To the Editor:
The recent local and national headlines relating to education (dropout rates) and bullying have more than caught my interest. I believe there is a connection between the two. Having been involved with many youth organizations – from inner city to suburbs, from special needs to ESL – ALL children need direction – they need compassionate but firm adults directing them towards success.
As a business owner, volunteer and an active member of this community for 30+ years, I have many friends that are police officers, teachers, educators, politicians, and principals. This letter is not intended to bash teachers, police officers, or the system as a whole. Rather it is one parent’s interpretation of a system gone hay-wired; that, unfortunately, can be told by many parents.
Children learn what they live. Someone who threatens, intimidates, or badgers people who are smaller or weaker than he/she is (definition of bully). We as a community and a society need to know that the threat is more fierce with the ones that hold power (ie educators, police officers, coaches,).
I have had a teacher quietly tell me “keep ‘James’ away from ‘Johnny’” – what she was doing was alienating and manipulating that peers stay away from this child. I have heard a coach say “you are acting like a queerboy – go home and play with your dolls”. I have heard kids talking and I quote, “I can’t be friends with you at school or the teacher won’t like me” – whether silent or spoken, this is the message that is being perceived by children. I have witnessed adult behavior in the schools and in the sports arena that, without doubt, constitutes bullying.
Imagine being a 7 year old – maybe a child with a learning disability or a difficult home life, being separated or segregated, not by your peers – but by your teacher. The teacher notes (aka labels) in your education file “difficult”. As you progress, each teacher adds her own comments (generally based from previous comments) of “difficult behavior”. You have learned from adults that you are supposed to be difficult and that you cannot learn – by tenth grade, you have absolutely no desire to learn or be in a classroom. When you are uneducated, unemployed, and pregnant at 19 – everyone questions “what happened?” Worse, as a 16 year old you take your life and leave behind the unanswered question “what if?” Imagine an early elementary teacher (2nd grade) referring to her students by numbers instead of names and telling parents at an open house “your children are suppose to hate coming here… they will fear me”. Imagine being 10 and having the onset of an invisible medical condition, that teachers, nor the system are able to accept and have “labeled” you disruptive and most likely to fail.
Now, imagine 10 years of being ridiculed, separated, or even neglected by a system that is suppose to support and educate you. Most adults wouldn’t stay at a job where a boss was responsible for such treatment –so why are the adults surprised when 9th or 10th graders don’t want to stay in place that has destined them to be failures.
An educator as a bully does more harm to a child than any other type of bully scenario. Statistically (nationwide) the majority of suicides under age 16 are contributed to an educator that has bullied the victim. Statistically (nationwide) the majority of dropouts are contributed to the system not working – to educators using power to maneuver the system and segregate the “labeled” kids early on.
An accurate (but disturbing) documentary (“Waiting for Superman”) which highlights the state of our schools across the nation should be watched by every parent of school aged children. Traveling the road for services and accommodations has many speed bumps and hairpin turns. Never knowing what to expect at a meeting lopsided with one parent and several educators; often receiving safe “canned” responses such as – “we are educators not doctors” or “they are doctors not educators.”
The delayed process in obtaining services and/or accommodations will not only hinder most children academically and socially, but also drain the parents in the process. There is a reason home schooling and alternative learning environments continue to grow at a rapid rate every year. Nationwide, the public school system needs a complete overhaul.
I have watched, helplessly, children from inner city schools to suburb schools continue to fail. I am grateful that I have the resources, knowledge, and flexibility that falling through the cracks and/or failing is just not an option for my child(ren). However, there are many children from varied economic backgrounds (this is not just an inner city problem) that aren’t so lucky – these are the “throw away kids” that could of, would of, should of, if only…