by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2022
BULLYING: THEN AND NOW
This is about getting bullied at school. I don’t get into any really drastic details. Still, be advised. This might bring back memories you don’t want to revisit.
When I was in elementary school back in the ’70s, the officials took a much different approach to incidents of bullying. By the time I was ten years old I stood almost five feet seven inches tall. This caused me all sorts of problems. Because I looked older, adults expected me to act the age they perceived me to be. When I didn’t act that way, they accused me of being immature. This complicated matters when my height made me a target for bullies. Given that I was a girl, I came in for a lot of the usual bullying tactics as well.
The main bully saying nasty things while the rest of the mob watched or added their own insults.
The usual name-calling, i.e. “Four Eyes“
Putting something in the desk of the person being bullied for a nasty surprise
Chasing girls into the bathrooms
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, along with disciplinary action for my tormentors?
“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.”
Do these statements sound familiar? They’re the responses women often get when we’re trying to report sexual harassment or rape.
When it came time for me to enroll in middle school, my parents got divorced. My mother and I had to move, which meant I left my few friends and all the classmates I’d grown up with to go to a different school. Being the new kid put an even bigger target on my back. Every day of my life at school included some or all of these:
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.
Nobody would listen. Nobody took me seriously. I guess I’m lucky the boys in middle school were acting one at a time, only intent on breaking my glasses, punching me, spitting on me, pulling my hair and making me cry. Just imagine what might have happened if those thugs combined their strength to ambush me and commit a more serious form of assault.
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, then called the police and my father. I was twelve years old, and I had to do this for myself. My father arrived in time to see the ring of bullies before they all took off. He knew I wasn’t making anything up.
This incident led to the principal insisting my parents meet with him at his office so they all could to discuss what to do about me because I was such a troublemaker. Unfortunately, due to the terms of the divorce my father pretty much left school decisions to my mother, who got custody of me. Mom was so busy smiling and groveling to the school officials she didn’t stand up for me at all. My test scores were high enough to enable me to skip sixth grade. That didn’t really help matters. It just created even more resentment among my classmates. The one mercy I received was being trapped in that educational hell for only two years instead of three.
High school? Same people, more sophisticated grief.
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 attended:
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.
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. Thanks to cell phones and social media, everybody is watching everybody else. Any stupid, embarrassing moment can be captured and uploaded to the Internet in a matter of minutes. I’m glad I got through my school days before the Internet became an essential part of everyday life. Still, it would have been great to have photos or video proof of my tormentors.
In the Steubenville rape case, the two boys who were convicted used their cell phones to broadcast all the horrible things they did to that poor girl. Apparently it never occured to them they’d handed the prosecution evidence of their own guilt. 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 almost 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 bullying and/or 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.