Monday, October 18, 2010

Bullies Won't Change But You Must...Especially If You're A Bully

"Bullying Must Stop" Someone points at the heavens and we all look at their hand. We are finite beings trying to comprehend the infinite. The world does not change.  There is no winning a war on terror and there is no stopping bullying...unless you are the bully. Please allow me to add my own story to the public forum.

You're four years old and about to enter kindergarten. Do you get a lunchbox, a pat on the back and some encouragement to make friends? My mother is Sicilian, I'm an only child and I'm adopted. No, I get told that if anyone hits me, I hit them back. Mom, and I believe Grandma, even show me a little boxing. By the time I am five, I am in my hometown of North Brunswick, NJ but I have carried my early training with me. Around first grade, my school does a tremendous favor for certain students by separating them from the student body and making them stick out by no fault of their own. We are placed in two groups: Special Ed and Gifted & Talented. The difference is irrelevant. They decide to hold me back from GT for a year because I talk too much and don't complete my assignments. This does very little to spare me the distinction of being a nerd nor does it delay the bullying that would become a constant presence in my life for the remainder of grade school. The nerds that grin and bear it may or may not have earned some relief but the kid who talks back and fights back? Here's where I get to share how everyone from administration to faculty to my parents tried to STOP BULLYING while I held my own with my mouth and my fists.

Bullies at my school were given special privileges like collecting playground equipment or playing computer games in the principal's office. They were labeled with impressive classifications like "Neurologically Impaired". Some just had alcoholic fathers who would threaten to come to school with a shotgun if their little bully was treated unfairly. These same kids would make up their own rules and roam hallways, even darting into bathrooms to harass children trying to urinate or chase them back to their classroom in order to punch them in the kidney. School's solution? Have my teacher secretly press the PA button to alert the front office to every time I needed to go to the bathroom so the principal could mosey on down to keep an eye out. Policemen assigned to school matters would be enlisted to aid in the case of having bullies expelled. Meanwhile, my fists are deemed in need of training by my parents when other bullies take the place of the one that was expelled. That's one way of stopping bullying, right? Beat them silly until they "learn their lesson". You may say it doesn't work that way. You would be right but that lesson comes later. Before leaving the public school system, another move designed to rescue me from bullying, I pounded a bully's face in right in front of my classmates. The vice principal even expressed gratitude, unofficially of course. Wow, that training worked, didn't it? Not yet, but it will. Stick with me.

One year after I "stopped" the bully with several blows around and about his face, I am no longer going to the same school but I am hanging out with a friend and guess what? Mr. Bully lives right across the street. He sees me and this time he brings a friend. I give but a moment's consideration to the aforementioned martial arts training and decide to opt for a stick instead, seeing as how I have never faced multiple opponents. I managed to pummel the bully's friend, ironically enough a former fellow nerd turned sidekick. The bully got off easy with just one bruise on his arm from the stick. So, YOU tell ME? How is "STOPPING THE BULLYING" going so far? What say we drop that NONSENSE and get to the heart of the matter? But before I do, let me recap that: "STOPPING THE BULLYING" is NONSENSE.

Some time not too long after that last encounter with MY bully, I stopped fighting AND being bullied for the rest of my life. Was it magic? Was the bullying STOPPED? Did the world change? No, I changed. Why did I think I was being bullied? What was it about me that was being bullied? They called me a Mama's Boy because my mom worked at the school and was very protective of me. SO WHAT. Oh, and Mom bought my clothes because I was a child and couldn't be bothered with it. SO WHAT. I sucked at kickball. SO WHAT. I was a nerd. SO WHAT. Whatever I was, was fine. THAT'S what "stopped bullying". IF I WAS GAY, the answer would be the same. SO WHAT. If I was a BULLY, then guess what? It's still ME that needed to change. What are our kids thinking? About themselves? About others? I'm not hearing this in the media, are you? My problem was that I was fighting with bullies but guess what I was thinking about MYSELF and OTHERS each and every day? I only thought one thing, that I was going to be bullied and that I would have to fight. Take a wild guess what happened.

Now, I grant you this. There was martial arts. There were my parents and my grandmother. I had love and support. Thank god because if our schools and institutions were failing over twenty years ago, when I was a child, imagine where they are at now. That kid that just picks up a gun and shoots himself? He didn't just pick up a gun and shoot himself. No one wants to consider how many opportunities there were to find out what was going on in this kid's life. Instead, they want to repeat the mantra "Stop The Bullying". Find out what's going on with the bullied. Find out what's going on with the bully. THEY'RE ALL KIDS!!!

Before I go, let me leave you with this.. I am a former teacher, at least for the time being. If you were to tell me that there should be someone at the school whose job it is to do the above. And you would be right. Even in the sort of financially strapped school I taught in, there was always at least one person ready to talk to a student. But HOW does the student get TO the help? Are we leaving it up to them? Apparently, look at the results. THEY'RE ALL KIDS!!! Even the most popular kid doesn't have a clue what's going on. Believe me. EVERY ADULT that has even the most MINUTE contact with a kid's life is RESPONSIBLE for it. There is no exception. One of my former students comes to mind. The shy or low-key student gets lost in the shuffle at any school. At an urban charter school, they are virtually invisible...but not to me. One such student, female, was always present and always completed her work. At some point, her attendance started getting spotty. Quality of work started falling off. My immediate response was to connect that student with the person she could speak to. Don't get me wrong, many times, I was the one they spoke to. But in my mind, not only were these kids my responsibility but it was also my responsibility to share. It's the true business we were in as educators and caretakers. Concerned about a suicidal student? Forget about the bully. Spend Christmas Eve with her in the in-patient facility when her so-called "loved ones" won't.

So let's not STOP bullies. May I suggest talking to them? Talk to the bully. Talk to the bullied. Be aware. Be vigilant. These are our children, whether we are parents or not. Please let's save their lives and drop the media gloss for once.