Elementary school’s advice to bullied students: “Don’t bother us.”

Schoolyard bullies don’t always stay that way. In fact, I’d wager that a majority of them gain perspective with maturity, grow out of whatever insecurities are driving them to inflict abuse on other children, and ultimately grow up to be decent people. That’s a separate issue from how their victims deal with the effects of bullying, but still, the bullies themselves don’t necessarily stay that way.

Then again, sometimes they refuse to grow out of their juvenile aggression as they grow older, bigger and more adept at putting an acceptable face on their abusiveness. They take jobs in school systems and form committees with other adult bullies to write “Advice for Dealing With Bullies” flyers to be sent home with vulnerable fifth-graders. Witness this fuckery from Zeman Elementary School in Lincoln, Nebraska.

These “rules” shouldn’t be labeled as advice for dealing with bullies. They should be called “Ways We Can Get You Goddamn Kids to Act So We Never Have to Deal With Your Problems Ever.” Also—did no one at this school give a second thought to the fact that children might read these rules and think this is how they should deal with bullies in their home life? Is someone in your family verbally or physically abusing you? Laugh it off! Make a joke about how ugly your sister is!

Don’t worry though, after being inundated with outraged parents, the school district responded and apologized, with a portion of a letter written by the school’s principal:

A flyer that contained inaccurate information regarding how to handle bullying situations was sent home with Zeman Elementary School fifth-graders.


Our educators at Zeman Elementary School work hard to provide accurate and appropriate lessons and education for our students in how to handle bullying situations. The flyer was sent home with good intentions, unfortunately, it contained advice that did not accurately reflect LPS best practices regarding response to bullying incidents.

The post also included a link to a better, far less shitty anti-bullying fact sheet (which apparently no one thought to Google before making this terrible flyer).

Note the weaselly use of the passive voice in the principal’s response. “Mistakes were made! We meant well, really we did!”

I have screen-capped and saved the flyer here. Proceed with caution unless you have a strong stomach for abuse-enabling bullshit.

If you don’t have a strong stomach, I’ll save you the trouble: this flyer does not contain advice to bullied children about how to keep themselves safe or make their school experiences better. It is a fetid pile of Orwellian victim-blaming. It is the result of a clutch of adult-aged bullies getting together and talking about the environment they wished had been available to them when they were kids—not so that they would’ve developed in such a way that they would’ve behaved decently to their peers in the first place!—but so they could’ve avoided the stress of thinking maybe they were doing something wrong.

I won’t let the school administration off the hook by laying this strictly at the feet of a handful of shitty people, though. The fact that this flyer went home with kids is a symptom of a school that doesn’t know how to deal with bullying and doesn’t care enough to learn how. Telling bullied kids how they might respond to their abusers can be part of a sound anti-bullying strategy, provided the advice is evidence-based, which this crap clearly isn’t. It shouldn’t be the central focus, though. Do they ever send information home to parents about the school’s anti-bullying policies, and what to expect if their kids are found abusing other kids? Do they even have anti-bullying policies aside from telling the targeted children to suck it up and act like everything’s fine? The burden for making children safe at school should not fall squarely on the shoulders of the children who are already being made unsafe. Children don’t get a choice about going to school, and they barely get a choice about where they go to school. They are required by law to attend school until at least age 16, which means they have no choice but to spend 6 hours a day, 180 days a year, in buildings along with hundreds of other kids who also didn’t ask to be there. The adults in charge of running those schools need to give a fuck about what those kids do to each other when they’re forced into dense physical proximity for the better part of the day. Adults in positions of responsibility need to stop passing the buck and start acting like responsible adults.

Bullied Students Have No Good Options

A kid in Pennsylvania’s being treated like an offender for getting video footage of his bullies:

A 15-year old boy with ADHD, comprehension delay disorder, and an anxiety disorder recorded classmates bullying him in school. But instead of reprimanding the tormentors, school officials targeted the boy for wiretapping — and he was later convicted of disorderly conduct by a district judge.

Using an iPad, a student at South Fayette High School in Pennsylvania whose name is undisclosed, recorded a seven minute video of his peers trying to harass him. In the recording, two other students discuss pulling the victim’s pants down, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. And a loud noise is heard further into the recording, after which a student said, “I was just trying to scare him.”

According to the victim, being bullied is a daily occurrence. Speaking to South Fayette District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet, he explained, “This wasn’t just a one-time thing. This always happens every day in that class.” He revealed that he used the iPad to expose what was happening to him. “Because I always felt like it wasn’t me being heard,” the boy told McGraw-Dismet.

The high school staff knew about the bullying prior to the iPad incident. Assistant Principal Aaron Skrbin testified that Shea Love, the victim’s mother, previously voiced concerns about the tormentors. Last October, she approached the school when a classmate targeted the victim with spitwads — but Skrbin did not “[classify] that as bullying.”

When school officials learned about the recording, Principal Scott Milburn contacted local police on February 12, for what he considered a “wiretapping incident.” After approaching the boy for questioning, South Fayette Lieutenant Robert Kurta told him to dispose of the recording, and charged him with disorderly conduct. In Pennsylvania, the low-level crime is known as a “summary offense,” and does not typically result in jail time for juveniles. Nonetheless, they can stay on a juvenile’s criminal record. McGraw-Desmet later upheld the charges, fining the student “a minimum of $25.” The 15-year old was also ordered to pay court costs. Love is currently trying to get the decision reversed.

I think it’s rather strange that they’re labeling this a “wiretapping incident,” but from the angle of the principal trying to avoid criminal liability, he does have reason for concern. It is illegal in PA to record someone without their consent. I’m sure the kid didn’t know that, however, and surely there were better ways of handling the situation.

The boy in question is ultimately being punished for his school’s inability (or refusal) to respond constructively to bullying. He and his mother tried to tell the school administration about the patterns of bullying behavior, and the school did not take them seriously. They left this vulnerable, special-needs boy to twist in the wind, and he took matters into his own hands. He behaved in a way that pre-supposed the administrators would finally take action if they saw concrete evidence of bullying behavior directed at him.

Instead, they took action against the bullying victim and continued to give the bullies space to do what they want.

It’s additionally revealing that the school decided to focus on the victim doing something unlawful, because many of the behaviors that we recognize as “bullying” when they happen between minor children at school tend to be treated as “criminal offenses” when they take place between adults outside of an educational setting. Pulling the boy’s pants down without his consent? That’s assault. “Just trying to scare him”? That’s menacing. Kids make other kids’ lives miserable every day and face no consequences for it because school staff put their heads in the sand.

(Note: I do not think it’s appropriate for schools to turn students over to law enforcement for bullying behaviors. I think these matters should be handled within the school. If the offending students do not respond to disciplinary measures, except perhaps by escalating, then it’s arguably appropriate for the police to get involved. Initially, though, it should be handled as an in-school disciplinary matter. The problem is that this school, along with most other public schools around the country, isn’t doing anything about bullying.)

But recording assault and menacing on video? That’s a matter for the police, says the principal. Mr. Milburn has no empathy for a kid who’s under attack every day. Lt. Kurta and Judge McGraw-Desmet also have no empathy. They are uninterested in protecting the safety and dignity of civilians in their jurisdiction. They care about the status quo.

No heroes allowed: Calgary student, 13, reprimanded for defending his classmate against a knife-wielding bully

Sure, the kid’s throat might have been slit, but that’s beside the point.

The administrators at Sir John A. Macdonald junior high school are fucking idiots who are effectively supporting bullies. It’s one thing to say you’re not going to ENCOURAGE kids to jump into life-threatening situations. That’s fine. But when a kid DOES intervene and possibly saves another kid from getting KILLED, you don’t fucking PUNISH him for playing the hero!

By all means, keep telling the bullies that their well-meaning classmates are not allowed to get in their way. Keep on teaching kids to be passive in the face of aggression.

Leah O’Donnell, you’re a great parent. Briar MacLean, you’re a good kid and you absolutely did the right thing. We need more families like you. Don’t let those bastards grind you down.

Shame on you, PGCPS!

This is not the way to teach kids that bullying is wrong. This is, in fact, part of the problem.

Starting last fall, some seventh grade health classes in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system were shown an anti-bullying video that promoted gay-to-straight therapy as an option for LGBTQ youth. When City Desk started asking question about the video this week, the school system pulled it from classrooms. Despite the best efforts of a prominent therapist in the homophobic ex-gay movement who is also a member of the school system’s Health Council, students learning about bullying will no longer learn about the widely discredited form of counseling.

I live in Prince George’s County. I attended its public schools for twelve years. We voted over 50% in favor of Question 6, which means we made a major contribution to legalizing same-sex marriage in our state. Our teachers gave us factual, evidence-based sex ed when I was a student. The school system really ought to know better than to buy into this shit.

Telling bullied children that they need to change themselves—particularly when the changes are to aspects of their identities that aren’t within their control and really don’t hurt anyone—to stop other children from tormenting them is the very opposite of bullying prevention. It tells the bullies that they are in the right. It tells the kids on the receiving end of peer abuse that they deserve it. One might even call this strategy a form of bullying in itself.

ETA: Zinnia Jones brings us a little reminder of just how well ex-gay therapy actually works.

It is not a crime to have boobs in 6th grade.

I want to chase them all out of the building with a baseball bat. From Jezebel:

“It makes me feel like now you are telling me it’s my fault, it’s God’s fault the way he made her. The lady on the phone said they could transfer my daughter and said her boobs were so large she will always get teased. And the only suggestion she had for me is to have my daughter get a breast reduction,” said Jackson.

I had the opposite problem in adolescence, and this still makes me see red.

This is a theme I’m exploring in a Young Adult novel that I have in the planning stages: society says that All Children Must Be Educated. Therefore, the school system has a responsibility to see that the children do not destroy one another. It would be nice to say that the parents are responsible for making sure their children do not engage in bullying, but unfortunately, a lot of parents are not on the ball.

If you are in the position of educating the next generation, and you see some children abusing another because of her body type, and your response is that the bullied child should change her body type? You are not only abdicating your responsibility to the bullied child, you are, in fact, contributing to the problem.

If the school system does not have the resources to deal with the bullies, AKA the children who are actually causing the problems, then they should be given the proper resources. A girl with big tits has just as much right as anyone else to a safe educational environment. If the school system doesn’t know how to make the offending children leave her alone, then they should provide her with a private tutor. Telling her mother to put her daughter under the knife to stop the bullying is the same as telling the girl that she deserves to be tormented because of the way her body looks. It is an unacceptable response. Don’t fucking tell me that everyone is an asshole at that age; they are not. Children who behave like animals every time they see someone who looks different need to be taught not to behave like animals. If they cannot learn that simple lesson, they should not be allowed to run loose.

Sometimes, I just want to hole up in my little garrett and hunch over a typewriter.

You may have noticed lately that this blog is becoming more about writing and less about discussing socio-political issues. Part of that is quite prosaic: I write books, so I’m trying to be a part of the writing community and perhaps just a little trying to promote my books. Part of it is that discussing the issues is so fraught with derailment, hostility, silencing tactics and other douchebaggery.

If you have an even passing familiarity with FreeThoughtBlogs, you’ve probably heard that Thunderf00t has revealed himself as—how can I put this politely?—a net negative to the atheist community. PZ Myers gives us a handy summary and link farm post about the shit that TF has forced FTB to handle. I tend to agree with Ed Brayton that—again, putting this politely—TF should not be a respected figure in the atheist/freethought community anymore. He is a disruptive figure, and not in a creative way, just a destructive, energy-squandering way. I find Natalie Reed’s post on the destruction and energy-squandering the most relevant, however. If you’re ambivalent or apathetic about what Thunderf00t did to FTB, I urge you to read her post, and if you think that his conduct towards her is not that big a deal, please do not ever darken my virtual doorstep again. I am in no mood to engage with your callousness.

As if that’s not enough, she has to deal with derailing comments even on a post filled with that much vulnerability and exhaustion from people who think that their pet issues and reputations are so much more important than the dangers that she’s up against. This is the sort of environment that makes me want to say, “You know what? Fuck it. Nothing but fiction excerpts and grammar advice from now on.”

Which is not to say that I’m vowing never to write about real-world issues again. The real-world-issues blogging will still happen, not the least because the issues tend to come up in my fiction. Charlinder’s Walk engaged with ALL the socio-political issues. This sounds like hyperbole, but I’m only exaggerating a little. Religion/skepticism, science, education, gender/sexuality, environment, poverty, family, technology, caste, visceral racism, culture…ALL THE ISSUES. My future novels will be a bit more…contained, in terms of handling social issues. Fait Accompli mostly has to do with women’s bodily autonomy, focused on reproductive freedom and lesbian rights. Book 4 (tentatively titled Suicide is for Mortals) is perhaps more philosophical, but it deals with things like addiction, poverty, human trafficking and social isolation. I’m also planning a YA novel focused on bullying. Stuff will continue to appear on this blog. But at the moment, I’m seeing shit happen in the freethought community that destroys my interest in blogging about anything outside of indie writing.

This is me, choosing my battles.

Amazingly enough, not all teenagers are horrible people.

It would have been so nice to go the rest of my life without talking about Mitt Romney, but something is bugging me and I need to get it off my chest.

You may have heard that this happened, and Mittens is unsurprisingly having to deal with a lot of bad press. At first I wanted to make some keen insight into how his teenage assholery relates to his current persona as a stiff, awkward, emotion-deficient robot, but no, what’s really getting under my skin at the moment is all these Internet commenters saying things to the effect of, “Oh, what does it matter if he bullied some kid in high school? We all know he’s an asshole anyway, so who cares?” Even worse are the ones saying, “Everyone’s an asshole in high school.”

Gee, how do I answer this? How about:


Holding another kid down on the floor and going at him with a pair of scissors is not some trivial, “We all do stupid shit when we’re young” fit of adolescent indiscretion. What Romney did to the late John Lauber was an act of violence, and a terrifying one at that. I’m willing to discuss the culture at the place and time, and how Romney didn’t get to be that way all by himself, but if you think Romney’s behavior was just typical teenage-boy bullshit, then you must have run with a really bad crowd. I never did shit like that in high school (though I suppose the expectations are different for girls?), my brother didn’t act like that, and I had a whole lot of guy friends and classmates who, amazingly enough, managed to get through their high school years without acting like bullies. Anti-social behavior is not inevitable simply because a guy is between the ages of 13 and 20, and when a grown man is called out for having attacked another boy at his prep school, he should show some remorse. He should, at the very least, admit that what he did was shitty and that he’s not proud of it. Such a resounding lack of acknowledgment is especially terrifying in a man who has raised five sons.

Free us from the tyranny of low expectations.

Bullying is wrong with imperfect victims.

I keep seeing this meme floating around the Interwebs:

Now I’ll tell you why this thing bugs me.

That boy you punched in the hall today? He’s going to soldier on, finish school and put your bullshit behind him.

That girl you called a slut in class today? She enjoys sex with her boyfriend, and sometimes with boys (or perhaps girls) with whom she isn’t in a committed relationship.

That boy you called lame? He just has lousy social skills.

That girl you pushed down the other day? Has a perfectly stable, safe home life.

That girl you called fat? She eats normally and has a slow metabolism.

The old man with the ugly scars? He did something idiotic with gasoline and a lit match, back when he was young and impulsive much like you are now.

The boy you made fun of for crying? He’s sensitive and awkward.

So, is it okay to bully them, now? Really? All you have to do is make sure your assumptions are correct, and then it’s open season on anyone who appears vulnerable?

Do people have to be perfect victims, or helpless to withstand negative attention, to be worthy of common decency?

How about this? If you’re against bullying, then stand up for the safety and dignity of the less-than-perfect victims. If bullying is wrong, then there should be no gaping loopholes.

Anoka-Hennepin suit settled on the side of sanity and compassion.

When “neutrality” means looking the other way while some teenagers torment and terrorize others to the point of suicide, neutrality doesn’t lead to anything good:

At first, the school board stood by a curriculum policy passed in 2009, which on paper instructed teachers to “remain neutral” about sexual orientation and in practice operated as a gag order. Teachers were required to refrain from saying that being gay is not a choice, even if they were quoting the position of the American Psychological Association. When history teachers included gay rights in a unit about how the strategies of the black civil rights groups influenced subsequent movements, the district deleted the reference. For a staff diversity training session, the district rejected a book called How Homophobia Hurts Children   because it did not “include an opposing viewpoint.” The schools also scrubbed LBGT support services, like a gay and lesbian helpline, from the list of health resources given to students. And a conservative Christian parents’ group called the Parents Action League pushed for teaching gay students about “reparative therapy”—how to root out their homosexuality—by promoting groups that treat it as a sin against the will of God. In 2010 the head of the group told the Minnesota Independent that LGBT students had killed themselves not because of bullying, but because of “homosexual indoctrination” and their own “unhealthy lifestyle.” (The statewide sponsor of the Parents Action League is a group called the Minnesota Family Council; last spring, Bachmannn and Newt Gingrich were the headline speakers for an MFC fundraiser.)

In theory, I’m sure the district’s “remain neutral” policy was about not taking a side, simply staying out of the debate over the dignity and rights of sexual minorities, but no matter how you spin it, when students have to go to school in this kind of environment, refusing to take a side is effectively leaving bullied students to suffer. It is morally bankrupt for a school district to tell its teachers to keep their mouths shut about the fact that people of different sexual orientations do exist and that they’re up against a lot of violence and hate because of their minority status, when they have many students keeping that violence and hate very much alive in the schools’ hallways.

So, let’s call a spade a spade: teachers were instructed to put arbitrary, artificial limits on their teaching of psychology and history. IOW, teachers were asked not to teach too much in certain subjects, lest their students be too educated about sociological issues surrounding certain people who were already their classmates. The Parents Action League are instructors and enablers of bullies. Ta-Nehisi Coates points out that homophobic teenagers don’t get that way all by themselves:

I’ve argued in this space before that homophobic kids do not spring from the wretched earth, but are often stewarded by homophobic adults–the kind of adults who abolish LBGT support services, promote reparative “therapy,” and deem homosexuality a sin against God.

Parents Action League, under the guidance of Minnesota Family Council, are undoubtedly the parents of many of the current worst perpetrators of homophobic bullying in Anoka-Hennepin schools. They are asking for their children to have carte blanche to assault and abuse their peers who do not march in perfect lockstep with gender norms. PAL are themselves current perpetrators of bullying by telling the Minnesota Independent that homosexual indoctrination and gays’ unhealthy lifestyle, rather than bullying, are what lead to suicide. Again from TNC:

What I like about the settlement in Minnesota is that it doesn’t simply pass the buck by calling on kids to dime out each other. It’s easy to pass this off simply as kids being cruel. Surely kids often are cruel and need instruction on compassion. But beating and pissing on people for being gay is about a kind of cruelty which is regularly endorsed in the polite corridors of the country.

This is not simply a matter of kids being kids. When you take hundreds of children and stuff them all into the same building for six hours a day, a certain amount of cruelty is inevitable, but the impulse to beat queer or non-gender-conforming people to the ground doesn’t occur without some adult input. Adults are responsible for putting all those teenagers, some of whom are more bigoted and/or aggressive than others, and some of whom are more vulnerable to abuse than others, into the same building for several hours a day, adults are responsible for teaching some youngsters that queer or non-gender-conforming people are abnormal and need to be attacked, and adults are responsible for what happens to those youngsters at other teenagers’ hands when they are forced into a common environment. I would blame parents more than teachers for students’ homophobic bullying, but since those parents are clearly uninterested in teaching their children any differently, it will have to fall to the school system to protect their students from others.

Why are you reaching out to bullied gay teens when there are women who are NOT HAVING BABIES?

Truthwinsout shows us this…fascinating letter from one Stephen M. King, professor of Public Policy at Southeastern University, who has something to say about gay teens committing suicide due to bullying:

Sue Carlton of the St. Petersburg Times lauded (op-ed column, Aug. 17) the community responsibility ethic of some of the Tampa Bay Rays’ players, and some fans, who made a video. The effort is titled “It Gets Better,” and is aimed at bringing attention to the abuse and bullying endured by teenagers who practice homosexuality and lesbianism.

While I applaud the Rays’ players, front office and fans for bringing to the public’s attention the ever-increasing use of bullying in today’s public school system, and for their encouragement of the bullied teenagers to stay encouraged because “the world gets bigger and more accepting,” I do not agree with their efforts to highlight only a fraction of students who are bullied.

“Who practice homosexuality and lesbianism”? That right there is a signal that some serious wingnuttery is on its way. Homosexuality AND lesbianism? Here I thought the latter was a subset of the former! We won’t even get into the assumptions behind the idea of what these students “practice.” (I have no doubt Prof. King likes to rant about the “homosexual lifestyle.”)

But even with that going on, one might suspect, based on those two paragraphs, that the professor might have something of value to say about teen bullying. Does he want to see more of a conversation on bullying in general? Does he want to see more attention given to the plight of students who are bullied for their appearance, income bracket, race, national origin (whether perceived or actual), religion, or some other failure to conform? That would be great! I am all in favor of seeing more discussion of childhood and teen bullying in general!

So, what does Prof. King have to say next? If you enjoy embryo-worshipping wingnuttery, let’s just say: It Gets Better. Oh, it gets SO much better.

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