Everyone has heard of bullies, many of us have at one point or another in our lives spent time as a victim. For kids at school this can create a serious problem. Bullied students lose interest in school, and in most cases even at bare minimum contemplate suicide.
There is no real new knowledge in any of those statements. However over the last couple of weeks the discussion on bullying in New Brunswick schools has come to a head. In Fredericton, one family pulled their son due to harassment by an ex-girlfriend, another parent came forward detailing attempts to get school administrators to deal with the bullying suffered by her child, things that went as far as sexual assault. In Saint John, a girl had her hair set on fire. In Moncton earlier in the year, a child was transferred because of bullying and another child was attacked by students from another school entirely and it was done in front of the school office.
Some administrators would prefer to see these incidents separated into assaults and bullying, with two separate categories of incidents. What they fail to realize is that many of these “assaults” are escalations on bullying behaviour that has not been stepped on by administration. It is a continuation of the same ongoing bullying that many of these students experience.
I spent a fair bit of time being the victim of nonviolent bullying myself. One of the few incidents of violence that was done to me (I was in grade 2 or 3 I believe it was a long time ago) ended up with me spending time in detention. In that incident a student in my age decided that it would be good to elbow me in the gut as I was getting off the bus on the way from school. Because he was forced to sit in the front seat because of his already poor reputation, this was done in full view of the bus driver (as was my shoe hitting his head in retaliation, and yes my foot was still in it) I got a days detention which I happily served, he on the other hand got a solid month.
The true bullying began after I decided to go to a different school to participate in the late immersion program. For almost my entire 7 to 9 grades I was subjected to almost constant harassment, much of it based on a religious upbringing that meant that certain facts of life others were fully privy too, I was completely oblivious to. One thing of note that should be mentioned is that during almost all periods of bullying whether the minor stuff in younger grades, or the harsher stuff in junior high there was always a girl holding my attention and usually engaging my attention sufficiently to keep me from sinking into a total wreck.
It should be noted that during the junior high years the bullying that I dealt with did not just come from the students but at least one teacher was involved as well through his constant belittling of my efforts. This teacher who taught not only my English class but also was my guidance counsellor who had the final say on my high school course selection did incredible damage to my future with moves that he forced on me. The first signs of serious problems was when he denied my first choice of book report book (Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, a fairly heavy book written in Old English) only to approve a Hardy Boy book, calling Freckles to childish (To this day I suspect his issue was that it was to difficult for him to read). He carried his garbage through into my course selection refusing me level one courses in both math and English, and suggesting that instead of looking at medicine I should be looking at a trade as a mechanic. His objection to my math suggestion was overridden early in my grade 10 year when I heard of a math competition that while essentially open to anyone usually was limited to only level one students. After forcing the teacher to allow me to write the competition I placed 3rd in the school and top 25 in the province, when I suggested I really should have been in the level one course the teacher agreed (because of time I do not remember if I was transferred in or whether I was moved to level 1 for grade 11). I never have fully recovered from the damage this teacher caused to my curriculum as the courses he made me drop actually cost me greatly in any interest in making much effort in my school work and cost me a lot of opportunities.
Major things that need to be realized when dealing with bullying incidents. Almost all victims of bullying contemplate suicide at one point or another. Some seriously and some throw the idea away. Others take into account how much better life would be if only their bullies no longer were around to cause them problems.
This statement here is something that all people involved in bullying need to understand. Others take into account how much better life would be if only their bullies no longer were around to cause them problems. Administrators are trained in how to look for signs of school shooters. However there is one key piece of information that is left out of this equation. School shooters are almost all victims of bullying that have finally had enough.
When staff do not react promptly and aggressively to stamp out bullying there really should be no surprise when the victim chooses either to end their own life or to attempt to end the life of the bully (and invariably take a few others who stood by and did nothing in the process).
Some may choose to mock my belief but I sat through and studied several of these school shootings in an effort to understand the shooters motivations and was shocked when I followed the discussions. With out fail the reports detailed the withdrawal that is classic signs of bullying and even in one case actually documented the bullying, and yet without fail they were all left asking the same question. What was there motivation. While it was staring them right there in the face in pure black and white, the investigators completely missed the signs of the bullying that was common in almost every instance.
I looked into these cases for one simple reason. I wanted to know what was different between them and me. What was the difference that made a student go from contemplating removing their bullies from the face of the earth to actually doing it.
I came to a simple answer. A couple of well placed friends. A bit of luck. A couple of girls who wanted to talk. That is the difference between any victim of bullying and a school shooter or suicide.
That is the important message that all school officials need to take from this. Any victim of bullying in your school could tomorrow walk in with a gun. Failure to stamp out bullying means that this could happen here.
This is not a problem that is talked out. This is a problem that needs quick decisive and aggressive response. Bullies need to be cut off at the knees. They lose their sports, they lose their activities, they lose their free time. And if they do not get with the program in a very quick hurry they also lose the right to go to school. This is not a time for talk therapy. It is not a time to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Save that for the victim. The bully needs to be stepped on quickly and decisively and it needs to be done in such a way that the victims and their families know that their problem will not remain a problem any longer. The punishment of bullies can not remain hidden behind a cloud of secrecy.