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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bullies


On Good Kids and Total Fucking Assholes by Kate Harding (starts halfway down the entry)
Bitterness, bullying, and breaking the circle by Seanan McGuire
Asperger son at school, part 1: What it takes to address bullying by Michelle Sagara
Be Someone's Hero by Diana Pharoah Francis
Bullying by Jim C. Hines

First, please read the above. They're all short blog articles about the existence of bullying, personal experiences, and the upsurge in the anti-bullying movement.

I'm liking this movement, because A) the previous tactics, as everyone says, don't work. The victim ends up hurting no matter what. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Yeah, right. No one I know was ever as hurt by sticks and stones as they were by insults, derogatory terms, shunning, social rejection, or humiliation. Physical pain takes a back seat to this, because the scars are psychological. And those don't heal. You carry them all of your life. If you take it, ignore it, reason out that it's because they don't like themselves, that bullies are really cowards, the result remains the same.

B) This problem stays in the shadows, categorized as isolated incidents, but adults don't realize how cruel kids are. I mean, they are capable of abject evil. Evil here is defined as taking pleasure from the pain of others. That sounds like bullying to me. I know their brains aren't developed enough to realize the consequences of their actions. But that's not an excuse. The point of education is to stop impulsive behaviors and enforce self-control. Some bullies even get glorified. All you "Glee" fans out there? Don't you realize that the Jane Lynch character is a total bully? Always knocking those kids down because their different? Do you think it's funny when someone throws a slushie at you? It's like a badge of honor to these kids.1

When I was in 7th grade, we had to do current events--clipping out news articles that related to social sciences (anthropology, psychology, etc.). Out of the many articles I had to clip and staple onto loose-leaf paper, I kept one. It is a news article about two ten-year-old boys who lured a two-year-old away from his mother, beat him to death with stones, bricks, and an iron pipe, and left him by some railroad tracks to get run over. The boys were accosted, but they always had an excuse (sibling, taking him back to his mother, etc.)

Nowadays, that may not seem like much. But this was when I was in seventh grade, five years before Columbine, Virginia Tech, and other youth violence. But I still have that article, to remind me of the absolute inhumanity that humanity was capable of. Maybe these kids didn't understand how profound death is. Maybe they it was a joke taken too far (kids can feed off each other until it's too late to turn back). But then I see my older daughter telling our crying infant daughter "it's okay, it'll be all right." And if a two-year-old is capable of that level of empathy, there's no reason bullying has to exist.

And that's why I'm concerned. Clearly, it's too late for me. I'm already warped--a product of my own miserable secondary school experience. But it's not too late for the duaghters. And isn't that what we all want as parents? To correct the mistakes that were made in our own lives? The big challenge of high school won't be the teachers or the homework or the learning, it'll be how to cope with people, just as it was for me and my sister.

The bigger problem is not the bullies, it's the adults that turn a blind eye to it. Take for example, this excerpt from "The Takeover", a TV movie script I wrote in high school (and yay, you get to see a sample of my god-awful teen writing).

CUT TO:
87. INT – SCHOOL OFFICE
We are in the school administration office, Jeremy is talking to some old lady at a desk.

JEREMY
And these kids have been harassing me constantly, non-stop.

SECRETARY
Uh-huh.

JEREMY
It's been a week since I've made this complaint.

SECRETARY
Uh-huh.

JEREMY
And still nothing's been done (getting angrier)

Secretary just sort of wrings her hands in an immature fashion like "oh shucky-darns".

JEREMY
Look, don't treat me like I'm some damn kindergartner who's getting his toys stolen by the school bully. I want something to be done about this, and I want it done now.

SECRETARY
(Minnesota accent) Hey there, mister. Now you aren't going to get any kind of help with that attitude. Now the counselor will deal with your problem when she gets here on Tuesday. All right?


This really happened to me in middle school (except for the kindergartener line, that's the great line I thought of as I stewed, waiting on the chair). First the counselor wasn't even there, then she actually wrung her hands with bright-eyed smirk like "well, whatcha gonna do?" Like I was protesting they were all out of chocolate ice cream. And this wasn't the first time, it was the third. Maybe they get a lot of petty squabbles (she stole my hairband, he made it on the football team politics, she stole my boy) that it's all superficial in their eyes. It's superficial to me now, but it wasn't at the time, and I still remember how small this made me feel. I'm actually surprised I protested as I did, but conviction has always been one of my strong suits. This kind of behavior from the adults that are supposed to be helping the kids is inexcusable.

I also remember a time in high school when a similar incident happened to an acquanitance of mine. I say acquaintance, because he was a guy who actually talked to me. To say he took a big risk to his reputation by wishing to be seen talking to me makes him ultimately cool in my eyes, someone to look up to, someone who saw past my weirdness and anti-socialism, and in my zealotry, someone to stand up for. Now, I only know the story from hearsay, but apparently, someone stole a jersey from him. They tried to get the administration to intervene, but they wouldn't and didn't. So eventually, it came to head in a fight in the hallway (much blood). This resulted in the cool kid who liked me getting expelled for the rest of the school year, and being unable to walk during graduation. Something that could have been avoided had the authorities, who are supposed to be authorities and step in, done so.

The problem is kids dont know how to stop it, how to stand up. The current methodologies don't work. Like Seanan McGuire says "Ignoring a bully just makes it more fun to torment you, because then, if they get you to react, they know they've won." It's heartbreaking to try, over and over, to get people to leave you alone. In the movies, the little boy summons up all his courage, has one confrontation where he throws a lucky punch, and it's over. That doesn't happen in the real world.

We need to modify the curriculum (of what class, I'm not sure. Health?) to give people the tools to deal with this in the real world. Duck and cover doesn't work. You need to figure out what to say (and not like the D.A.R.E. program where there are all the "wonderful ways to say no"), run scenarios (real scenarios), and learn the courage to stand up for what's wrong. Whenever I need to be courageous, I think of Link from The Legend of Zelda, the personification of courage and bravery. Everything to lose, nothing to gain, and yet he still went out into the wide world to defeat Ganon because he knew it was right. We can't control the bully, but we can control ourselves.

1 I have never seen Glee, so I may be talking out of my ass.
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