broadsideblog

Yes, Expel Bullies! School Shouldn't Be Open Season For Their Victims

In behavior, Crime, education on April 2, 2010 at 8:30 am

In the wake of the suicide of Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince, school administrators whine they didn’t see much damage, that Prince was too private (likely her pride, shame, humiliation — and perhaps the naive expectation adults are observant and will act accordingly) to complain and that — gasp — actually expelling the little brutes who drove her to despair with three non-stop months of verbal abuse might suffer if told to leave the school and find somewhere else to take their toxicity.

From cnn.com:

“To our knowledge the action taken was effective in ending their involvement in any bullying of Phoebe,” he said.

Prince, who had recently moved with her family from Ireland to South Hadley, hanged herself on January 14 after enduring what Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth B. Scheibel described to reporters Monday as “a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm toward Phoebe, on school grounds, by several South Hadley High School students.”

Six students were named in an indictment returned by a grand jury Friday and made public Monday. In addition, Scheibel said three female students received juvenile charges, but she would not clarify if they were among the six named in the indictment.

That left even Sayer confused. “There could be as many as nine, but I believe that six” is the correct number, he said.

Though authorities did not consider that the actions or failures to act by the faculty, staff and administrators of the school amounted to criminal behavior, prosecutor Scheibel called for them to undergo training to learn to intervene more effectively in such cases.

But administrators in the school district, who oversee the education of 2,100 students in four schools, are being unfairly blamed for the death, Sayer said…

None of the six students identified in the indictment remains in school, he added.

Sayer said he supported the punishments meted out to the students.

“If they, as they have been charged, committed crimes, they should face the consequences for those crimes,” he said.

But, he added, expulsion is something educators are reluctant to countenance.

“It’s a terrible punishment because that changes their whole lives and what they are capable of doing, and they have to figure out a way to renew and complete their education.”

Expel them!

I was bullied for three years in high school. Bullying is toxic, damaging, sick behavior and those who who deny its power are lying to themselves and their consciences.

What greater “terrible punishment” could Prince’s parents face than the loss of their daughter?

What the bullies were “capable of”, quite clearly and effectively, was destroying the confidence — and the life — of a young girl in their midst. Renewing and completing their education might include learning the most basic of lessons — deliberately, publicly and consistently selecting a victim, and mentally torturing them, is unacceptable behavior.

  1. The girls will likely get off with a less harsh punishment than the two boys.

    over/under?

  2. I have really mixed feelings about this. I feel terrible for Phoebe Prince, obviously, and I agree with you that if serious punishment for serious crimes is too terrible to contemplate in school we wind up meting out in prison instead.

    But I’m not sure I believe that bullying is something that only happens among children. My family moved for the fourth grade and I was a small child, so I was bullied daily by kids I barely knew until I learned to fight back. I wonder what children learn from being persecuted by adults, especially strangers.

  3. bsg, I suspect there remains a double standard that girls — as if — are less brutal than boys. In my experience, they are verbally vicious beyond belief, but they do not physically hit or punch (generally) so their actions are less visible and therefore much harder to prove — and to fight back against. Girls are typically socialized to repress their anger and not act (it) out physically, both of which I think contribute to this pattern.

    I wonder what would have happened if Phoebe — or I — had decked one of these brutes, literally smashing a fist into their face, as boy would be expected to do and perhaps forgiven for as “normal” male behavior.

    doug, this applies to your comment as well. Sorry to hear that you were bullied. How did you fight back verbally? With your fists? Did it work?

    I have been bullied many times since, also in workplaces. Maybe I just have a sign over my head? Now I fight back, fast and hard, but it’s not easy for many people to do so, for all sorts for reasons, some cultural, some family-based, some gender-dictated.

    What disgusts me is that the onus is always put on the victim to retaliate — not on the filthy brutes who perpetrate such cruelty to behave like decent human beings, not animals in a cockfighting ring eager to draw blood, whether emotional or physical.

    • With my forehead, actually. The turning point for me was when I was surrounded by five bullies, four made a circle with a tree at the fifth point. The leader was inside the ring with me and said we were going to fight. I lowered my head and charged the guy and crumpled him against the tree and that was kind of the end of me as bully-bait. As you suggest, at the moment I was pretty traumatized by what I’d done but the change in how people treated me was a big comfort. Frankly, this might be unattractive, but I think of that as a good lesson that I’m thankful for and eager for my most imperious nephew to share. If I met (and recognized) one of those guys now, I’d have no trouble shaking hands.

      But I don’t see a parallel alternative with verbal viciousness, which might be why bullying is harder on girls. As a boy you can always stop running and hurt somebody.

  4. Great idea. Let’s start building an underclass of ignorant, violent, aggressive young people. I’m sure they’ll be all meek and submissive in adulthood when they’re forced to work at the extreme low pay a sub-high-school education obtains in America.

    Here’s a better idea: Fine the parents. Parents are and always have been a huge influence in the lives of students. Mandate that they own up to the shoddy job they’re doing of raising their kids, and you’d see a turnaround really fast.

    • I do think expulsion is the right answer in cases such as these, but I also think there should be a zero-tolerance policy for any acts of bullying: on the first strike, kids should be suspended and sent to do some community service involving some serious manual labor and re-programming, much like kids who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are put into outward bound-type programs where the first order of business is to get them to stop being narcissistic little jerks and start thinking about others for once. Maybe if they were forced to spend every weekend and an entire summer building houses for homeless people or the working poor, they might turn around before they become the cause of another tragedy.

      • @inmyhumbleopinion
        I really like this idea. Why not treat bullying as a juvenile crime and have them do community service? Excellent idea…

    • Shoddy job?

      There is a certain degree of nature/nurture going on here. I have three children. One treats friends poorly with little empathy, the other two are reasonably empathetic and maintain good relationships with other children.

      Every parent cares for their children as best as they can. Some clearly do better than others and some can handle certain personalities better than others. So you would fine those who can’t do as well? What next? Will you license them to have kids? You’re on the edge of a slippery slope here.

      My point is that it isn’t always the fault of the parent. Some kids simply have personalities that do not mesh well with our school environments.

      The goal should be to help the community and to help the students who are disruptive or who harass others.

      Remember, if you make parenthood too difficult or undesirable couples will have fewer children. There won’t be anyone to support you in your retirement. Children used to be an asset, a retirement plan, a helping hand. Today, they have become more and more of a liability until they manage to become acceptable adults.

      Knowing what I know now, I often wonder why anyone would see a child as anything but a significant liability? It is opinions like this that leave me gasping for breath.

  5. doug, you brave thing! I fiugured this was exactly what you did — and good for you and that it worked. But, seriously, imagine the repercussions if a girl did this? Especially to other girls? 1) Girls aren’t even taught how to fight (someone had to tell me to keep my thumbs out of my fists); 2) they are socialized to “be nice” which means to not use your physical strength (if you have it or even know you have it) to settle a beef; 3) we’re expected to be more social and verbal, even when the words are weapons used against us.

    To this day, I wonder what would have happened if I’d simply decked one of “my” male bullies, right in the middle of the hallway. They weren;t armed with any weapons and not that much bigger than me.

    samjf, the world is already filled with bullies — some of whom have Phds and MBAs! Ask anyone now working for a bully boss.

    Yes, parents are to blame. But if their kid is already a cruel little thug, are the parents likely to listen to reason? To a cop or judge, maybe.

  6. imho, great idea.

    Just found out tonight I have sold an op-ed about this issue to the Chicago Tribune to run next week, so it will find another audience.

  7. jake,I hear you and appreciate your POV as a parent. I don’t have kids, so my perspective is skewed in that respect. Yes, every kid clearly has his or her own personality — but in some ways, the apple does not fall very far from the parental tree. You know the cliche, because it’s true — children learn what they live. It took me a long time to shed some of my family’s worst tendencies, and I’m certainly, like most of us, a work in progress.

    So, I guess it’s an ongoing challenge for a parent to recognize their own shortcomings — and hope/help their kid(s) find some other helpful adult influences and role models as well, whether Boy Scouts, summer camp, whatever. I know I learned a lot about life from my camp counselors and fellow campers that I didn’t at home. I agree that school is hardly an ideal environment for some kids — but so are most workplaces, too!

    • The point of childhood is to learn social behavior and the means to cope with the feelings one has from the various kinds of people one meets. Some aren’t that sociable.

      Some do not learn to cope with what they feel. We have psychologists and psychiatric drugs to help them. A particularly dangerous time for children is when they hit puberty and then discover the hurts and the highs that life has to offer. It can destroy some before they ever learn to cope.

      If we focus exclusively on the Bully, we’ll miss those who passively insist that the world conform to them so that they wouldn’t have to deal with their own insecurities. It plays both ways. Even if we could eliminate bullies entirely, it wouldn’t remove the need to deal with the situation.

      Obviously I’m not trying to justify what happens every day in school halls and online. But on the other hand, this is a reality we need to teach our children to deal with. Ugly people exist out there, and it is imperative that we learn to deal with them.

  8. More and more, I am feeling incredibly blessed that I escaped bullies while growing up. I would have been the perfect target (ie: clogs, high-water jeans and a pixie cut before it was cool). Even without hardcore bullying, I still grew up insecure about my height and weight because people would comment on them. But would I consider those comments bullying? No. I once cried about what someone said to me, but my support system at home was strong enough to help me through it and I had a really kind teacher who stood up for “his kids.”
    Being a teenager is tough and I can’t thank the village it took to raise me enough for helping me through what were the most awkward years of my life.

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