When I was a freshman in high school, a group of guys went around torturing us under-classmen. I did all I could to avoid them, but they did catch up with me and shove me into a locker. I was really upset and a little embarrassed by the whole event. None of their victims told anybody in authority, so nothing was ever done about these guys.
In this day of “no bullying zones” and no tolerance, I am troubled that bullying is alive and well.
I have come across many stories this month on bullying and even on the murder of the disabled. Most of the stories tell the facts, but one made me stop and think. If we haven’t been able to stop bullying in the 25 years since I was in high school, how will we ever make a difference?
The story, which appeared in The Telegraph [Macon, Ga.], is particularly disturbing in that a group of boys bullied a special needs student and then had the audacity to put a video they made of the incident on YouTube.
Yes, this was a horrid event, but the reactions of all who were involved are what really got me thinking. When confronted, the parents of the bullies had mixed reactions. Reportedly, some of them glared at the victim’s family, as though they were the ones who had done something wrong. (One parent she says did apologize.)
My15-year-old son is a sophomore in high school. And with his disability, he’s at a disadvantage when it comes to “fitting in.” At times he has said things that make me worry about how far he would go in his desire to be accepted. Similarly, the bullied boy mentioned earlier may have had an over-admiration of boys who are “cool” or popular.
The boy’s mother says, “My son looked up to these boys and just wanted to fit in, and they treated him that way. It is so sad.”
But the response of the school is what’s most curious. The mother was informed that the students involved would not be suspended. Instead, they would have to pick up trash after football games as punishment. I find this amazing! How does picking up trash show these young men how they should change? Besides giving the janitor a break, how will this small act of community service accomplish anything?
The school principal insists the punishment is a valuable learning opportunity. “We want to use this to educate our students on tolerance and appropriate behavior,” he says. “Sometimes when you suspend someone, it only leaves a bad taste and nothing is accomplished. We are in the business of education, and want to help educate all of our students from this situation.”
And picking up trash is the answer?
I agree with the principal and believe that these kids would learn nothing from merely being suspended for a few days. But I also believe he has only half the answer. The old saying goes, “If you want to know a man, walk a mile in his shoes.”
For these bullies to grasp the issue at hand and recognize the damage they have done, they need to spend some time with those who they see as easy prey.
Do they comprehend the hard work and heartaches a family with a disabled child goes through? Do they understand the hours of worry, the fights with schools to get their child the resources he needs? How about the hours of therapy? The years of small wins and large setbacks? Do they understand the tears shed both of joy and sorrow for all the hurdles they’ve crossed and stumbled over?
The hurt these boys inflicted is not easily measured, but they need to understand that the damage is not easily fixed.
What would have been a more suitable “punishment”? The victim’s mother thought that the bullies should be made to work at the local children’s hospital—and I agree.