Bullying and looking the other way


I looked the other way once.

There were two girls in a reading class I taught who really got to each other. No matter what I tried, they found their way to each other and it always ended up badly. After some tough negotiations, I thought the matter was settled until I received a startling visit from one of the girl’s parents. Apparently all was not well, and I felt chastised and humiliated to know that one of my students felt unsafe, not cared for, and scared to be in my classroom.

How did this happen?

There are no good excuses to offer up. I failed, but I was lucky because a knowing parent did not give up.

A few days ago, my son was called a wimp by someone he considers a friend. He was hurt and mad so we talked about it. The other kid’s parents talked to both of the boys about it and we were lucky to be able to handle it right then and there out in the open. This was an ideal situation if name calling is ever ideal, but this is where it starts.

One day later I listened to one of my college students tell harrowing tales of bullies in a persuasive speech meant to encourage us to be observant and active in our awareness of how kids from elementary school to college treat each other. “Believe me,” he said, “I am gay. I know.”

Two days later my sister-in-law shared that a neighboring 14 year old boy took his own life because he felt bullied after telling people he was gay. Reports indicated that the signs of bullying were there. Teachers and friends and his own parents felt concern but no one understood the depths of his despair.

How many lives will it take?

There is no magic number. We can’t wait for the next life to be the one that wakes us up. I just think we have to do the hard work. I think we have to own up to the fact that we are failing and go for it with the same gusto bullies seem to have.

Second graders in Winona, MN are taught to say, “I don’t like what you are doing and I want you to stop.” It’s direct and simple. They are then taught to find a big person if the bullying continues.

But we big people can’t be the weak link in this chain. We can’t take anything for granted. We can’t assume, hope for the best, pray, and worst of all, let kids be kids. Kids have pure hearts and open minds and they learn what they are taught.

So this begs the question that we must be willing to ask: what are we really teaching them?