No one knows how much bullying goes on in schools. The more we see of it, the more horrifying it becomes, the more our culture will mobilize to fight to problem.
Fifteen-year old Amanda Todd killed herself in Vancouver a few weeks ago. Tricked into sexting a picture of her breasts to a boy while she was in the seventh grade, Todd was harassed and tormented by him and by her schoolmates. You probably know the story. If not, here is a link.
Carly Weeks reported on similar recent incidents in Canada:
Aermis Kolke, a 13-year-old from Estevan, Sask., killed herself in April, 2011, as a result of intense bullying. Mitchell Wilson, an 11-year-old with muscular dystrophy from Pickering, Ont., committed suicide in September, 2011, months after being physically attacked by bullies. Marjorie Raymond, a 15-year-old Quebec girl, killed herself in November, 2011, after being tormented by bullies.
Carly Weeks knows about bullying. In middle school pupil she was subjected to it:
Over the course of several years, starting at the age of 12, I was bullied by my classmates. They threw things at me, verbally abused me and harassed me by phone.
They called me “Rat.” They would yell it at me every time they saw me and made up songs about it….
Weeks emphasizes a crucial point, the complicity of school authorities:
When I was in the schoolyard being mocked and taunted, all of my classmates took part, forming a circle around me. Years later, one of them apologized for her involvement. She told me she didn’t speak up at the time because she was too afraid of what might happen to her.
When my mother had to call the school and explain that her daughter, who loved learning, was too agitated and upset from the previous day’s episode to get out of bed, the secretary said she would list me as being sick. My mother insisted she write down the real reason: I was bullied.
When I was surrounded in science class by a cluster of classmates who disrupted the lesson by shouting obscene insults at me, the teacher never intervened.
Of course, we live in a therapy culture and we know that it will prescribe its own cure for bullying. It will offer vigils for the victims where we will all get to show how badly we feel about it. It will fund learned psycho-social studies, all of which will blame the problem on capitalist warmongers. And it will prescribe sensitivity training sessions where children will be encouraged to humiliate themselves in front of their classmates. It will even designate special counselors who will teach children to play act bullying, the better to learn how bad it feels to be bullied.
Finally, we will conclude that bullies need to be hooked up to IV empathy drips.
If you read Weeks carefully, however, you will see that bullying occurs in public schools because teachers and administrators allow it to occur.
When the adults in the room refuse to exercise authority, refuse to impose discipline and refuse to intervene,the bullies are given free reign. Better yet, they feel vindicated in their bullying.
If no one is stopping them they must be doing something right.
However painful it is to be taunted mercilessly in a classroom, when a teacher allows it to happen, the pain is compounded.
The teacher’s failure to intervene tells the bullied girl that no one can protect her. At that point, the anguish and despair become unbearable.
I am old enough to remember a time when such behavior would never have been tolerated in schools. But, way back then, in the 1950s, children respected those who were in authority. They learned discipline, not self-esteem; they looked up to their teachers and were not told to express their emotions freely.
Apparently, it is no longer the case.
As schools descend into an anarchic state reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies, we must recognize, as Weeks does, that the fault lies with the adults in charge.
We need to start calling out school teachers and school administrations for their dereliction. If they are afraid to intervene because they are afraid of lawsuits, then we need to condemn those people whose litigiousness is making it impossible to discipline children in a classroom.
In some cases bullied children must learn to fight back. In other cases, as I have previously suggested, bullies must be severely disciplined.
They should be suspended or expelled from school. Their parents should be told that if the behavior continues it will be reported on their high school transcripts.
If parents cannot discipline their children, then perhaps they should be held to account.
When bullying occurs in schools, it is easy to identify the ringleaders. When the bully hides behind a cloak of online anonymity, authorities should find a way to breach the anonymity and to prosecute the bullies using laws against stalking.
In the real world, when the authorities cannot stop bullying, then others take the matter into their own hands.
As you know, the bully who tormented Amanda Todd has been exposed by a group of hackers called Anonymous. Link here.
Of course, the minute the name was divulged there were anguished outcries about vigilante justice and about how the man's right to due process had been violated.
These complaints are empty. If the law’s authority is evoked primarily to defend the rights of bullies then people will eventually cease to respect it.
If those who make and enforce laws insist that they cannot protect children, but must do everything in their power to protect bullies, then everyday citizens will start thinking that the law has become a criminal protection racket.