Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's a bully world

When I learned of the First Lady and President Obama were holding a discussion about bullying, I thought of this editorial that I wrote last year. Adults have been debating the bully dilemma for years. The recent suicide of a 15-year old girl has gotten lots of attention. The guilty culprits were girls attending the same high school. A popular boy and jealousy turned into a toxic mixture for the pretty victim. She was the new kid on the block, and a popular football player was attracted to her. That's the tragic summary to this story.

As everyone knows a bully does not govern his or her behavior according to politically correct rules. Bullies have this mode of operation in common: intimidating and tormenting a targeted victim who is vulnerable and helpless against their harassment. Ruffians do not select just any person to target. They tend to stay away from strong personality types. Attempting to intimidate a strong “victim” requires too much time and energy. They might bully back. With the help of the Internet, bullies successfully utilize this electronic tool to further damage the lives of bullied girls and boys. The cyber attacks are far more vicious and violent than a real physical attack.

If a student confronts the bully, he or she might have to fight a group of stand-by bullies. True bullies will not to be ignored. Like a shark in water, bullies smell fear and they want their pound of flesh. The targeted victim cannot sit and talk with a bully. They have a tough guy/ bad girl reputation to protect.

Whereas students can complain about bullying to teachers and principals, it is not likely they will get the results they are seeking. School administrators are afraid of being sued by parents, who will say their off-spring is being defamed by the school. Parents do not believe their children are bullies. Denying the allegations, parents angrily proclaim that administrators and teachers have their child confused with another student.

During my three years as a substitute teacher I witnessed parents bullying school staff if their child was sent to the principal’s office, or suspended due to inappropriate behavior. Not only did parents threaten to sue the school system, students made the same threats. Students felt free to taunt, tease, curse and strike, even kill staff. This attitude was prevalent in elementary, middle and high schools.

Because I subbed at different schools, I slowly realized that principals did not want to wet their hands with student bullying, and bad behavior. It was easier to avoid and ignore bullies. Without the principal’s support, teachers turned their heads. Principals feared losing their jobs if the superintendent received too many complaints.

During my second year of subbing I was quizzed like a criminal when I reported seeing a screw driver in a student’s backpack. I had read a news story about a student getting stabbed to death with a screw driver at a high school in Houston. The assistant principal took me to an empty classroom, and demanded to know how I knew the student had a screw driver in his backpack.

I told her that he left the backpack open, sitting next to me. She wanted to know why I looked in the backpack! She told me what students have in their backpacks is their business. I attempted to explain the deadly stabbing. She did not want to hear it. I was told in polite language to mind my business, and keep my eyes out of students’ backpacks. The student in question was never called to the principal’s office, or questioned. I saw him later that day showing the screw driver to another student.

Discussing this with another teacher, I was told that substitutes were less listened to than certified teachers. Her advice to me was to hear no evil; see no evil. It was difficult for me to see a student taunted or bullied in the classroom or in the hallways, and not interfere. I could not turn my head, pretending I did not see or hear. Eventually my complaining, plus complaints against me from teachers I had subbed for, parents and students--led to my termination.

The bully problem in public schools is difficult to resolve. Students, parents, principals, superintendents and teachers have to work together as a unit. School rules and guidelines have to be strictly adhered to. But even if bullying is curtailed at school, can it stopped on the Internet? Therein lies the hardest question to answer.

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