I found myself boiling over with frustration upon reading the heart-rending letter from the parent of a bullied student.
This problem has been going on since the beginning of time, but today we are no closer to dealing with it effectively than at any time in the past. If anything, things are worse.
I speak as a recently retired teacher so I have direct experience with the “system.” I also speak as someone who was bullied as a child, so I have been on the receiving end of bullying, too.
Most people of my age group remember how things used to be with bullying. If you could, you avoided the bullies. If you couldn’t do that, you had a choice of accepting it as your lot in life or fighting back.
But those were the days of fair fights in the schoolyard, before cell phones and the Internet could be used to co-ordinate an attack on and prevent the escape of an intended victim.
Before “stomping” someone’s teeth to pieces on the corner of a curb became fashionable. Before swarming.
If you publicly took on the bully in the old days it was usually one on one. Both of you would likely get in trouble with school authorities but the bullying usually stopped, though not always.
Then, and all too often now, many adults in authority (school officials, police) thought of you, the victim, as a wimp and a loser. I’m not kidding.
The only difference is that in the old days, they said as much to your face. I can attest to that fact from personal experience.
Today, adults with that attitude are forced to pay lip service and pretend to care about you but they do little or nothing to help you, as the parent’s letter so tragically describes.
Meanwhile, the bullies strut around in triumph, secure in the knowledge that nothing is going to happen to them that they care about.
Of course, the authorities I describe will loudly deny that anyone in their organization has such an attitude but actions speak louder than words.
My response to any such denials is that if you really mean what you say about caring for the victim, then do something that actually puts an immediate stop to the behaviour, even it it costs you your job.
Put it on the line for the kids you say you care about. If you are not prepared to do that, then no one is interested in listening to your denials or platitudes.
And, that, unfortunately, is part of the problem, too. Here are the sad facts.
Teachers and administrators, even when they genuinely do care about helping a bullied student, are powerless to take any decisive action. It is possible to suspend the offending bully (or, more typically, bullies), but such young people care little about that type of “consequence.”
Often, such students are chronic offenders and the consequences they face for any particular transgression actually diminish over time as the school administration realizes that they are having no effect.
School district discipline committees have, on paper, the authority to banish a student from the district (expulsion), but are very reluctant to do so, even in the case of the most egregious offences. Moreover, they can now be overruled by the new super superintendents, whose primary mandate is to keep students in school, no matter what. This apparently includes accepting any number of bullying-related student suicides rather than removing the bullies responsible for it.
There are things that can and should be done.
It seems from the parent’s letter that the offending bullies are members of sports teams. These teams and their organizers should be put under pressure, or better yet, be required to enact and enforce policies that permanently ban any young person who is determined to be engaging in this sort of behaviour from participating in the sport.
Sad as it is, sports are far more important to many of these kids than any sort of academic achievement. Taking away their opportunity to participate in sports is a consequence that they would really try and avoid.
Parents, there are things you can do, too.
You can swear criminal complaints and prosecute bullies under the criminal code. It isn’t easy or cheap to do but making one good example will go a long way toward deterring others.
You have to weigh the difficulty and cost against the happiness, and maybe even the life, of your child. You can also sue the authorities for dereliction of their duties, both institutionally and individually. You can also sue the parents of the bullies. Get legal advice and go after them.
The school board can enact policies that fast-track bullies through the expulsion process. Any parent who is facing the prospect of having to drive their bullying kid to Campbell River or Parksville to school every day is likely going to take steps to rein in that kid.
Our kids usually can’t stand up to bullies. But we can and we should.