Props to my fellow Wildcat columnist, Heather Price-Wright for publishing an excellent column on school bullying in today’s newspaper. In my opinion, the meat of the article is the opening paragraph, which speaks true to the atrocious behavior of junior high school students who pick on others:
Unless you’re one of a blessed few, you have been bullied at some point in your life.
For many, the worst instances of bullying occurred in middle school, between the ages of about 11 and 13. Boys hit; girls backstabbed. It was awful all around. And the worst part was that none of the grownups seemed to notice, or care. Teachers and administrators insisted that bullying was harmless teasing, that it built character, and warned that nobody likes a crybaby.
She’s dead-on about teachers’ apathy towards school bullying. In most cases, they’ll say, “Don’t be a tattle tale,” or utter something equally meaningless, and the harasser will continue with his ways.
I was picked on constantly from 6th-8th grade, and most teachers and administrators told me that they couldn’t help me. In one case, a female teacher joined in on the harassment and told her students that I was dumb. How would you feel if a teacher also agrees that you’re weird and deserving of abuse? Any “grown up” who behaves like this is a catty sociopath who doesn’t have the compassion to reach out to young children. Sadly, though, some teachers never grow up and like to involve themselves in student drama.
The only one to truly defend me as an adult should was my father, who sent a rabid letter to the Superintendent. My dad overreacted, and as a result, the principal told the entire faculty about me and made my life difficult for my remaining year at that school (thanks dad).
I’ll never forget when the entire 8th grade gathered together in August 2001. We sat in the gymnasium, and my two best friends and I chose to sit at the top of the bleachers. The principal approached the bleachers with a man I didn’t recognize, and she pointed directly at me and said, “That’s the girl,” singling me out in front of my whole 8th grade class. That was just one out of millions of times that year that I wished I could fast forward to young adulthood, and here I am, thank God.
The world of bullying is deplorable, especially once you figure out that school officials can be just as insensitive as the bullies themselves. My old junior high is probably a lost cause, but most sensible schools are made up of instructors that have the best intentions for students and want to avoid bullying at all costs.
At the same time, there’s not a lot teachers can do about bullying, which goes on at school and even at home. With new technologies, it’s possible to harass a student 24/7. I was lucky that the internet wasn’t popular until the end of my seventh grade year, but I was still taunted via AOL Instant Messenger from time to time.
I complain a lot, but nothing in my experiences compare to the late Meghan Meier who hanged herself after being cyber bullied and duped into thinking a cute teenage boy liked her. Blogger and grown woman, Lori Drew created a fake Myspace account of a young attractive boy, “Josh” who messaged Meghan about going on a date. They started an online relationship, and Meghan spent a lot of time online. Meghan took her own life after “Josh” broke up with her through a Myspace message. Ms. Drew went on to title a blog entry, “Meghan Had it Coming.”
The Meghan Meier tragedy is an example of how technology gives bullies an advantage, and it also proves that teasing can occur more often than in the past, therefore it’s a bigger threat now than it was in my day. Instructors cannot be the police all the time, but their actions should speak as loud as their words. If a student who physically abuses another is supposed to be suspended according to school policy, then all students who assault classmates should, in fact, face suspension. There’s no reason why they should be let off easily or just told not to make the same mistake twice.
Unless the bullies are faced with grave consequences, they’ll usually keep harassing other students, particularly the nice ones who don’t have the large groups of friends. Teachers and principals can give “warnings,” which work for a week and then the harasser continues abusing his classmates because he thinks enough time has passed.
There’s always the threat of suspension and/or expulsion, but as I learned in middle school, these punishments are rarely enforced. In the 7th grade, this one pretty girl bothered me every day for three months, and she threatened to kill me in jest. Among the school rules, this was the king of all no-no’s. Every year, police officers would visit our classrooms and state that all death threats would automatically result in suspension as a minimal punishment. According to these men, my harasser would be toast for what she did.
But administrators said that she didn’t actually intend to hurt me, so she wasn’t penalized. The two of us had a sit-down conference about conflict resolution, and that was the extent of her punishment. Obviously, the teasing went on and she went around telling classmates that she got away with misbehaving because she was close with the vice principal.
How can adults let this continue? What does it say about the way they think people should treat each other? I don’t plan on going into the teaching profession, but if I ever did, I’d make sure each student who mistreats another would face the consequences. There are no exceptions for joking about murdering another student, or writing obscenities on walls and signing that student’s name.
Back to Price-Wright’s column. As I stated above, there isn’t much adults can do to monitor teasing, especially since the most demonic of bullies know how to hide their actions and manipulate teachers, but instructors can see to it that bullies get proper punishment.
As Price-Wright reported, some instructors use ineffective methods to prevent harassment:
Middle schools in über-wealthy Scarsdale, NY are building the vague ideal of “empathy” into their classrooms. Even the parents are helping out, with the PTA pledging not to allow their children to wear the special sweatshirts distributed as party favors at the “popular” crowd’s bar and bat mitzvahs. There are mandated days on which students must sit with a different crowd than usual in the cafeteria, and art projects focused on the “less fortunate.”
You can stop teasing, but you can’t force friendship. The students won’t all get along. I know I would have been mad if I were told to hang out with my harasser and her group of elitist friends in middle school. We had nothing in common and she thought she was better than me in every way. I would have been content to just have her tolerance, but I didn’t want her camaraderie. These schools in New York are doing students a disservice by trying to get everyone to like each other. It won’t happen. The word “clique” has such a negative connotation, but students form groups with people they’re comfortable around, and there’s nothing wrong about that.
As Price-Wright concludes: The only thing teachers can do to create a comfortable environment is to be kind and show everyone that they cannot get ahead by being nasty to others. Thankfully, I had a few wonderful middle school teachers who understood my viewpoint.
Even though he scolded me for slacking off (which resulted from my disgust in the school), John Magliato of Scotts Valley Middle School empathized with me. Half the teachers did the same, but only Magliato, Mr. Matlock, and Ms. Frey proved to me that I didn’t need to change who I was to impress my other classmates. They didn’t care how conventionally “cool” anyone was: All students had to be respectful of each other.
Cheers to every teacher who brings kindness and sympathy into a classroom. Though I couldn’t stand much of the faculty who sided against me, I never forgot that Mr. Magliato and Matlock didn’t allow harassment on their clock, and they made it known that they thought teasing was unfair, pathetic, and immature. They stood up for all types of students, and best of all, they didn’t pick favorites. Everyone was equal and teasing was not acceptable. That’s about the best you can do to prevent bullying.