them for him to sell at school at inflated prices.

Hustling example #4
 Tamary, looking uncomfortable and in pain, tells Mr. Cannon that it is "that time of the month" and asks if she can go to the bathroom.  There she socializes with friends who have cut class.

Hustling example #5
     A student claims to be sick and asks to go to the nurse to be treated.  The teacher says that she may go if she wishes.  He
tells her however that he will check with the nurse to determine if she arrived at the clinic and was indeed ill.  The student is
informed that if she is "running a game", she will be sent to the Dean for disciplinary action.  The student says "Never mind."

 The teacher in the last example displayed the proper way of determining whether the student is trying to "hustle" or "whup a game".  Be skeptical and state that you will check on the credibility of the story or excuse.  Ask  the pupil if he or she still wants to go to the office, bathroom, library, locker, etc.  If so, investigate the validity of the student's story later.  If true, praise the youth's honesty and give him or her the benefit of the doubt in the future.  If not, administer a consequence and deny future requests for a time in order to make an impact upon the student.  After the student's credibility has been restored, you may want to give him or her another chance to prove himself or herself.  An old adage applies here:  "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

     As for the money making schemes, administrative support and possibly police assistance is needed.  Gambling, locker theft, extortion and the sale of drugs cannot to tolerated in our schools.

 Jiving is the use of misinformation and lies to mislead or deceive another.  It differs from hustling in that it is spontaneous rather than planned.  When teachers intervene in disorderly situations they can expect to be "jived" (i.e., told disinformation or tall stories) as the students attempt to convince the instructor that they were innocent bystanders caught up in an unexpected event.

Jiving example #1
 Upon hearing an explosion, two teachers hurry toward theauditorium from which the noise emanated.  As they turn the corner of the hallway, they bump into two students who arerunning away from the area.  The students, fearing that the
teachers might detain them, excitedly tell of youthsthrowing firecrackers at each other in the aud which has resulted in a severe eye injury to an unlucky pupil.  They claim to be running to the nurse's office to seek help.  The teachers let the students pass and enter an empty auditorium.  They look at oneanother and each asks if the other knows the names of the boys they just released.

Jiving example #2
 A teacher is pleased when one of her students approaches her in the hallway to engage in a friendly chat as they walk.
After a short time and before the teacher asks to see his hall pass, the student says "I better go now." and runs away.  The teacher realizes that the youth has used her to be able to walk by another teacher serving as hallway monitor.

Jiving example #3
 A teachers breaks up a fight but is only able to hold and detain one student.  This student appeared to be the victim who was only trying to protect himself from the now absent attacker.  The student tells the counselor how he was merely
walking down the hallway when he was unexpectedly set upon by the other.  He states that he does not know the other student and that the attack was probably the result of the assailant being high on PCP or crack (drugs).  The school grapevine
would later indicate that the detained student had been making fun of the other boy's pregnant girlfriend, and had been suggesting that she now have sex with him because she was already "knocked up" and "nothing could happen".

Jiving example #4
 A truant officer asks a student why he is roaming around thelocal shopping mall instead of attending school that day.  The
student responds that he wants to be in school, but was told by his mother to escort his elderly and senile Grandmother while they shop.  He states that he is now searching for her because she has wandered away and he is worried about her.

 Always be wary of a jive;  the stories will often be incredibly creative and appear to have some validity.  As with hustling, if you are not sure that the explanation is true, tell the student that you will investigate the validity of his story.  Signifying

 Although this term is sometimes used as a synonym for dissing, and can pertain to any trouble-making, it most often refers to a manipulative game in which a student tells two persons (separately) that each said something undesirable about the other.  The ploy attempts to cause conflict between the two unsuspecting parties.  The teller of the tales does so with insinuation that the listener's prestige will suffer if he or she fails to confront the supposed offender.  A milder version is often used against teachers in which the student tells each teacher that the other said he or she (the student) should be granted privileges which are out of the ordinary.


Signifying example #1
Louis: "Hey Velma.  You hear what Sigrunn said about you?     She said you pulled a train (had sex with multiple partners) with Kip and his friends."


Louis: "Yo! Sigrunn.  Velma just told me you is pregnant.  Is that true?"

 A teacher is struggling to separate Sigrunn and Velma who are arguing loudly.

Signifying example #2
 A student tells the teacher, "Coach Schafer wants you to give me a pass to help him paint lines on the field for tonight's game."  The student previously said to the coach, "Miss Silva is giving us a party in class today.  There's nothing for us to do.  Can I help you paint lines?"  There was no party in class.  A lesson was planned.

 Also called "louding", loud-talking refers to seemingly personal utterances which by virtue of their volume permit persons other than the addressee to hear the comments.  The intent may be to joke with, embarrass, or manipulate the other person by exerting social pressure upon them.  This is done by controlling the volume in order to draw, or threaten to draw, the attention of others.

Loud-talking example #1
     "If I knew something and you know that they didn't want me to tell, I'd do that; like if they been and got arrested.  `You got arrested?'  And I'd kinda say it real loud so everybody could hear it and start laughin' at that particular person..."(Hanna, 1988, p. 99)

Loud-talking example #2
 During the weekly advisement period a student attempts to sneak into the class meeting which is already in progress.  The advisor does not see his entry until a class member says loudly "Hey boy, where you been?"

Loud-talking example #3
 One student in a group yells down the hallway to a young woman "Yo! Sissy! You still got those rubbers (condoms) in your purse?"

     Depending on the situation, the teacher may decide to handle it with humor or talk privately with the offending student.

Motor Mouthing
 Motor mouthing is used to extricate oneself from a negative situation.  This is done by talking quickly and continuously with no pauses.  The lack of conversational turn-taking attempts to prevent the teacher from being able to make his or her point and thus prevent discipline from being implemented.  If the student does pause, that lasts only until the teacher tries to intervene again, at which point the motor mouthing resumes until the teacher gives up on efforts to intercede.

Motor Mouthing example #1
 Marcus is caught (again) looking into the drawers of the teacher's desk by the instructor who enters the room to start class.  The teacher begins to speak, but Marcus loudly and quickly starts "running at the mouth" telling his reasons for being near the desk, frequently going off on tangents in an attempt to distract the teacher from the issue.  The instructor waits for a pause to speak, but one never appears.  He attempts to stop Marcus by calling his name.  Marcus, however, continues expounding his views in cluttered, slurred, staccato fashion.  The teacher yells "Sit down!" twice, and Marcus takes a seat.  The instructor then attempts to address the issue, but Marcus resumes his "motor mouthing".  The teacher, frustrated, turns to the rest of the class and says "Does this guy ever shut up?"  Marcus quiets and the teacher begins to teach class.  Marcus escapes consequences for his actions.

Motor Mouthing example #2
 Darion attempts to "motor mouth" his teacher.  She writes on the board: "Number of seconds Darion will be late for hall passing" (Five minutes is allotted to proceed to one's next class.)  She writes "10", "20", "30", "60" as Darion continues his story each time the teacher attempts to address the issue.  The teacher states "I'll take up to two minutes away from your hall passing.  After that we go to detention after school.  We'll have plenty of time to talk then."  Darion ceases his non-stop verbal behavior.

In addition to the strategy used in the example above, the ideas listed under "The Cat and the Gorilla" section are also effective
for dealing with motormouthing.

The Cat and the Gorilla
 This ploy involves sweet-talking a teacher in an attempt to gain a privilege or avoid a punishment (ie. "the cat").  If unsuccessful, the student may yell and storm around the room, kicking and throwing objects. (ie. "the gorilla")  The gorilla does not directly intimidate the teacher as in "Woofin'". (described later)  The student's aggression is directed toward objects.

Cat and Gorilla example #1
 To insure that her borrowed pens are returned, Miss McDonnell collects "collateral" when she lends one to her students.  Dexter leaves at the end of the period, forgetting to return the borrowed pen and reclaim his watch.  The next day, he enters Miss McDonnell's room before homeroom and politely asks for his watch back.  The teacher refuses to return it until her pen is returned.  The student pleads with his instructor.  This being ineffective, he takes her coffee cup, throws it against the window and upends desks.  He still does not get his watch back and storms out of the room.

Cat and Gorilla example #2
 Cory enters the room of one of his teachers who is completing paperwork during his planning period.

Cory: "Hey Mr. Schwab, you're looking good today.  That tie is busting."(stylish)

Mr. S.: "Thanks Cory.  Where are you supposed to be?"

Cory: "Aw, Mr. Schwab, my lady and I are having romantic troubles.  You gotta give me a pass to the library so I can speak with her.  We gotta talk."

Mr. S.: "Sorry pal.  You're supposed to be in class, and I  can't  decide that it's alright to cut it."

Cory: (Pleading) "Mr. Schwab!  You gotta let me go.  Me and my girl are on the rocks man.  This is important.   Please."

Mr. S.:   "Not a chance, Cory.  I will write a pass for you to get to your class though."

Cory: (Belligerently) "Shit man!  I gotta go and talk with my  lady.  Some other guy's gonna scoop (steal) her if    I don't get down there and talk with her."

Mr. S.: "Cory, you can leave with a pass or without, but I will not send you to the library."

Cory: (Throwing a book across the room) "F--k this man.  I ask for a favor once and I don't get shit man."  He kicks a desk and storms around the room.

     Many teachers acquiesce to the student's demands when confronted by "the gorilla".  This however, only reinforces that
behavior and increases the chances that it will be used again in the future.  Tell the student that he needs to stop the behavior
and it will not be effective in convincing you to meet his demands.  Do this is a calm and controlled manner.  If he continues, administer sequentially more severe consequences for his behavior.  The teacher might also remove a  disciplinary
referral form from the desk drawer and tell the student that if he or she doesn't calm down by the time the form is completed, he or she will indeed be referred to the administration for disciplinary action.

    In woofing (sometimes called wolfing or punking someone down), students use proximity, motion, prolonged eye contact, voice modulation, unknown terminology, vulgar language, threats and a menacing appearance to intimidate others.  It is "... a pattern of behavior in which threats would be made but not acted upon...On the streets it's purpose is to gain, without actually having to become violent, the respect and fear from others that is often won through physical combat.  To accomplish this, it is necessary to create an image of being one not to be trifled with.  Once someone's reputation in these respects has been established, he may never again be called upon to prove it..." (Foster, 1986, p. 162)

     This behavior develops early in "tough" neighborhoods where parents often teach their children to fight to avoid being victimized by others (Coles, 1967; Hanna, 1988).  Many of our students have developed a reputation (deservedly so or perhaps through local folklore) for being good fighters.  Peers fear them.  Teachers, even if they do not fear them, often attempt to appease them to prevent a major disturbance.  The reputations of these students grant them privileges not allowed others,and enables them to exert power and influence within the school community.

Woofing example #1
 A boy and girl are arguing loudly in the hallways during class time.  The principal arrives and tells them to cease the confrontation.  The boy points at the administrator and yells "This is none of your motherf--king business! Get on down the hall!"  The principal meekly leaves after mentioning that the students should try to get to class early.

Woofing example #2
 Kendrick is nose-to-nose with a teacher who looks very nervous.  Kendrick is moving and posing in a menacing manner. He has his arms to his side, flexing his hands into fists.  He is shifting his body weight from one leg to another.  He looks MEAN, never breaking eye contact, while he chews his gum.  The teacher (who was negatively perceived by this student and viewed as "a wimp") had demanded that Kendrick throw his gum away.  The teacher meekly displays what is referred to as a "shit eating grin" and wide open "owl eyes", to accompany his tilted-back head and turned out palm.  This teacher "bought a woof ticket".

 Most often woofing against teachers takes the less severe form of a student yelling at the instructor.  For example, a teacher asks an entering student why he is late for class.  The student belligerently screams "I was in the can (bathroom) man!"  The student hopes that his dynamic verbal attack will convince the teacher to meekly accept the excuse and allow him to enter.

(Sections that were quoted in William Safire's column are highlighted in red)

    Woofing is especially effective against those who are unfamiliar with it and don't realize that it is most often "all show and no go".  It's purpose is to frighten and intimidate, rather than engage in actual physical contact.  The menacing behavior can usually be defused and eliminated by informed, tactful action.

     As with all of the streetcorner games, it is important to give the appearance of being calm, self-assured and in control (even if you are frightened or angry).  Perhaps the most difficult time to keep this demeanor is when the student is directly threatening you.  Some students act the part so well that you wonder whether they are actually going to attack you.   Either way, showing fear or insecurity can provoke the youth into greater aggression.  If you feel that an attack is a possibility, announce that a colleague is expected any moment to observe class, take you to lunch, etc.  A second strategy is to make an "assertive withdrawal".  This involves confidently and assertively telling the student that you don't have the time to deal with him right now because you have other duties to which you must attend.

     If you fear an imminent attack, run from the student and if possible, when you are at a safe distance, turn to say "No, I'm not going to run from this.  Young man(woman), I'm going to the office.  Meet me there."  In this manner, you end the situation on an assertive note.

     The benefit of these strategies is that they allow you to look secure and self-assured while you withdraw from a situation involving potential trouble.  Your image and safety are both protected.

 Most people became familiar with the term "wilding" and it's behavior in 1989 when a young woman was beaten and raped by a gang of youth in New York City's Central Park.  However, it is not a new phenomenon and was previously most commonly referred to by citizens and merchants as "wolfpacking"  or by youth as "getting paid".

     Wilding involves a roving gang of youths who spontaneously misbehave in some manner.  Wilding is a form of group terrorism which develops out of the adolescent search for excitement and social pressure from peers to join the groups.  Not only must one join the group, his performance during the wilding incident will later be evaluated during post wilding review sessions.  The value placed on performance puts great pressures on the leaders to initiate actions that exceed previous ones with respect to excitement and daring. Followers are under pressure to get in their "licks" for bragging rights and acceptance at the later "debriefing".

     While their in-school misconduct may be as serious as raping and beating others, it most often takes the form of robbing jewelry, extorting money, breaking windows in cars and buildings, and throwing objects at those nearby.  This random, aimless violence and vandalism is usually initiated for one of two reasons: To obtain material wealth or provide exciting recreation.

Wilding example #1
 A group of students run through the hallways of their school, yelling and banging on classroom doors before escaping to the outside as teachers enter the hallways too late to see other than the perpetrators' backs.  Ten minutes later, after classes are again engaged in instruction, the group returns, setting off fire extinguishers and fire alarms before exiting from the other side of the school.

Wilding example #2
 A loud and active group of students roams through the school hallways, pushing others out of the way while insulting and taunting them.  In the back hallways, they attack other students, taking their money and possessions.

 If you see a wolfpack, quickly determine whether the individuals are just pranksters who wish to avoid contact with school authority figures, or whether they look unyielding and aggressive.  For the former, act assertively and if you know the
names of any of the students, inform the administration.  For the latter, withdraw, lock the door, call security, or whatever is deemed necessary to protect yourself and your students.

Closing Comments
     While we, as concerned professionals would like to convince our students to use their intelligence and talents in socially appropriate ways, "easy money" or time away from unsuccessful academic pursuits are temptresses difficult to resist.  For our students whose academic prowess is more limited, streetcorner behaviors provide a way to strike back at an alienating place (i.e., the school), and show others that they can be successful regardless of educational difficulties and shortcomings.

     Teachers, by virtue of their persona, create the educational climate in their classroom which deters streetcorner behavior.   Educators who project an "in charge" image while displaying genuine concern for their students are less likely to be confronted by streetcorner behavior and more likely to be able to quell it when it does occur.  A friendly, confident teacher with a consistent and respectful behavior management system is valued and respected by his or her charges.

     While specific techniques can be effective in defusing certain streetcorner tactics, schools can do much to reduce the initial probability of occurrence of these behaviors within their walls.  When the school environment is welcoming, structured, and well supervised, streetcorner "toughs" are prevented from victimizing others.  When the other students feel protected, they have a lessened need or desire to disrupt the educational process or "put down" others to protect their own psyche or body.

     Students will, to some extent, continue to use the learned behaviors of the streets out of habit or to develop their reputation.  The teacher who promotes the positive aspects of this behavior (e.g., Its humor, "spunk", and enthusiasm.) while preventing the negative aspects (e.g., Its hurtful effects, disruptiveness, and violence.) builds his or her own positive "rep".


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*The word "black" was not on the original manuscript submitted for publication.  It was entered into the journal without this author's knowledge or consent.  In recognition of the proliferation of these behaviors during recent years, some minor changes in wording have been made on this internet version of the article to better indicate that they occur on the urban streetcorner regardless of the cultural/racial background of the youth.
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