Small Victory tells a sad story about total tolerance for bullying. Michele's son D.J., who's small for his age, is being threatened and pushed around by a school bully. So is his best friend. The victims are scared to go to school.
So Michele talked to the teacher, who said she's unable to control the class -- except for D.J. and his friend, who are model students.
Michele called the principal, who talked about Big Bully's need to learn how to express his anger and asked if the victims had been doing something to anger Big Bully. She summarizes their conversation:
Well, Mr. Principal says, we have tried peer mediation and peer review with Big Bully. I sent home a pamphlet that will help his father and stepmother go over the proper way to express anger.
See, that's the thing, I say. He has no reason to be angry at my son or my son's friend. If he wants to express anger, I suggest that the classroom is not the appropriate place to do it.
Oh, says Mr. Principal. When he expresses anger in the classroom, he gets sent up here to me.
And then what happens?
He has to sit on the bench for a few minutes while he thinks about his behavior.
And then the bully goes back to class, without even a few stern words of reproach. That might hurt his feelings.
Michele talked to a school district official who suggested a social worker to help D.J. "work out his issues."
When reminded that my son was not the one who needed to deal with his issues, the kind woman told me "we have to tread lightly with people like Big Bully. They need to be encouraged, not discouraged. Sending him to counseling will only hurt his self esteem and make him behave worse."
Michele didn't talk to the bully's father. D.J. begged her not to, saying it would only make things worse.
Now she's wondering what to do. Teach D.J. to fight back? Teach him to avoid trouble by switching schools or home-schooling? Threaten the bully's father or the principal with legal action? More than 100 readers have contributed their bullying stories. (Most advocate slugging the bully.)
I don't remember this kind of bullying in my distant youth. It was considered shameful for a big kid to pick on a little kid. It wasn't the done thing. A bully was despised, not respected. I don't think adults tolerated bullying either, but what I remember is the social consensus of Ravinia Elementary School: Pick on someone your own size.
At any rate, I think Michele should get a lawyer, scream about her son's right to be safe in school and bully the principal into enforcing discipline. It would be a huge favor to the teachers, the students and even to the bullies, who need someone to stop them before they end up in prison.
I also think it's good for small, victimizable kids to learn karate or something similar that builds confidence and self-control. (D.J. is getting karate lessons from his aunt for his birthday.)
And sometimes the only thing to do is to find a new school that's not run by mush-headed wimps.
Hanna Rosin's Washington Post story on a bullying case at a rural Connecticut high school focuses on the high social cost of pressing criminal charges. The aggressor is the school hero; the victim is the goat.
Common sense and common courtesy -- not so common any more -- could have settled the whole thing very simply: Kevin Kelly could have apologized to Chris Alberts for shoving (or scaring) him into a concrete bench in the high school locker room. Kelly's dad, who happens to be the school board president, could have offered to pay the bill for the nine stitches in Alberts' back, instead of intervening so his son could play football the same night. Instead, it went to the lawyers.
Connecticut's "safe learning grants" tend to go to already safe, suburban schools, Rosin writes.
In Plainville, Conn., the Louis Toffolon grammar school has set up a whole parallel structure called the Talking Listening Center, or TLC, where the second grade gossip middlemen and line shovers come to empathize with the objects of their scorn. At the district's middle school, kids picked out as behavioral problems, meaning bullies and victims, are sent to a six-week course in martial arts to learn to control their anger.
So the victims are defined as a behavioral problem. And the bullies get martial arts training too. I'm not sure that's a great idea.
Human Rights in Detention
Keeping unruly students after school violates their human rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. So says a 15-year-old Scottish student, Freya Macdonald. School districts in Scotland are abandoning detention while they wait for a verdict.
Students on Teachers
In a new book, teenagers offer advice to teachers on how to connect with students -- even if they're sneaking out of class to set Fires in the Bathroom.
A student called Vance says:
The mark of a good teacher is that no matter how weird or boring you might think their subject is, their love for it is what pushes you to learn something. It could be rat feces or some nasty topic and the fact that their eyes are glowing when they talk about it makes you want to know something about it.
...The teacher has to not be afraid to show themselves, and at the same time maintain a boundary. Don’t try to look like me, talk like me, dress like me, put your hair in cornrows. The minute you try to broadcast about yourself in order to make a connection with the kid, that’s the minute it fails, because we can sniff out that kind of thing. If you just keep teaching you will eventually reach someone. We’ll put in the effort to connect with you.
Fires in the Bathroom, which is out in April, is a project of What Kids Can Do.
Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at JoanneJacobs.com while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.