Monday, February 8, 2010


My twelve-year-old has been the victim of bullying for quite a while. Most of it I didn't know about. What I did know about I addressed as best I could. But last week it got worse and it was time to go to the top of the school system for some results. Which we got, thankfully. It has been dealt with in the short term, including suspensions etc. Hopefully the measures taken and ongoing will result in it not recurring. We'll see.

But one of the amazing things to come out of it is how many people I know, virtually everyone, who spent a good portion of their elementary and/or middle school and/or high school years being bullied to the point of serious trauma, or at least deeply felt and scarring fear.

Something isn't right about our schooling obviously. I already knew about the pedagogical failures—third graders with hours of homework and backaches from so many book to carry home; an overload of methods for teaching the same thing (basic math for instance) in an attempt to include all possible approaches that might help an individual student but ends up overwhelming many; introducing subjects and methods too early in child development (my sixth-grader has already had some subjects I wasn't exposed to until 9th or 10th grade, e.g. learning the periodic table and the names of the elements and their atomic make up etc. or geometry or algebra etc.) in a way that is called "spiraling" which means an introduction to something for a week than an introduction to something else the next week etc. and then in the next year picking up from these bits and pieces by adding more bits and pieces etc., until they're either capable of taking it all in and mastering it or completely confused and at a loss (which seems to be the case more often with the boys, which may help explain the continuing rise in the drop out rate for boys of all ethnicities and why a higher percentage of females graduate college now etc.)...I could go on.

But the main point I meant to make was how debilitating this experience has been for everyone, emotionally and otherwise, including I'm sure for some of the parents of some of the those doing the bullying. Fortunately, it hasn't broken by boy's spirit, but why should he even have to have his spirit tested in this way in a supposedly safe environment?

Here's an article that popped up today in a kind of synchronicity.


harryn said...

so sorry to hear about this - had the same issues when my boy moved here from Paris - but he already experienced the behavior in France - he was just shocked at the level of incivility and the type of threats here in zero-tolerance USA - especially being of French origins after 9/11 ...
we dealt with it and tried to console him that it would pass, but unfortunately, its hard to grow out of prejudice - and whether you're too small, or too thin, or too smart, or too handsome - someone's got an axe to grind - that's how they define themselves ...
eventually, he graduated high school and like Dorthea Rockborne once told me "Life is High School" ...
when was the last time we were bully'd ? [on your blog?]
i'm not trying to make light of it, because i know first-hand the scars it leaves, the dreams it breaks, and the peace it interrupts ... good luck!

Elisabeth said...

I've only been seriously bullied in adulthood, but it's a long story, too long to detail here.

Bullying's in the news in Melbourne at the moment because a young sixteen year old girl who was working in a suburban cafe committed suicide after being bullied on the job, a casual job she held after school. Most of the male staff and the cafe owner were in on it and all have been charged to varying degrees.

It's tragic in so many ways for all concerned, especially the girl and her family but even for the bullies who by and large were themselves very young.

Research is afoot that emphasises the importance of bystanders, those who say to the bully that it is not on to bully.

Usually and unfortunately bystanders tend to get caught up in the excitement of it all. They're relieved they're not the victim and by watching they egg the bully on.

If bystanders en masse said no to the bully, the whole culture would change.

I hope your son is okay now that enough people have said to the bullies, this has to stop.

Lally said...

I hear you both and E. there was a similar case of a young teenage girl committing suicide in Massachusetts recently and others. Fortunately my boy seems to be getting through this okay for now, a lot of which I think can be attributed to his knowing that he's got people, from family to the authorities, taking it seriously.

Lally said...
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AlamedaTom said...

Important post -- you are definitely getting your chops back. Nothing like that instinctive "father protector" to amp everything up a notch or two, which obviously prompted your old brain to renew its various synapses to protect its boy.

My only take on this is how film and even books tend to make it so that the bully is always called out and eventually beaten and/or humiliated by a "Karate Kid" of one brand or another. Nope, I don't think that happens very often. The bullies, like the wife and child batterers they often become in adulthood, become more empowered, and potential resistance ever weakens. No one steps in. That is my biggest regret when I look back on it -- there were times when I should have stepped in to protect someone who was suffering abuse of one sort or another at the hands of a bully. Mea culpa.

~ Willy

JIm said...

I vaguely remember an incident at the Community House, when boy members of the Spartans AC were pummeling another boy with basketballs. He attempted to protect himself under a wrestling mat. I have a romanticized memory of trying to stop them but I don't remember throwing any punches. I always felt I should have done more.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

I'll wager Bill Gates has some good stories about being bullied as a geeky youth. With the bedrock of your love and care, I know your son will make it through and triumph, and in a deeper sense, the adversity will somehow strengthen him. Even though I wasn't religious, I got beat up because I was Jewish. Once in junior high a kid who was in my Jewish sunday school class who was trying to be hip pointed to me and said to some of the cool tough guys "he's a Jew!" What an ass. It's sadly typical in our world how people hate or opinionate without really knowing why, but just because they think they should, like most of the detractors of our President, including the vociferous opponents of the economic stimulus package, who suddenly couldn't wait to get their hands on the money.