The website thehumanist.com has an interesting online conversation (part of it in the comment section) on bullying among young children.
This is an especially delicate topic for me personally, and I was careful not to get too emotional in my replies. So, be warned that I held back some serious stuff that’s bursting out now.
It should be noted that both of my parents are deceased, and I have ambivalent feelings about describing their past behavior. Still, what happened, happened.
I was bullied when I was a child, and the onset of it was especially bizarre. For the first two weeks of kindergarten, an unhinged teacher singled me out for abuse. I remember her grabbing, hitting and shaking me, stomping on my feet, shoving me and screaming into my face. When I turned my head away from her during the screaming episodes, the shriek would go directly into one ear. From the time I arrived in class until I left for the day, I cried hysterically.
I told my parents about her behavior, and was advised to “obey the teacher.” They insisted I must have done something terribly wrong to prompt hours of abuse. At least once, I told my parents I was sure the teacher was going to kill me. I don’t recall how they replied to that.
The teacher was replaced abruptly, and I never heard an explanation of how that came about. Did she march into the Superintendent’s office and yell that she wasn’t going to work with that little monster anymore? Was she hospitalized on a locked ward? Did she kill someone? We’ll never know. I was certain she wasn’t dismissed because of any complaint from my parents.
Another teacher took her place, and I began noticing things and people in my kindergarten class I’d been unaware of when the attention was focused on a raging adult. One person who entered my frame of reference was a classmate who decided the little girl who had been brutalized by the first teacher would make a good target for her own hostility.
Laurie (not her real name) made the rest of my kindergarten year hell, and the teacher who was nice enough not to beat the fuck out of me allowed Laurie to do it.
“Now, Laurie, that’s not nice,” the teacher occasionally would say, when the girl hit, kicked or bit me. Laurie also tried to break my fingers by turning them back. Each time Laurie was told she wasn’t being nice, the abuse would stop for a couple of minutes and then resume. The teacher didn’t nag her about it, so the abuse I suffered was almost constant.
Repeatedly, I told the teacher I wanted Laurie kept away from me, and the teacher always replied, “When Laurie finds out how nice you are, you’ll be friends.”
I became the child who was always paired up with Laurie. I would try to move away from her, and the teacher would scoot me back to the little hellion and say, “Now, you play with Laurie.”
It was obvious what was happening. Laurie was as out of control as the teacher who disappeared, and the new teacher didn’t want her hurting anyone whose parents might complain. I was fair game. I was the answer to keeping Laurie’s behavior contained.
My mother was flattered when the teacher told her I was the best groomed, best behaved child in class. To ensure that a parent isn’t going to suddenly start complaining about the way her child is treated, you’d better do some serious ass kissing. Tell her she’s a good parent.
There was a memorable chant we were taught in that class: When someone hits you, don’t hit back. Tell the teacher. Usually, the teacher was looking directly at me during that horseshit session.
During the chant, there wasn’t one word about the responsibility of the teacher to stop the violence in class, or the responsibility each person has not to be violent in the first place. Whenever we had to bounce back the teacher’s cliché, I thought of something my father said about nonproductive people: He said they stood around with their thumbs up their asses. If I hadn’t been such a timid child, I might have yelled as a conclusion to the pointless chant, Then the teacher stands around with her thumb up her ass.
I spent the rest of that school year with bruises and bite marks. Never mind what happened in subsequent years.
It’s unconscionable for schoolteachers and administrators to ignore cruelty, but it happens all the time. Some bullied children have committed suicide, even after their parents complained repeatedly to schoolteachers and administrators. When a bullied child’s suicide is reported in the media, is that kid regarded by educators as collateral damage? Maybe some adults who work with kids believe everything would be okay if the public just stopped hearing about those tragedies.
After recalling my own childhood bitterness, I’ll quit and post a link to the conversation on The Humanist’s site. It’s grounds for optimism that a parent is seeking help in getting bullying stopped, and the columnist is recognizing a serious problem. Let’s hope the teacher in question is equally interested in averting a Lord of the Flies atmosphere in class.