I’ve dedicated several posts to this subject, because the problem of school bullying and student violence has become so pervasive. It is a reflection of the violence and vulgarity that pervades our society, in everything from video games such as “Grand Theft Auto,” which is filled with sickening and gratuitous violence, to television and movies, to the ubiquitous (and often dangerous) internet.
This growing infection of violence and brutality is being witnessed, of course, in a new generation of school children who are among the most abusive and disrespectful in decades. I’ve seen this first-hand. The origins of this behavior have produced the very problem of bullying in our schools that led to the death of Charles Walker, as well as so many other bullying victims in other schools across this country. The numbers are frightening. Google “School Bullying Victims Committing Suicide,” and you’ll be shocked.
Some suggested solutions:
First and foremost, students need to be taught a centrally important point when facing this problem: There is strength in numbers. And that when you stand up for someone who is targeted for abuse, you stand up for yourself. In every classroom program teaching anti-bullying tactics, there should be the following lesson from the great German poet and pastor, Martin Niemoller. The poem speaks to the fatalism of inaction and apathy in the face of brutality. It is central to the human conscience, and it should be taught to children at an early age to inoculate children against inaction in the face of brutality. There can be no better place than schools and schoolyards in which to teach this:
“In Germany, they came first for the Communists. And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists. And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews. And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
This haunting truth may have been written in response to the large-scale atrocities of Hitler’s Germany, but its powerful message represents a microcosm of all social structures- whether nations or schoolyards. In our schools, students need to be taught that when they see abuse and don’t speak up or stand up for that victim, they create a greater likelihood that they themselves will one day be victimized – whether in a class room today, or in a board room 30 years from now. Students must know more than how to “spot” abuse and bullying. They need to be taught how to speak up and stand up for victims of violence, and there can be no more effective way to do this, than to form that “critical mass” of several students, who are no match for one bully, or a small group of bullies. This is a moral response to this problem; it is practical instruction, and it should be our first response to this problem. If this doesn’t work, we should proceed to enact criminal penalties for school-age children who violently bully others. As a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, I’d like to think we can avoid resorting to charging schoolchildren with criminal offenses. Such would not be my first choice.
But it’s better than reading about an innocent young boy found by his mother hanging at the end of an electrical cord, because he was literally bullied to death – and none of his fellow students did anything about it.