March 28, 2007

Pansy Milquetoast

Colman McCarthy: To battle the tradition of bullying

Child abuse receives ample amounts of public attention -- from the courts, the police, social workers and the media. Less noticed, though, are children abusing children. The National Association of School Psychologists reports that more than 5 million elementary, middle school and high school children are consistently bullied. More than 6 million frequently do the bullying. In the school of hard knocks, enrollment starts early with shaming, taunting, mocking, beating and intimidating.

Okay, look, I was bullied around in elementary and high school, but some of my greatest memories from that time revolved around me getting even with bullies. Also, if you can't deal with shaming, taunting, mocking and intimidation, then I'd argue you're not particularly well-equipped to deal with the real world. Beating? That's another issue, but I'd also like to know the author's definition of beating, because I don't think, for example, shoulder punches or purple nurples should qualify. But, hey, that's just me. Then again, I lived through the elementary schoolyard game of "Pecker Tag," which, believe me, toughens you up a bit.

To be darker, slower, fatter, thinner, weaker, quieter, poorer or different in any way but the prevailing way is to be vulnerable to the physical or emotional might of bullies. Fit in or be a misfit.

Oh, bullshit! Bullies exist to be bullies. Practically every bully I ever knew in my school years was eight million degrees removed from "the prevailing way," whatever the hell that was. Everyone knew who bullies were: they were the fuckers you tried to avoid like the plague.

How common is it? When I asked one of my recent college classes if anyone had ever been bullied, nearly all hands went up. Stories poured out. One student told of being bullied on the school bus while in the sixth grade. Those in higher grades forced her and her classmates to sit only in the front seats.

See, now, I wouldn't qualify that as bullying. Hazing, maybe. And, spare me the Rosa Parks analogies.

They were also ordered to open the windows during freezing weather, while the older students laughed at the shivering. When this student became a senior, she humiliated sixth graders the same way -- and enjoyed it. The tradition of bullying was carried on.

Wait a minute. Where the hell was the bus driver during this "bullying?" Because, in my experience with school bus drivers, they were about the most strict bastards in the entire school system. You couldn't squeak a fart without bringing about the wrath of the bus driver.

In 25 years of teaching courses on nonviolent conflict resolution -- to high school, college, law school students and prison inmates -- I've argued that violence is a learned behavior.

Yeah, people "learn" what they can get away with, and they exploit those cracks at every turn. In other news, bigger kids tend to realize they can bully and intimidate smaller/weaker kids for personal enjoyment. Those same bigger kids can be absolute angels at home and in the classroom.

Bullies aren't born, they are taught: often by peers, sometimes by the adults at home or coaches who berate their players during practices or games, and perhaps by living in a country like the United States that is perceived by much of the world as a global bully.

Oh, for fuck's sake. Who is this guy? Heaven forbid coaches berate players during practices or games. Many was the football/wrestling practice or game/match wherein the coach (in some cases, also my dad) told me to get my head out of my ass and concentrate. And you know what? In 99.9 percent of said incidents, the coaches were right, with the .01 percent of other incidents being a statistical anomaly. Oh, and I just LOVE how living in the United States can make one prone to being a bully. Having attended an international school in Tokyo, I can pretty confidently state that bullying is pretty much a global phenomenon that transcends race or country of origin. Being a dick is an international affliction.

If violence is learned, can empathy, kindness and tolerance also be learned?

Sure, but what the hell fun is that?

Yes. If taught well and taught consistently, those skills are as teachable as any others.

Fine, teach away. At the end of the day, Olaf the Hulk is still going to strongarm Eugene for his milk money.

A prime solution is exposing children in the early grades to the satisfaction of service to others. If parents, teachers and coaches encourage -- and demonstrate themselves -- reaching out to someone who needs help, a message is sent: We are a caring family, we are a caring school, we are a caring team.

Sure, we haven't had a winning record in over three decades, but we lead the league in group hugs and positive thinking. Competing teams can't wait to play us, because we're a cake-walk bunch of pussies, but at least we can say: "we tried, and we care, and please set the bone correctly so it grows back together right."

Be a part of it. Whether the service is as basic as clearing the table after dinner or as large as volunteering at Special Olympics, chances increase that a child will become less self-centered and more other-centered.

Hey, I cleared the table as a child! I was part of it!

A second antibullying strategy is for schools to schedule regular class meetings and student assemblies where children are encouraged to speak freely about their fears or anxieties.

Oh, right, yes, let's have our children expose their fears and anxieties to those bullies smacking their lips, waiting in the crowd. Bra-vo. Good plan. Has this guy ever existed in the real world? School assemblies provide a smorgasbord of information for those specializing in shame and intimidation. You may as well just ask the younger and weaker students to stand up and punch themselves in the groin to save time.

Children's feelings of powerlessness increase when they feel emotionally isolated and think they have no voice. They become loners, withdrawn and easy marks for bullies.

Uh huh, and having Felix stand up in front of a school assembly, telling everyone how he thinks the poop monster is waiting under his bed to get him is just SO going to help matters.

Class meetings can empower children to step in when they see bullies at work, by telling the victimizer to lay off. Group disapproval can be potent.

Actually, I thrive on group disapproval. Seriously, bullies don't give a flying fuck what other people think. THEY'RE BULLIES! They know they're bullies. They know that being a bully is supposedly a bad thing. And, yet, they still choose to be bullies! Gosh, it's almost as if they see some sort of benefit to being a bully.

Bullies themselves are likely to know, deep down, that they are essentially unhappy.

Oh, right, yeah. Actually, bullies are likely to know, deep down, that they enjoy intimidating others.

In "Reclaiming Our Children," Dr. Peter Breggin, a Bethesda, Maryland, psychiatrist, writes that a bully is also injured by his behavior: he "learns methods that not only harm other people, but will also backfire on him in adult life, when abuse and violence ruin his family life, alienate other adults, result in job loss, and lead to criminal convictions."

In order, the three biggest bullies of my childhood are today: a lawyer, an IT administrator, and a high school teacher, all of whom have very nice families and, by all accounts, lead pretty admirable lives. Yet, growing up, they were some of the biggest damned assholes I could imagine, at least until puberty kicked in and the playing field evened out a little bit.

It would help if schools themselves decreased academic bullying, as found in the current testing mania of No Child Left Untested. I know of no meaningful evidence that acing tests has anything to do with students' character development or whether their natural instincts for idealism or altruism are nurtured.

Academic bullying? ACADEMIC BULLYING?!! Honest to fucking God, WHO IS THIS GUY? Oh, and hey, did you know you're born with natural instincts for idealism and altruism? Hey, Colman McCarthy says so, so it must be true. That is, unless Colman McCarthy is bullying us through academic bullying or somesuch twaddle.

As imposed on public schools by testocrats in the federal Department of Education, excessive testing is an abuse of power over the weak -- the basic definition of bullying.

Now this article is just descending into parody. My qualms with standardized testing notwithstanding, what is it, exactly, Colman McCarthy would have us do: Just let students, you know, mellow and follow their own muse, man, because that's how you go with the flow and don't have to follow the dictates of THE MAN, you know?

No school, no family and no community is without flaws, but none of that justifies allowing the ethic of domination and competition to persist.

Do away with competition! Stop competing! Of course, that would pretty much spell the end of societal innovation and advancement, but hey, there are always drawbacks.

When parents or teachers obsess about academic or athletic excellence, the pressured child may seek refuge in becoming a dominator. This blossoms into get-aheadism, with bullying a way to cull the competition.

Man, this guy is a front-runner for "Pussy of the World." Or at least "Mr. Clueless 2007." Either way, I guess it's not surprising the Star-Tribune decided to run this non-sensical dreck.

If the pattern starts early, so should confronting it. I think it was Maria Montessori, and it usually is, who said: It is easier to build a peaceful child than repair a violent adult.

And it's easier to rip apart Colman McCarthy's nonsense than it is for Colman McCarthy to write a thought-provoking opinion piece.

Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post columnist, directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C. He is speaking Thursday afternoon and evening, and Friday morning, at the upper campus of Carondolet Catholic School, 3210 W. 51st St., Minneapolis.

No bullies allowed.

UPDATE: LearnedFoot has discovered possible runners up for the "Pussy of the World" contest.

Posted by Ryan at March 28, 2007 09:37 AM | TrackBack

Why not apply your quite talented analytical skill to the columns of Bill Boyne?

Or, perhaps you actually agree with Boyne?

Posted by: AlgerHiss at March 30, 2007 06:43 AM

Who the heck is Bill Boyne?

Posted by: Ryan at March 30, 2007 07:21 AM

Oh... I forgot: You write far more than you read.

My apologies.

Posted by: AlgerHiss at March 30, 2007 09:40 AM

Actually, I looked up Bill Boyne shortly after I left that comment, and noted he writes for the Post-Bulletin, a newspaper I don't subscribe to and only pick up occasionally on weekends. Now that the P-B is finally making its content freely available on their Web page, I may start familiarizing myself more with their editorials and opinion columns rather than simply chain yanking in their blog comment threads.

Posted by: Ryan at March 30, 2007 11:47 AM

What it is is one long (weak) argument for socialism. Down with competition! Let's all work together for the common good! Waitasec... where are we going, and what are we doing in this handbasket?

Posted by: Stephen Rider at April 13, 2007 01:05 PM
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