Will Smith’s Oscar Slap Has Parallels To The Classroom

Everybody’s talking about Will Smith’s Oscar slap on Chris Rock. I’m not usually interested in Hollywood happenings, but this one is different. Despite everything else going on in the world right now, I can’t get The Slap off my mind. And, I think it has to do with my career in the classroom, as a teacher.


Because after the attack, nothing happened to Will Smith.  


He assaulted another man, in front of a large room full of witnesses, with millions more watching on TV, and nothing happened.  

Reports say that the Oscar people were debating what to do, and could not assemble fast enough to make a decision.  Why is discussion even needed for this?  Somebody (Academy President, security chief, show producer) should have made the decision to have Smith removed.  You don’t need to have a meeting about that.

However shocked and upset the audience seemed at the time of the incident, all was apparently forgiven when they announced Smith as the winner for Best Actor.  Everybody stood up and applauded as if nothing ridiculous had happened.

I’ve observed this type of thing repeatedly throughout my 25 year career as a school teacher.  Students were not held accountable for their actions. 

Far too often, misbehaving students would receive no consequence for the harm their actions caused others.  Somebody would help get them calmed down, then they would talk about their feelings, review their actions and discuss how they could have handled the situation better.  

None of those things are bad- but there is something important missing. 


After these school incidents, staff would jump on any opportunity they had to be positive toward the misbehaving student- to pump them up and entice them down the right road.  

Consequences were replaced by cheering the good things, and focusing on the positive.

Over time, the culture of the school began to change.  Students learned not to be too concerned about the effect of their actions on others because lack of consequence, coddling, and gentle behavior-shaping were all that followed misbehavior.

Students learned that some behavior is good and some is “less good”. What they didn’t learn, was that some behaviors are just plain bad and unacceptable.

After graduation, those students go out into the world and become the society we live in.  They do so as a product of their schooling.

Parents can be part of the problem too. How many times have we seen public misbehavior ignored by parents? “It’s ok, they’ll grow out of it.”, they say. But do they? Growing involves learning where the boundaries are, and those lessons need to be taught.

Will Smith’s actions were inappropriate no matter what you think of the joke Chris Rock made. You do not assault another person because they offended you with words.

After Smith did just that, he walked calmly back to his seat as if he had just completed a housekeeping task. He then went on to win an award, receive a standing ovation and give a speech in which he defended himself. He ended the night by posing for pictures and going to parties.

No matter how many times I’ve seen footage of The Slap and its aftermath- I still find it shocking.  The fact that it parallels my experiences as a teacher, makes it even more disturbing.

Follow Todd Fulginiti’s personal blog at www.fiveoclockshadow.life, Facebook or Twitter (FiveOClockShad2). For music, visit www.toddfulginiti.com

19 thoughts on “Will Smith’s Oscar Slap Has Parallels To The Classroom

  1. Wow – this reminds me of Michael Lewis’s essay “Coach” where he talks about all the awards we give kids for participation these days and giving everyone a chance to play regardless of skill.

    What a great post, Todd. While I agree that I don’t care much about how Hollywood handles this, your tie to our larger society is fascinating and a little scary!

    1. Thanks Wynne! I’m not familiar with Lewis’s essay but it sure sounds accurate based on what I saw during the last half of my teaching days.

  2. Perfectly said. My teacher wife has been telling me the same things she’s been seeing for years. But like you noted, this violence was in front of millions.
    But what are we to expect when even ex- Presidents apparently don’t have to face accountability for their insurrections, er actions.

  3. I love this post.

    As a retired teacher who has worked with regular ed, special ed, and Gifted & Talented students, I fully agree with your sentiments. I am saddened that bad behavior not only goes unpunished but is somehow acceptable and excused.

    I agree with “Growing involves learning where the boundaries are, and those lessons need to be taught. That some behaviors are just plain bad, unacceptable, and punishable.”

    A consequence does not need to be harsh but enough for a student to acknowledge, accept his/her folly and not repeat it. I also believe in showing the results of a student’s bad behavior and explaining that is the reason why a consequence was given.

  4. Professor Todd-

    Thank you so much for your insight and your perspective. My curiosity is rising on the topic as I, too, have had this incident tugging at me for days. I do not refute your experience as an instructor. I do, however, offer a differing perspective based on my eyes to the world.

    I watched the full video once. I have no desire to watch it again. What I saw was the telling of the joke, the look of jest from Chris Rock, the eye-rolling, cringe look from Jada Pinkett-Smith, then the rest is almost slow motion.

    There was a delay in Will Smith’s reaction. It was brief. He had enough time to weigh out some things before acting.

    Words hurt. They cut deep.

    Something in him cracked that day. The ongoing gossip about their personal lives. I do not condone his actions, but I understand the spirit behind it.

    Smith gets to see the struggle of his wife behind closed doors based on her condition, and have those discussions we don’t hear. He understands her pain, and then to have her publicly humiliated was a burden he would not stand for.

    The delay in his reaction was followed by a gripping rage that fueled him from his seat to the stage. Step. Step. Step. He even paused before the slap. Then he fully decided on the type of blow: an open handed strike instead of a closed-fisted punch. (After all, he got to be Cassius Clay for a time.)

    The blow to Chris Rock momentarily appeased Smith’s ego to bring embarrassment to Rock.

    I’ve envisioned in my head an alternate version of the scene unfolding, where Smith used his words instead of violence to make a point. Although those words, in theory, may have elicited an apologetic Rock, the slap was infinitely more effective in the age old “an eye for an eye.”

    I also fantasize, in this big old sentimental mind of mine, that the men have talked, made amends, and sat and had a cold beer or something.

    The take-away is: the slap would not have been indicated if the off-script words were not uttered. The consequence reverberates to these men and their families, their fans, and can affect their futures. Rock decided not to press charges so that is the legal outcome.

    This brings me to the subject of Jada Pinkett-Smith. A woman. A Black Woman. A woman who has historically suffered, been abused, neglected, overlooked, shamed, humiliated, and worse. A woman who historically has had to bear the heavy weight of society, children, her mate, her family. A woman who has put herself last, first by force, and in modern times by choice based on what was ingrained as an expectation of her.

    I do not vilify Rock for his words. I do not applaud Smith for his actions.

    But it’s about damn time someone else stood up for the unaddressed struggles of Black Women.

  5. Like you, Todd, I do not care for Hollywood either, but that slap was something else. Rock had discussed his bullied and abused childhood in many interviews to add history here. I am proud to see those who seek self-reflection by asking for help, as Rock has done in his life; his reaction has paid it forward. Will Smith portrayed the storyline that many mothers, children, and partners have had to hear over their lifetime of abuse. Thank you for your perspective and how our instructors have unintentionally played a role by not providing adequate consequential events.

  6. One cannot but wonder what the popular response would have been had Will Smith not been a fabulously wealthy, top level A-lister who was popularly loved.

    Must be nice to be so privileged.

  7. I did send this post to my 21 years old son. He is working at a primary school and talks about the same points you mention here.
    “That there are no consequences for bad and not acceptable behaviour. Like when kids are violent. That the social teachers are so occupied by pumping up the positive focus.”
    Myself, I have also worked at school and I regard it as a huge question: how to handle not acceptable behaviour? And there are different levels of it.
    Communication between school and parents for sure is an important place to start. But that does not always help, does it?
    In Norway, expelling children is not aloud. How is it where you live? And if it can be done, does it help?

    1. Thanks for your comments. In my experience, expelling is allowed- but it is very difficult to do and is seldom done. If a student is expelled, I believe the school still has to have some sort of education/instruction in place so that the student is not just completely discarded.

      1. That is good thing, I think, that there is some sort of education instruction there if they are being expelled. But maybe it is difficult to see the result of it, if it is seldom done. And most probably it is very different from student to student( the result of expelling, I mean) for some it could improve and others maybe worsen. You are rising a very interesting theme anyhow and thanks for that ( even there is no quick fix to it or a simple answer).

  8. And now we see what Putin is doing in Ukraine. He’s been doing similar things throughout his stint as leader of Russia with no consequences. Look at all the shady (and downright criminal) stuff Trump was involved in. Can anyone point to any consequences he’s faced so far? I worry that violence is being normalized. And bad actors are having people wag their fingers at them. We little folks play by the rules. The big dudes make the rules that the rest of us are forced to play by.

  9. Very interesting insights on the impact our lax approach to misbehavior is having on society. I agree with you: learning consequences is important. Sure, you shouldn’t take it too far and you should be mindful to not scar a child with a severe consequence, I agree with that too. But removing consequence completely was not a good idea.

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