(Disclosure: This post underwent minor revisions on February 1 and February 2, 2019.)
At the end of this post, please click the link to Nathan Robinson’s opinion piece on The Guardian’s site.
The new Junior Senator from California, Kamala Harris, is one of the early candidates running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020. Bear in mind that the next President will appoint a Secretary of Education.
Our current Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, is far to the right in her political beliefs and does not believe in the constitutional requirement of Separation of Church and State. People who wear red MAGA caps are most likely to be her supporters, and we know who appointed her.
A Secretary of Education is seriously at risk of carrying out every convenient or mistaken belief the President has about schools.
In school, I was the subject of bullying by classmates — and sometimes faculty and other school employees — from Kindergarten on. When I reported the incidents, there were predictable responses from adults that made it clear I would get no help. I almost always stared at the floor, and my shyness and lack of self-confidence made me vulnerable. Everyone could see that I was easy prey.
The school faculty and administration viewed that situation as a good way to contain the bullying so better kids wouldn’t be targeted by those monsters. Other children’s parents might have complained to the school, but my alcoholic parents just blamed me for being bullied, and used it as one of many excuses to tell me I was ruining their lives. It was an arrangement that worked for everyone but me.
In the second half of seventh grade, I finally broke. I was violently nauseated most of the time, and stopped eating altogether for weeks. I choked when I tried to sip water. I was so easily startled I would scream when hearing even small unexpected sounds, and my attention span was reduced to the point where I couldn’t follow a lightweight television show. I rarely slept.
My parents were enraged that I was in the house instead of at school because they didn’t want their child anywhere near them (my father was at home most of the time then because his drinking had caused a liver-related illness). My parents called me filthy names and beat me to try to force me to go to school when I was terrified of more stress at school. My mother suggested she should make me more miserable at home so I would look forward to school. It was a vicious cycle, and I didn’t have a safe place.
A foolish and hateful school psychologist took sides with my parents, and did not carry out her legal duty of reporting the beatings. Among other things, she bragged that she was keeping records that could wipe out my future, so I’d better clean up my act.
A physician — a so-called specialist — who sort of admitted I was sick from school stress recommended a Catholic school because he was Catholic. He expressed no concern for the fact that I had stopped eating (I lost ten pounds while under his care, in spite of being too thin the first time I saw him) and couldn’t drink water without choking.
Against my wishes, in eighth grade I was enrolled in a Catholic elementary school (which had a reputation for being less strict than most) for about two weeks, and couldn’t focus in class. I couldn’t stay organized well enough to comply with the military-type rules, either, such as the specific method of walking in formation with other students. My general school phobia was ignored by the school principal, who told me it was all in my head. The beatings at home continued.
My parents stayed in a consistent rage over the fact that my “spoiled” behavior had forced them to pay school tuition. After two weeks of seeing that I wasn’t promptly becoming an honor student at the Catholic school, they sent me back to the public school system, where the bullying problem had begun — and then resumed. The school psychologist restarted her practice of grabbing me by the wrists to pin both of my arms down to a table, yelling in my face, and accusing me of torturing my parents. She reminded me that her on-the-record remarks about me could ruin my life. I was so badly broken I began having trouble with kids I didn’t even know, when they saw an easy target. In eighth grade I stuck out like an even bigger sore thumb, as the kid who was an easy mark.
After the school psychologist got bored with me and wanted to brutalize a new batch of students, she signed me up for home instruction for the rest of eighth grade.
One day when my parents were in a rare good mood, they stopped at a private high school building they had found by chance while driving by. It was one of those schools that promoted a relaxed environment.
I enrolled in that school for ninth grade, and did better than expected in spite of violent threats from a classmate who was looking for someone vulnerable. The faculty told me to ignore her, and they accused me of exaggerating the seriousness of her behavior.
The following year, that classmate’s boyfriend and some other thugs enrolled at that school, and I couldn’t always walk through the hallway or use the girls’ restroom safely. The faculty told me to relax and stop complaining, and my parents told me to listen to the adults at school.
I stupidly pushed forward in that school, trying to prove I was a good student and worthy of respect that I would never receive. I assisted teachers in basic English classes, and became obsessed with efficiency — until a second breakdown caused me to withdraw again. I was told that was my fault, by people who questioned whether I was even under much stress.
It should be mentioned that in high school I began seeing a private practice psychologist who was supportive. He may have prevented me from harming myself.
I finally got out of that high school near the end of eleventh grade, after passing an equivalency test. Yes, the kid who was broken and respected by practically no one passed a test to graduate early. I wasn’t as stupid as they assumed.
If the 2010 speech delivered at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club by then-District Attorney Kamala Harris still represents her attitude, more children may be at risk of going through something similar to the brutality that could have caused my death when I was young.
Click the link to the Guardian opinion piece and please read Nathan Robinson’s commentary before watching the two minute video on the page. In the video, Kamala Harris said she used her office stationery (with an “artistic rendering” of her District Attorney’s badge printed on the pages) to send letters to all parents with children enrolled in the S.F. Public Schools. She didn’t say how much that cost, didn’t explain the justification for the D.A.’s office obtaining those names and addresses from the San Francisco Unified School District, and didn’t explore the ethics of mass-mailing a veiled threat. She alluded to the “political capital” she “spent,” and laughed about it.
If my own parents had received a letter similar to the one Senator Harris mailed while she was District Attorney, there’s a chance I wouldn’t have survived their reaction.
Unless Senator Harris issues an apology for this disgusting attempt at self-promotion and admits that a student’s absence from school must be addressed honestly as an individual situation, she will not receive my vote in the primary election. On the other hand, in the November 2020 Presidential Election, any Democrat, including Senator Harris, will get my vote. Being flexible will be well worth it to get the country out of the mess we’re in right now.
On the topic of Mr. Robinson’s post, please note that he doesn’t claim children were threatened with jail in District Attorney Harris’s letter. In the video, she says kids were included in the threat.
Most people are quick to denounce aggression toward parents, especially when there’s a complicated situation that isn’t being addressed right. More often, the children are fair game.