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The Bollocks of Bullying – Part One

January 31, 2017

I write fairly often about the abuses of the system when it comes to Justice for Criminals, and that has certainly changed my views of the protections afforded to victims  survivors of violent crimes and the mechanisms in place to assist them, but, long before any of that happened, I had my first taste of being powerless. It was a long, long time ago, but it plays a big role in the decisions that I have made for myself and my children throughout the past several years. It is referred to as “bullying” these days, but it wasn’t always called that and there were no crusades against it like there are now.

Well, the sad truth is, bullying happens within the community as well as at school, and indeed, the school supports, sanctions, and encourages bullying so we need to talk about it openly and honestly.

As you may believe, most abuse is perpetrated by students against other students. While young women can be labeled as aggressors, statistically, it’s boys who are much more likely to become physically violent. As a result, bullying among girls is too often treated with a “Sticks-and-Stones” attitude. School-initiated bullying is a topic that would be met with all the seriousness of a bigfoot sighting.

Bullying used to be narrowly defined as physical altercations between students. It may come as a surprise to many, but bullying normally doesn’t begin with physical acts of aggression. It tends to start out much more subtly. In many cases, the bully actually justifies their behavior and is supported, rewarded, defended, and encouraged by the school/community while their preferred target is dismissed and reprimanded, especially for speaking up in their own defense.

Teachers, staff, administrators and parents are totally obsessed with the notion that everything is bullying – but only when it comes to their own children or their favorite pupils – and that is where the whole thing goes off the rails. The ridiculous “zero-tolerance” policies actually make it possible for not only bullies, but those with authority to abuse the system and create a culture of perpetual victimhood among students.

Bullies, particularly those in positions of “authority”,  are often quite charming at first. They conduct themselves in ways that make others believe they are everything you could hope for in a teacher or community leader. Slowly but surely, you get to see who they really are behind their curtain of flowery, school-sanctioned, politically correct rhetoric. Their true character comes out, and you begin to realize that they’re a different person than what you first perceived them to be. Attempts to expose their behavior results in retaliation on a grand scale. The worst part of these policies result in the alienation of the young people that they are designed to protect and many times, the enforcers are completely ignorant of the damage they are inflicting on the innocent parties they believe to be the villains.

The full spectrum of bullying includes emotional and psychological manipulation where the target is forced to silently accept the power and control the other person has over their lives, decisions and reputation.  It’s called the “cycle of violence.” It’s a pattern where the abuse begins as non-verbal cues, then subtle emotional manipulation that escalates into more overt exercise of power and control, and ultimately, total devastation of the victim who no longer bothers to report the incidents once they have learned to accept their fate. That sounds dreadful, but that isn’t even the worst of it.

The swift and unfounded punishment of alleged ‘bullies’ leads many, if not most, students to remain silent because they know that the retaliation against others who have hurt their feelings will be disproportionate to the actual offense. Yeah, that’s right. “Victims” will police themselves and their responses to other kids being insensitive dickheads because they know when enough-is-enough and they will only tell an adult when they are in over their heads.

That sounds great, right? You can trust the kids you have raised to know their own limits. That might even be ideal, but that is not how zero-tolerance policies work. Any tattletale shit-stirrer can go to any sympathetic adult ear and have their enemies scolded, reprimanded, and punished any time they want even over the objection of the so-called victim. So the bullies aren’t just in control, they have been handed the keys to the kingdom and normal kids who are learning how to be adults no longer have the basic right to let something roll off their backs and cope with it themselves.

Bullying starts with things like consistent, unfounded jealousy and escalates to behavior like isolating the target from their peers usually via some kind-hearted teacher. The manipulations become more intense until the victim accepts that friendships, grades and opportunities to succeed in extracurricular activities are all on the line until the targeted student (and their few remaining allies – including parents) accepts that they are trapped in a system over which they have absolutely no chance to regain control so they coputulate and exhibit the system-mandated “correct” behavior.  While that all seems awful, I wasn’t describing “victims” but also those accused of being the aggressors.

That’s how it The System worked when I was in school, and that is exactly the way it happens now. Abuse of power by more popular (and the wannabe-popular) students is initially subtle and the barely-perceptible manipulation is stressful and confusing, yet easy to rationalize at first. Later, as teachers and administrators come to more fully support the more socially prominent students, manipulative little shits who use the power of the zero tolerance policies to get teachers on their sides, the targeted student and their families, eventually resign themselves to the ever increasing barrage of attacks. After an initial attempt to try to level the playing field, the student is attacked until they are no longer compelled to assert their own rights,

The belief that bullying is only about some nerdy underdog being shoved into a locker to later be rescued by a saintly teacher or a heroic popular kid is an inescapable part of our cultural narrative. Bullying is much more subtle, and the choice of a target for peer bullies is simplified by the adults who lead the way.  The children are paying attention to the actions and attitudes of adults – no matter what words the adults use to justify their actions.

In fourth grade, I was asked to read a sentence out loud in class. The sentence was one of those where the words were all mixed up and out of order.  I was given several chances, but I was just totally unable to read the words in the incorrect order. Every time I opened my mouth the words came out in the correct order.  The teacher was displeased and confused, in the end, you could practically hear her patience running out.

I never did get it right, and I went from being “the smart kid” to “dumbass” in one single incident.  The fallout at recess was terrible. I was mocked and ridiculed by my peers and told to ‘suck it up’ and ‘get over it’ by the teachers. It never occurred to me to make a big deal of it at home. I just internalized the feeling of being stupid and made it my mission to overcome that feeling by being academically perfect. My report card was intact, but my self esteem, yeah, not-so-much. The teacher, Mrs. Armstrong, never had any bad intentions towards me, I liked her and she did her best to be a kind person and a good teacher.

It was a hard lesson, but a necessary one. My teacher with the best of all good intentions inadvertently screwed me over in front of my classmates, and it never crossed her mind that there were consequences to her actions beyond teaching me a lesson. I should have been able to read that silly sentence with its incorrect word order, but I couldn’t. I had been reading since long before I ever walked into a formal classroom setting and was reading on a 12th grade plus level. My brain simply made order of the words and my mouth complied. I learned that people are mean, plain and simple.

The second time I was taken down a notch was in fifth grade, by a first-year teacher, a terrible human being in every aspect of the word, and even worse teacher. The beginning of my decades-long fear and loathing of mathematics started there. I was made to do, and re-do, and re-do one single long division problem for a solid week.  No recess, no free time, and every single second of the day when I couldn’t get the right answer I was made to rework the problem. I got the same answer over and over and over again and it was always the wrong answer.

No one else got the right answer either, but for some reason, I was singled out.  After all of that, it turns out the teacher’s key was wrong. She never even attempted to work the problem herself because she refused to believe that I was right and her precious book was wrong. It was the first time I really hated school. I doubt that my mom even remembers telling me to do what the teacher wanted, suck it up, get it right, move on.

I always read obsessively. I would stay up all night reading – until an hour or so before school. I read everything I could get my hands on. I didn’t have the ability to put down a book once I started it. I remembered nearly everything that I read with a clarity that none of my peers understood.  That, very specifically that, came to bite me in the ass in the sixth grade, and again, when the same teacher moved up to seventh and eighth grade.

Mrs. Scream. The first teacher I ever hated, personally. The one who put me on the principal’s radar.  She held a piece of chalk like it was Thor’s hammer, and any student who dared to contradict her would be smashed to bits by her limitless power.  The greatest lesson she taught was the doctrine of false choices.  For an upcoming test, we were given the option of a) reading the material or b) using Mrs. Scream’s favorite method of SQR3 – Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review.  I had already read the material. In fact, I had read the whole damn textbook pretty early in the year. While the other students obediently took notes, I read another book. I took the test, finished first and answered every question correctly.

She was furious. I was an overly smart and overly smart mouthed little brat, but my greatest folly was believing the teacher when she told the class that we had options. My rejection of her preferred method of study was viewed as a personal attack. Her wrath followed me for the next two years thanks to some fancy new doctrine being implemented by the school and her false sense of superiority. She was an evil dictator who obsessively followed rules and expected others to do the same. Also, her crusade to bring me to heel was child’s play compared to the principal.

The people who should have been looking out for me weren’t much better at their jobs. The guidance counselor was (and still is) a trainwreck. When I was in school, they were just starting to perpetrate the nefarious idea that only people with degrees can be successful adults. During the meeting to plan my classes for my high school years, I told her that I wanted to build buildings. Her response, “Oh, honey, you need lots of math for that, and girls really aren’t good at that.”  Lesson: people with authority are here to crush your dreams. (Thanks to some wonderful people, over a decade later was accepted into the Masters of Architecture Program at a top tier D1 school – no thanks to that useless excuse of a “Guidance Counselor” and I love math and science in a way that I never thought possible.)

Over the next few years, I was in the principal’s office for so many things I couldn’t begin to name them all. I was in ISS for more time than I was in class before I finally quit and got my GED.  At our school, the Principal and Vice Principal’s offices were separated by The Vault  I heard the principal call my best friend a slut and a whore – through the walls of the vault. Before it was all said and done, there were attorneys, the school psychologist, and a few very wonderful teachers who knew the situation and privately offered me counsel, and solace, but ultimately couldn’t risk their jobs to stand up for me.

The intercom at the school made a popping noise before the secretary’s voice came through the speakers. By the end of my sophomore year, I started crying before I ever heard her voice telling the teacher to send me to the office. Just a little while before I quit school for good, I heard one of the most spectacularly insulting things I have ever heard one person say to another when the principal of the school said to my dad, “This is my school, I run it, because I know how to do more than pound nails in a board.” It wasn’t the last time I would hear some arrogant asshole say insulting things to a parent, but the next time, I was on the receiving end.

Not that much time went by before I was summoned to the office again. I don’t even remember what the alleged offence was, but the principal slammed the phone out of my hand before I could call my mother. There were no cell phones then, so students were easy targets completely on their own at the mercy of any supposed authority – so not that much has changed. All I had as a weapon was a spiral notebook and a pencil which i always carried at the instruction of the legal counsel my parents had to hire to protect me from the principal at the school.

The guidance counselor was ready to take notes for the principal when I was physically dragged into the teachers’ lounge, and I prepared to take my own notes since I was all alone, without my parents or lawyer. The principal snapped my pencil, and tore my notebook in half. He called me “Little Miss Lawyer” and screamed the words that still infuriate me to this day, “Who do you think you are? This is MY school.”

I can still hear myself saying, “Fuck YOU” as I walked out of the door of that shitty teachers’ lounge. I even offered to spell FUCK for the guidance counselor before I left. I had to drive home to call my mom to tell her. School is supposed to be a safe place and a place to learn. For me, it was hell on earth. Every attempt my parents made to do the right thing only made things worse. So, now, especially now, I mostly try to keep my mouth shut when my kids get screwed over at school because the number one lesson I learned as a kid is that fighting for what is right does more harm than good. In today’s climate of pervasive SJW/PC policies, it is even worse now because at even a hint of someone being booty-hurt children are punished for inadvertently – supposedly – maybe – possibly – potentially offending some other child’s delicate sensibilities.

In retrospect, many of my problems at school had to do with personal issues between my mom and the administration. Our community standing as a family, the cliques among the community members and my refusal to be a team player (literally because I refused to participate in sports which is a Sin in a small school) all played a critical role in my hatred of school and the subsequent delay in my attendance at an institution of higher education. As a result, I am very sensitive to how I am viewed as a parent now, and I just don’t have the ability to be a pillar of the community where I am forcing my kids to live now, but I will get to that later.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

 

 

 

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