When I was six years old and in second grade, I was so proud of my new Christmas mittens. Not only did they keep my hands warm on my long walk to school, but they were also beautiful. Red leather and white bunny fur.
At the third and last bridge I crossed on my way to school, I could see the red-brick school building just ahead, and I began to think about how impressed my little friends in Miss Maggard’s room would be when I showed them what Santa had brought me.
“Give ‘em to me,” Margaret Ann Clowers said as I joined the crowd of children on that bridge. I knew what she meant, and I hoped against hope that she just wanted to try them on. That was not to be. She scurried to the middle of the bridge and threw them into the Poor Fork Branch of the Cumberland River.
I rushed to the side of the bridge, and in my mind’s eye decades later, I can still see those mittens being swept away in the cold, rushing, ice-laden river.
Have I ever bullied anyone? Yes, I bullied my brother, two years younger than me, when we were young; my middle sister Marilyn, 15 months older than me, bullied me- decade after decade even after we were adults.
As a female president/chancellor in the last two decades of the twentieth century in colleges from Kentucky to California, I was bullied. By then, however, I had the tools I needed to persevere, to recognize and often defeat my adversaries. Now, I just ignore bullies, something my mother taught me to do in public arenas when I was a child.
Bullying is rampant in some families, schools, and workplaces. We see it in the U.S. Congress, and our previous president was, and is, masterful at bullying as a tool to denigrate/humiliate/embarrass others.
My college students write editorial/opinion essays, and an author of a piece on bullying that I received recently has given me permission to share some of her words.
She writes, “The only thing that the school I attended does to stop bullying is to place signs around the school hallways that read, ‘No Bully Zone.’” She relates that the bullying of her began in this district when she was in first grade where on the school bus, she was forced “to see and learn about explicit things” and that the school knew but failed to act.
As a high school athlete, not a great one she admits, she had a panic attack on the court because as she writes, “an impudent teammate was whispering insulting words to me, so degrading that I couldn’t take it anymore. I ran off the court bawling and hyperventilating. The athletic director was standing in the doorway, and I made eye contact with him through a blur of tears, and he just had a look of disappointment in me and looked back up to watch the rest of the game. Everyone continued as if nothing had happened.”
She writes that she can no longer remember the enjoyable moments of high school because she has tried so hard to forget everything that happened there. Her advice to those in that school is “Do better.”
So how can they do better? Some would maintain that bullying is rampant, that school personnel are already overloaded with responsibilities, and that involving parents and legal maneuvering is not their forte.
StopBullying.gov is a good place to begin with the admonition from this government web site that indicates corrective action should start early and be consistent. Perhaps in-service days for faculty should provide that school district and others with action plans that can be implemented. Survey instruments completed by students and teachers can indicate the successes of such programs as well as areas that need more attention in an ongoing process of addressing bullying.
Additionally, parents and other caregivers should be aware that complaint procedures are in place and although they may be intimidating, caregivers are responsible for protecting their children. It’s way too late when a child has engaged in self harm that ends in his/her death. It’s too late for persons who knew about the bullying to report to the media, “I thought he was depressed and I knew he had been bullied at school, but… .” Google “Bullied to Death in America’s Schools” if you’re interested in examples.
In conclusion, as a parent, it’s critically important that you keep the lines of communication open with your children as you teach them options for facing obstacles and keep yourself updated on said options. Know that as a caregiver, you have an important voice, and you need to use it as you petition the hierarchy to make positive changes in schools. One mention of the school board and the media will get the attention of those who choose to ignore bullying in the schools in which they are employed.
PS: Bullying in the home and workplace warrant attention, but I have a limit on column length.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., teaches telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and works with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or [email protected]