When I was in elementary school back in the ’70s, we had a few bullies. I was lucky because I was five feet six inches tall by the time I was ten years old. That made me a target for a lot of teasing, but the rougher bullies tended to leave me alone. Some of the more common bullying tactics at the grade school level included:
Chasing girls into the bathrooms
The main bully saying nasty things while the rest of the mob watched or added their own insults
Putting something in the desk of the person being bullied for a nasty surprise
The usual name-calling, i.e. “Four Eyes“
My luck ran out when it came time to enroll in middle school. My mother and I moved, which meant I had to leave my few friends and go to a different school. That made me the new kid, the obvious target for a whole new level of bullying:
People making up rumors about me
Harassment in the girls’ gym about my weight, glasses, hair, etc.
The older students ganging up on me while I was walking home from school.
What kind of responses did I get when I told my teachers about all this? What kind of support and protection did they provide for me? What disciplinary action did my tormentors receive?
“Boys will be boys.” “Just ignore them and they’ll stop.” “You must have done something to provoke that.” “You must have been asking for it.” Don’t these statements sound awfully familiar? They’re exactly the kind of responses women get when we’re trying to report a rape. I guess I’m lucky that the boys in middle school were only intent on breaking my glasses, punching me, pulling my hair and making me cry. Just imagine what might have happened if those thugs had decided to combine their strength to ambush me and gang rape me.
Nobody took me seriously until one day after school two dozen of my classmates surrounded me with their bicycles and demanded that one of my archenemies beat me up right there in front of all of them. I ran up to the door of the nearest house, told them it was an emergency and I needed to use their phone. I called my father, who told me to call the police. I was TWELVE YEARS OLD, and I had to be the one to do this for myself. This incident led to my parents being called to the principal’s office to discuss what they were going to do about me because I was becoming such a serious troublemaker. My father had arrived in time to see the ring of bullies before they all took off. He knew I wasn’t making anything up. Thank God my test scores were high enough to enable me to skip sixth grade. I was trapped in that educational hell for only two years instead of three.
Let’s contrast my experiences with the anti-bullying policy of today’s educational system. This is taken from the student manual of the high school both of my sons will be attending during the coming school year:
Students may not coerce others through threats or intimidation. Students shall not haze, sexually harass or commit any act which degrades or discredits students and/or staff. Harassment has nothing to do with intent, and it is determined by the victim. Harassment is defined as intentional threats or intimidation directed against a person or group that is so severe that it disrupts class work, creates substantial disorder and invades the rights of the student by creating an intimidating or hostile environment.
Sexual harassment means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and/or other verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Any student who feels he/she is the victim of harassment must notify a teacher, counselor or administrator. The student may be asked to provide a written statement. Any form of sexual harassment toward personnel or students will result in automatic suspension and/or expulsion.
Hate Violence is the use or threat of force to willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress, or threaten the rights of another person; or to knowingly deface, damage or destroy the property of another person to intimidate or interfere with the rights of that person because of their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender or sexual orientation.
Emblems/clothing displaying hate or “isms” defined but not limited to confederate flag and/or swastika.
Hazing includes degrading freshmen or other groups at any rally, assembly or gathering. Depending on the severity, the students may be referred to a law enforcement agency and expelled.
Cyber-bullying is bullying through an electronic act and will be dealt with using the same process. An “electronic act” means the transmission of a communication, including, but not limited to, a message, text, sound, or image by means of an electronic device, including, but not limited to, a telephone, wireless telephone or other wireless communication device, or computer.
1st Offense: 1-5 day suspension; Parent contact/contract; Referral to Counseling/CRT
2nd Offense: 5 day suspension; Referral to law enforcement.
3rd Offense: 5 day suspension; Recommendation for expulsion; Referral to law enforcement.
Wow. What a difference forty years and a technological revolution have made. Now even the slightest gesture can be captured and uploaded to the Internet in a matter of minutes. This has proven to be a very sharp double-edged sword. In the Steubenville rape case, the two boys who were convicted created the very evidence that put them behind bars when they used their cell phones to broadcast all the horrible things they did to that poor girl. Cell phones and other easily concealed recording devices have provided documentation of abuses committed in classrooms by both teachers and aides against mainstream students and even special education children. Discovery of such despicable acts has led some parents to call for surveillance equipment in all classrooms. Controversy now rages over invasion of privacy versus the active prevention of abuses against helpless minors.
I never thought I’d say this, but I’d be happy to have Big Brother watching us if it meant protecting innocent children, especially those who are disabled and defenseless, from any form of abuse committed against them by classmates, teachers, one to one aides, and any other on-site personnel. I’m an adult now, but I still remember all too well what it felt like to be victimized by bullies, then ignored and even punished by the very authorities who should have been there to safeguard my physical and emotional health. I will not stand by and see that happen to any child if I can do something to prevent it.
I encourage all parents, whether your kids are mainstream or special needs, to pay attention to your child’s behavior and physical appearance. If you think something might be wrong in the classroom, START ASKING QUESTIONS! Talk to other parents. Forget about embarrassment or social stigma. Those are the very things bullies count on to make sure nobody calls them out. If you’re not getting any real answers, or you think school officials are trying to duck and run, put your concerns IN WRITING. The law says that once you the parent notify the school authorities about your concerns in writing, they must act within thirty to forty-five days. If you’re still not getting anywhere, contact the school board directly and demand a fair hearing. Now you’re playing hardball, and you will be taken seriously.