School house justice at its worst
For the past four months, Eric has bullied my son mercilessly. All of the usual avenues toward resolution have been explored; talking to the teacher; separating the boys; calling the bully’s parents; threatening to expel the bully for his violent behavior; none of which resolved the issue. It finally became so intense that my son decided he no longer wished to attend any of the many extra curricular activities he’d signed up to participate in.
But Eric did. As a matter of fact, Eric didn’t seem the least bit phased or apologetic about the bullying and neither did his parents.
This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered a problem with bullying. A year ago, the problem was quite severe when a girl, (and boys don’t hit girls) found a favorite new hobby, kicking my son in the back.
In the moments when my son has chosen to respond to violence with violence, I’ve been told that our school systems have implemented a “no tolerance” policy toward violence and my son would have to remain at home for 3 days. For the instigator, there is nothing. The attitude of “we already know that kid is heading down the wrong road” makes the actions of the “innocent” or “good” children much more offensive to administrators who are often eager to rush toward punishment rather than justice.
The administrators attempt to circumvent these violent actions or words by placing an emphasis on positive behavior reinforcement. Children are instructed not to defend themselves. Instead, they are told to report the incident to an adult, who almost always responds “I didn’t see it, I can’t do anything until I see it.” And so the children who are picked on are subsequently taught to “take it”.
One educator actually said, “Everybody gets picked on, even I got picked on when I was in school”.
Consider this, as parents, haven’t we all said that we wish the world would be a better place for our children? More kind? Less intimidating? And yet, there are still parents who justify this behavior by saying that the children who follow the rules, who object to the abuse and report it, are simply weak and babied too much.
The idea that “everyone gets picked on in school” had more credibility before Columbine, before Chicago, or Paducah, Edinborough and East New York. That list continues to grow unil our new "norm” includes hearing ourselves say, “everyone carried a gun in school.”
The children involved in these extreme acts of violence, many of which were born of bullying, had another message. A message that demands society, that we, do something and that we do it quickly. Their message speaks of an intolerable level of verbal and physical abuse which is out of control and some children are refusing to “take it” while we debate more compassionate ways to deal with disrespect and the lack of discipline that these bullies bring into the school building everyday. They may forget to pack a lunch, but their animosity and disregard for authority is always with them.
Students who are bullied recognize that it’s not an acceptable behavior, and we’d do well to listen to them. If we, as parents and educators and administrators would teach non-violence and respect with as much conviction and enthusiasm as we preach the importance of education, or pursue government funds, there would be a response.
If my son bullies your son, they both become victims. And if we favor one child over the other, or if we do nothing – we all become victims.
Bullies don’t remain in the classroom forever. Eventually they will move into our world. If we do nothing, one child becomes the shooter and the other is dead. Which will your child be?
There is a wonderful solution to the bullying problem…it’s called “PARENTING”. And we all have to do it. Financial status does not absolve you, nor does ethnicity, religious belief, level of education, social status, job status, who you know or how many ".hD’s" follow your name on an envelope. While it may indeed “take a village to raise a child”, the responsibility begins in our own huts.
When school administrators have difficulty enlisting participation from the parents of bullies, they often excuse the child’s bad behavior by saying they “come from low income families” or there are “too many children in the household”. Parents of these troubled children don’t seem to want to deal with one more problem and this makes resolution is slow in coming, if it comes at all. More often than not, the problem continues and it grows.
The bottom line is this: When you were picked on in school, it was wrong. And it’s still wrong today. It’s simple. And now that we know this, it places the onus upon all of us to instigate change. When we fail to meet our obligation to make things better, we are condemning society to “take it.” It affects us all, even people without children – and the first step comes through raising expectations for everyone. Bullying is not okay. It’s not something that you “grow out of” and it is not a normal condition of childhood. It is a pup’s instinctive checking of the boundaries, and it is our duty to show them where the boundaries are.
If we establish laws to prevent adults from being harassed at work, doesn’t it make sense that we offer some of the same protections to our children? Shouldn’t we have protected them before we protected ourselves?