A society that fails to protect its children from other children has two problems: the child as aggressor and the child as victim.
When my white middle class daughter was routinely harassed by out of control middle school boys during her formative years, I was outraged at the passive attitude of the school administrators. My daughter was not alone in this gender based harassment. At the time, schools were not liable for the sexual harassment of its students by other students. That has changed in CA where the school fails to take preventative and corrective measures.
But a deeper problem persists: bullying. It is a practice that destroys fragile and vulnerable young people or wounds them for life just when they most need to feel worthy and accepted for their intrinsic value as God’s children, not just as students in the system. We have all read of the student who commits suicide due to unbearable bullying, or who “goes over the edge” and begins a rampage of killing in a local school. Those extreme situations are relatively rare, but there are millions of kids I suspect who will have flashbacks all their lives of the cruelty they endured in school. Now, multiply that harm by the broken and lost relationships of these kids as they go through adulthood. The social costs are enormous.
In May 2011, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights convened its first-ever hearing on the issue of harassment and violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender students. A new study by Dr. Caitlin Ryan the Family Acceptance Project, published in the Journal of School Health, provides data showing the scope of injury caused by bullying of these particular children. I would like to see the outcome of the Commission’s work, when looking at the study, to recommend strong school policies for the prevention and correction of bullyism. Teachers especially need to be trained to seek out and report bullies on behalf of the victims. Administrators, and especially School Principals, must be held accountable for promptly investigating and correcting incidents of bullyism and harassment. The victims are selected by bullies for the very reason that they are unlikely to report the abuse. Strong measures to discipline bullies with public reproof and with expulsion are also needed. If the schools don’t comply, they should face the civil liability for failure to meet presumptive standards of protection. Very important is that children who are courageous enough to complain be protected from retaliation by the “clique” that initially attacked them.
I recently heard a man I deeply respect, a Professor of Philosophy at USC, Dallas Willard, state that our educational system is virtually useless: it stuffs kids with information, but fails to teach sound values. I agree that information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom or virtue. I am not as confident schools alone can get that job done. Parents are critical too. But there is a short term emergency: children are being brutalized by other children. Until the matter of virtue, honor and dignity become part of the social memes of a particular school, action is needed now to stop kids from attacking other kids.