Sunday, June 19, 2011

Safe Schools Equals Equal Education

He was only about 9 year old at the time. The other boys would chase him during recess, and granted, the boy wasn’t the fastest runner being slightly chubby. He was quiet, and he couldn’t think of what to do when the other boys didn’t understand the meaning of “stop” or “no”. They would corner him up against the chain length fence, all the while calling him names, mocking him. They’d grab his lunch pail from his cold hands, throw it on the ground and stomp on it, smashing his sandwich, cookies, juice, and banana.

He would refuse to go to school, and his mom couldn’t figure out why. She finally got some of the story out of him. There were mean boys at school, who wouldn’t leave him alone, and he was terrified to go to school anymore.

She talked to the principle, who thanked her for bringing the issue to his attention, but his actions led to no change. He talked to the boys, but not to their parents. He didn’t supervise the boys, and the bullying continued. Would his mom have to quit her job just to go to school with her son to make sure other students left him alone? Were they unable to provide a safe learning environment for all students?

Before we begin, I will define bullying as- to cause another person emotional, physical, or psychological harm by verbal, physical or sexual abuse or harassment.

If the Brown vs. Board decision was made to give equal educational opportunity for all students, then schools should be doing more to protect students from bullying so that all students can have equal educational opportunities.  Bullying creates a hostile environment for its victims that is hard to nearly impossible for them to learn in, because they are always worried for their safety. Bully victims are also victims of discrimination from other students, which is imposing on their civil rights. 

This boy from the story was my brother, and stories like his are not uncommon. I would like to focus on bullying in general, but also specifically aimed toward gays/lesbians and cognitively disabled (CD) individuals.

Anyone who has ever been to school, whether it be public or private, has experienced bullying, either aimed toward himself, or at his peers. I honestly don’t think that bullying is anything that will ever go away. It is a result of sin and corruption that lies inside of every human. However, I do believe it should be considered a crime. My goal here is to make people more aware of bullying in schools, to give a few examples of bullying, and possible solutions to make it less common.

Recently I heard a story on NPR which inspired me to write about bullying (unfortunately I could not find the transcript anywhere on their website and I do not remember the names.) A mother told her son’s story. I forget his age, but I believe he was a freshman in high school in Massachusetts. He was a “mamma’s boy” and he had always been very loving and sweet. However, when he began high school his mother noticed that he began distancing himself from her, and he became unnecessarily rough with his little siblings. He mentioned a few times that the kids at school called him a “fag”. 

One day he came home from school because he had gotten in a fight with a girl who had been taunting him. The principal decided that the students would either be suspended or they would have to sit together at lunch for the rest of the year. He didn’t want to be suspended because he was always a straight A student, and he never got in trouble, so he agreed to sit with her. He came home and informed his mom what had happened. She was infuriated, and she hadn’t realized how bad the bullying had become. She told him that she would go talk to the principal. She was infuriated that the school had not even called her. That night her son hung himself. This is one in hundreds of stories of gay/lesbians being harassed to death by their peers.

Many CD clients I have worked with, or that my mother has worked with, have dropped out of school or been afraid to go because of bullying. One young boy was called retarded, and he was chased and pinned against a fence. He couldn’t cry out for help or tell them no, because his disabilities make it hard for him to communicate. Another man, when he was in high school, he was mocked because of his high pitched voice, and his inability to socialize “normally” due to his asparagus. He was a very smart boy, but he eventually dropped out to avoid the mockery.

According to a report by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, “The number of complaint and consultation calls to OCR and OSERS demonstrates steadily increasing allegations and proven situations of disability harassment.” 

There are hundreds of other stories that have come to the attention of the press that I could recall, but I won’t. Although not exclusively, bullies usually go after people who are different, or vulnerable, which is why many of the targets are people perceived to be gay, or those who have disabilities.

Although almost all states have laws that force public schools to prohibit bullying, it seems that they aren’t doing a very good job. The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition found that 25% of teachers do not think bullying is a big deal, and two-thirds of students feel that adults do not help them deal with bullies. Often times, bullying is seen as just a fact of life that kids, and some adults, deal with and people have to learn to live and grow stronger from it. As far as I know, bullying itself is not a crime, so too many students get away with it. 

This is ridiculous. Bullying ruins people’s self-confidence and feeds them the lie that they are pathetic and worthless. It drives people to depression, aggression, suicide, etc. It gives bullies a false sense of confidence and importance. It should be considered a crime because it infringes on other people's right to life. 

But what should be done? Here are a few suggestions.

In light that so many of the victims of bullying are gay/lesbian or disabled, first, I suggest that all students be educated on civil rights. Why do we learn so much in school about the civil rights movement, but we only talk about Blacks and other ethnic minorities? All people are created equal, regardless of their sexual orientation or the disabilities they may have. Schools should be teaching students to be kind and tolerant. It is scary if students are not learning these characteristics in school, because they spend more of their childhood in school than in their home.

In addition to educating students, I believe that the consequences for bullying should be much more severe than simple suspension or grounding. Bullying should be considered a crime, so the bully should be prosecuted. Parents of both parties should be notified, and maybe both the victim and the bully should receive counseling.

Finally, students who are being bullied should be made well aware of their rights, and of help that they can receive. On this note, students who are being bullied should actually have help readily available for them in the form of a school counselor and some kind of security to keep the bully away from his victim. Students and teachers who witness or suspect bullying should be strongly encouraged to report it, even if anonymously. 

Bullying has always been around but it has come more into the spotlight in the past decade with the many stories published by the press about the consequences bullying has on lives. In order for all students to receive equal education, all students must be safe in school. Hostilities that cause emotional, psychological or physical harm will make it harder for students experiencing this to learn. So, in the spirit of Brown Vs Board, states and schools need to make schools safe from bullying, through prevention programs and stricter consequences.

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