Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Bully's Best Friend

Several years ago my wife and I attended the back-to-school festivities at my son's elementary school. This is the yearly exercise where hapless parents learn about all the new and wondrous miracle strategies that the public education system has cooked up to benefit "the children."

The evening was winding down, finally, when we bumped into the principal in the hallway. Although I tried my best to avert my eyes and hurry toward the exit, he corralled us and asked if we had any questions.

"Well," I said, "there is one thing I'd like to discuss. My son continues to be bullied by the same gang of four or five delinquents. We've told his teachers, we've informed your assistant, but it has continued now for almost a year."

"You do know that we have a full-time psychological social worker on staff," he replied.

The look in my eyes obviously betrayed a combination of puzzlement and contempt, but this genius continued anyway.

"Matt can schedule an appointment to come and talk. It will help him resolve his feelings."

"Matt has resolved his feelings," I informed him. "He hates their guts and wants them to be carried off by flying monkeys."

I went home that evening, my faith in the public education establishment reaffirmed, and had a long conversation with my son. It was reminiscent of conversations I had with my father when he told me it was always best to avoid a fight, but "when push comes to shove," he insisted, "you have to defend yourself."

These motivational encounters are seared into my memory because they were almost always followed by terrible beatings at the hands of the thugs in my old neighborhood. Defending yourself doesn't guarantee that you'll be victorious. In my case it invariably led to ignominious defeat and liberal applications of Mercurochrome.

"But Dad," Matt protested, "I'll get in trouble."

"Look, you may get in trouble with your teachers and you may get in trouble with your mother, but" I assured him, "you will never get in trouble with me if you defend yourself."

Unlike his skinny father, Matt's a big powerful kid who can do a lot of damage if he has a mind to.

He had always been told to avoid fights; to just walk away. This time he couldn't. They harassed him. They pushed him. And then, the unthinkable happened. A little girl he had known since pre-school jumped in and screamed at them to stop. When one of these sixth grade suburban gangstas pushed her aside Matt popped him. Just once. That's all that was needed. Matt got a reprimand from the school, but after a few weeks it was clear that the bullying had stopped. I felt very proud of my son and pleased with myself.

But did the bullying really stop?

Of course not.

They just went on to bully someone else's son.

My job is to see to it that my children don't get bullied. I did my job.

But it's the school's job to see to it that nobody's children get bullied, not to make them feel good about getting beat up every day during recess.

They weren't doing their job then, and they're not doing their job now.

Today, schools promote anti-bullying strategies which encourage the goons to talk to their victims. They attach no blame to the perpetrators. Predictably, they are failing, according to the British children's charity Kidscape.

Using this strategy the school forces the victim to provide a written statement describing how distressed he feels about the way he's been treated. He is then expected to read the statement to the good little boys who have derived pleasure from inflicting pain. This approach gives the thugs all the information they need to torture their victims even more.

One exasperated mother described the dismal results:

"They found out about my son's weaknesses, his feelings and his lack of confidence and had a field day bullying him and telling others. The bullying increased because the bullies knew he would not tell again after this devastating result."

In another instance a school principal refused to exclude a boy who had set fire to a young girl's hair. He was reluctant, he said, to single out a youngster who had "problems." Describing this junior arsonist as a youngster with problems is like saying that Jeffrey Dahmer had an eating disorder.

Maybe the girl with the flaming hair can resolve her feelings about being set on fire. Would anyone like to suggest that she talk to the psychological social worker?

Not me.

Because until and unless school officials get over their aversion to placing blame on kids with "problems", this cycle will repeat, and repeat and repeat. And for generations to come, children with problems will continue to be problem children.

For now, you'll have to excuse me. I have a therapy appointment. I'm working to resolve my feelings about elementary school principals.


Anonymous said...

My youngest one was having a soccer ball bounced off her head, everyday at recess. A teacher was on duty, but never did a thing. Lil' bit's big brother taught her how to fight dirty, and throw a punch like a boy. Mind you it was a boy doing this to her. My son told her to keep hitting him until he hit the ground, and to do it in front of his friends. Mission accomplished. No one bothered her after that :-D Oh yeah, the same teacher on yard duty was right there when my little one retaliated.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid this is just another example of the many ways in which government schools fail our children.

Sure, bullying has always existed, but as the story points out the PC way of dealing with it only makes it worse on the victims. Every now and then a kid snaps and does someone some real harm and then the administrators are mystified as to how it could have happened.

Soccer games with no scoring, prohibition against tag ...what next?

Anonymous said...

Typical of school authorities making the victem the culprit. Matt does not need counseling the bullies and their parents need the counciling or a good kick in the behind. When did parents stop taking responsibility for their children's actions????

Anonymous said...

I concur. I've taught my young son it's okay to defend himself with his fists against bullies and that no matter what happens, I'll defend him against teachers and principals. I've also taught him to defend others against bullies, which he hasn't needed to do yet. Good kids need to stick together.

Zoe Brain said...

But what happens when there's ten or twelve to one - and once you've been knocked down, that's the signal for all to start kicking?
What happens when the bullies start using clawhammers and penknives, not just fists?

You find them after school when they're on their own, and you hurt them so they can't do it again.

I learnt that before I was 9 years old. People like me "smell funny" you see, we don't vibe quite right, the body language subtly wrong. That makes us targets.

R. Reynolds said...

This from the man who felt we should defend our country from Iraqi invasion. Me, I want to die with a clean conscious, peacefully like my Grandfather--not screaming like all the passengers in his car.

R. Reynolds said...

Joseph, you can always send your kids to parochial school, where the nuns gladly take over all bullying duties. Personally, I'd much rather be throttled to within an inch of my life by peers bearing knuckles, than nuns bearing rulers. Women have a warped sense of compassion. As my neighbor, the great Dave Barry once said, "If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there is a man on base."

zoe brain said...

Hey, let's all jump over to Reynolds' column. He's funnier in his comments here than Joe is in his 10,000 word fishing expeditions.

Joseph Martini said...


What are you doing awake at this hour. You need your sleep.

Anonymous said...

Rick: if there's two outs and no one on, it's probably okay to save the infant. Well, I mean if it's a pre-season game and the baby's a Democrat.

Joseph Martini said...

To r. reynolds:

I was caned two or three times in Catholic School. It was always at the hand of a white, upper class liberal (lay) English teacher. He would arrive at class in a foul mood at least twice a week and pick out some poor dumb schlub to victimize.

He seemed to derive a special sort of glee from inflicting pain on one Kevin Weldon. Kevin didn't have the "shut Up" gene and wound up feeling the wrath of Norton more than anyone else.

Sister Mary John was my third grade religion teacher at Our Lady Grace. I can still see her face. Ingrid Bergman had nothing on Sister. She was an angel.

In public school, Mrs. (Killer) Kowalski heaved a full set of keys at Chuck Butera. Broke his nose and sent blood flying all over Ozone Park.

Claude Scales said...

Joe, first of all, thanks for your kind comment on my blog. I hope you continue to enjoy it.

Your post here makes me think of a conversation I had with a pretty barmaid at a small hotel in rural Scotland back in 1975. It turned out she was a teacher on summer holiday. I asked her what level of school she taught. She said it was the equivalent of our sixth grade. "That's a rough age," I observed, and she rolled her eyes. "I had a problem with a boy last year," she said. "I told him to stay after class. When the others had left, I said to him, 'James, I hear ye've been bitin' the gairls.' 'Aye, mum,' he said. So I asked him, 'Why do ye do it?' 'Tae hairt them,' he said. So I took his arm, and I sank my teeth in, not enough tae draw the blud, but enough tae make him feel it good. Then I said, 'Did ye like that?' 'Nae,' he said. 'Will ye be doin' it again?' 'Nae, mum.' There was nae more problem with him."

On this side of the pond, I suspect that teacher would have been relegated to year-round bartending.