Something happened in our midst this past week; something that should strike at the core of every public school committee and private school system in Massachusetts, and which should resonate across the United States. It is something that should keep principals awake at night, and something that should keep teachers vigilant about each day in their classrooms. This time, the subject isn’t drugs, and it isn’t sex or teen pregnancy, as serious as those subjects are. It’s far more common, far more insidious, and tragically, far more “accepted,” or at least tolerated, by school systems across this country.
Yes, the cruel, vicious abuse that the youngest of human beings are capable of. Maybe that’s why society hasn’t addressed it adequately enough so far: We don’t like to admit that such cruelty and savagery can exist inside children, our children. But the human being, regardless of age, is capable of unspeakable cruelty, and oddly enough, the display of that cruelty can appear with far greater frequency when people are very young. (Who has not heard the phrase, “Children can be so cruel“?)
And so it was that this past week that a boy universally described as sweet and kind by all who really knew him, hanged himself after repeated instances of bullying at the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield Massachusetts, where he attended the sixth grade. Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover could apparently take no more. His mother, Sirdeaner L. Walker, found him hanging by an extension cord in their home. The reason: Apparently, Carl wasn’t “tough enough” for many of the kids at New Leadership Charter School. Reportedly, many found him to be overly feminine, and singled him out for bullying because they thought he was gay. This is despite the fact that, according to his mother, the boy did not identify himself as gay, and despite the fact that he played football, basketball and soccer. Carl reported repeated instances of taunting, beatings and threats to his mother, who in turn reported these to school administrators. This daily emotional abuse and ongoing physical assault and battery, must have been horrible for this young boy. Despite Carl’s mother reporting this abuse to school authorities, she has inferred that school administrators did not do much in response.
Neither this post, nor this issue in general, is about gay rights. It’s about human rights. It’s about moral accountability. And it’s most centrally about why we don’t protect the most vulnerable among us – school kids – from the violence that we as adults want to be – and expect to be – protected from. And it’s about what we should do about it.
I’ll follow this up more in my next post.