According to numerous reports, a teenager was bullied at West Middle School in metro Denver. The boy had pencils, markers and a calculator taken; he was called fat; he was called “gay” because he was involved in musical theater; because he was from musical theater, he was called a “Nazi.” Eventually, he tried fighting back against his tormentors. But he wasn’t big or strong enough and was beaten severely. He suffered a broken collar bone and head injury. The published picture of him is self-evident. Now that the case has become public, the community is in an uproar and the Cherry Creek School District has responded by expelling the bully. The bullied boy has reported that the bully threatened to beat him more when he returns. Three other students, who also threatened to beat up the victim, have been required to sign contracts that they won’t harass the boy. That’s nice of the school district to go that far. Of course the legal wrangling will go on for a long time.
There’s so much to say about this example of hostility, abuse and brutality. I want to comment on only a few areas.
The adults failed. Whether they blame the legal system or say they didn’t know; they failed. Since the severe beating happened at the end of November, don’t you think that every student in school knew what was happening?
The parents of the bully and his collaborators failed. They are supposed to know their children’s character and to stop their children’s bullying.
The teachers failed. They are supposed to know who torments, abuses and bully’s another student and they are supposed to stop it. They allowed a hostile, abusive environment to continue. If the typical educational approaches don’t work rapidly, they are supposed to intervene in other ways.
The principal failed. The principal is supposed to set a tone of zero tolerance. The principal is supposed to be courageous enough to cut through the legal red tape and somehow stop bullies. If the teachers don’t stop it, the principal is supposed to stop it and then get rid of those cowardly and/or ignorant teachers. The worst beating happened at the end of November and the principal did nothing effective for three months until the story became public.
The administrators in the school district failed. The administrators are supposed to be courageous enough to cut through the legal red tape and somehow stop bullying. If the principal doesn’t stop it, the school district administrators are supposed to step in and then get rid of that cowardly and/or ignorant principal. The worst beating happened at the end of November and the district administrators did nothing effective for three months until the story became public.
How can we hold up these teachers, principal and school district administrators as models for children? They have failed as models. Despite, or maybe because of, their colleges and universities, their degrees and certifications, their possible expertise in some course matter, they have shown themselves to be ignorant or cowardly or inept or all three. They have failed the public trust and are unfit to be teachers, principal or administrators.
They should not be allowed to hide behind a poor legal system. We all know that there are schools in the most violent locations in which courageous administrators, principals and teachers bullying. And they do it in the face of the same.
The 14 year-old boy who was bullied has shown himself to be courageous. He has succeeded. At first he did what we all try to do. We try accommodating in hopes that the bully will move on. We ask bullies to stop; we take the bullying; we try to understand what lousy home lives we think bullies must have; we try to rise above it. These tactics may stop many kids who are temporarily trying on bullying to see what it feels like, but those tactics don’t stop dedicated, relentless bullies. They are not effective for teaching children to stop bullies at school.
Eventually that boy fought. I say he succeeded because, even though he was severely beaten he did what was necessary to try to stop his tormentors. He lost the fight but he emerges as the one person who is not a coward in this affair. He can hold his head up high all his life. He can keep his self-esteem. He can judge the adults as cowards and failures. I hope he is resilient enough to bounce back and continues to resist to bullies the rest of his life. I hope that when he becomes an adult with more choices, he creates a personal life that is bully-free. Sometimes, a tormented teen can fight back and win – as in the case of the “Teen acquitted in punch.”
Of course, bullies will always exist . America is not unique, nor are we the worst people in the world. We are outraged and we will try to make better systems. And more important, we still must train , seek and hire people who can act effectively, no matter how poor the system is at any moment. And we must educate and prepare individuals to be as courageous as that 14 year-old boy.
Among other places, this story was carried by the Denver Post (Bullies called teen “Nazi” and “gay”), 9news (Student says he was bullied, beaten because he’s German), the Denver Channel News (Boy: School Bullies Harassed Him Because Of German Ancestry) and the Denver Post Neighbors Forum (Article Discussion: Cherry Creek teen may face bully in court).