Friday, September 23, 2011

Bullying Is Never Acceptable Behavior

Bullying is never acceptable behavior. Not in grade school. Not in secondary school. Not in high school. Not in life.

We all hear disturbing tales about students who are bullied by their peers. They are not part of the "in" crowd. They may be geeks. They may be homely. They may be overweight. Bullies find the weak spot and go for it. And it causes pain, sometimes lasting all the victim's life.

Let's not forget that bullies need victims. It's not enough to "turn the other cheek," as my grandmother taught me. Once such a turning earned me a smack on the back of my head by a girl I thought was my friend. She wasn't. (Odd, she reached out a couple of years ago and asked to "friend" me on Facebook. I love the Ignore button.)

Student victims don't want to talk about what's happening to them. Sometimes, they are ashamed of the treatment. Sometimes, they don't recognize what's happening to them is bullying. Sometimes, they lack the words themselves.

And sometimes, an adult comes along and provides a vehicle to start the conversation. The latest is a book originially published in 1989. Eaglebait by Susan Coryell was reprinted and released this year. The novel tells the story of Wardy Sparks, a 14-year-old high school geek who falls prey to the popular kids. As kids did in 1989 and do today, he struggled with whom to tell, how to explain what was happening. He finds a mentor who helps him cope and develop self-esteem.

"Being bullied doesn't build character," says author Coryell. "Years and years later they still remember the details." Coryell speaks on panels with educators (she's a retired school teacher), counselors and psychology professors as an expert on bullying.

I was bullied. I can relate to Wardy. I moved to a new school in tenth grade. I didn't know the rules. I didn't know I couldn't talk with some of the minorities in my classes. (I moved from Southern California to Colorado. The Rainbow Coalition was in every class in California. If I didn't hang with minorities, I didn't hang with anyone.) My counselor, who was supposed to help me, told me I was stupid and might get into the local junior college. She even refused to sign my application forms for college. Thank you, Mr. P, our principal, who was my "pal." He signed everything in time for me to be accepted into UCLA as an out-of-state student. And thank you, Mr. P, for the nice letter you sent when I graduated (again) from USC with my doctorate.

But this post isn't about me. It's about giving students a voice. Try Eaglebait if you think a student is reluctant to talk about bad behavior. Help a child.

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