Sunday, August 26, 2018

Institutionalized bullying

Schools claim to stand up against peer on peer bullying, but what happens when the institution itself is the bully? Am I completely off base to suggest such things? And can peer on peer bullying be simply a reflection of the ways children are treated by adults in schooling and in life?

How often is the playground bully the one marginalized and controlled by teachers in the classroom, but told by his parents to stand up and defend himself? I suspect that is at least sometimes the case. It is an illness passed on between generations.

I can give three examples.  The first is the more classic case. In 4th grade on my first day in a new school, two larger boys held me by the arms and beat me in the chest. That's the kind of bullying that is easily recognized as bullying.

A second event happened to me when I dared to challenge a teacher on the correct answer to a question on an analytic geometry test. On the next day he told students in the class previous to mine, "watch what happens to Stowe today." They warned me, so I was prepared for his wrath from the day before. Immediately after taking roll, he demanded, "Stowe go to the board." I immediately took chalk in hand and silently proceeded with my proof. He had intended to humiliate me, but the interchange had the opposite effect. As the formulas became clear in black and white (black boards were actually black in those days) the truth of my position was irrefutable. What was intended as an opportunity to correct me for my previous day's daring to question his authority in math, ended up with the teacher removing the question from the scoring of the test. I do not blame the teacher for bullying, but for a form of institutionalized bullying in which the teacher is overloaded, unfamiliar with the qualities and capacities of his or her students, and may lash out in frustration. Teachers are human beings, after all. In other words, he may have been a "good" teacher, managing to deliver the required lessons, and a bully at the same time.

A third incident from my high school experience was when after a school assembly I was accused of having stolen a "Beatle wig." I was led into a room with three administrators who grilled me about something about which I knew absolutely nothing. Having no evidence they allowed me to go, but left me wondering how they could have suspected me of such a thing. To be fair, my high school had 900 graduating seniors from a total school population of over 3000 kids. Can you understand how school administrators would feel over their heads, charged with maintaining order and control, and while having no direct knowledge of their individual students, be put in the position of bullying their kids?

There is a scene in the History of Kindergarten trailer in which a woman, in response to being called in for a conference about her child's behavior asked the teacher, "Do you even know my child?" Organized for the efficiency of delivery of lessons and for control of kids, many if not most public schools have become places in which children are institutionally bullied and their spirits purposely squashed to conform to the needs of the institution.

Yesterday in the wood shop, I helped a friend with making a wooden shield, and milled parts for boxes. I was saddened to learn of the death of John McCain. I did not agree with McCain on many things, but he, unlike many politicians of this day, actually put country first. He had been an advocate for free elections and the removal of the influence from too much money. He was one who would work across party lines even when it became unpopular to do so. He was one of the few Republican Senators willing to stand up to Donald Trump, and was vilified and hated by the president for it. During his presidential campaign, when a woman claimed Obama was a "secret muslim" he refuted her contention. He was a man of character and honesty, unlike the blatant bully who currently occupies the White House.

Perhaps it's fitting that children in schools be introduced to bullying at the earliest possible age so as to be prepared for politics in the US. And I'll ask all who read here to consider if that's what we want.

If not, and I ask that we all choose not, then let's get busy and fix American education. School must not be just about learning reading and math. It must be also about working in collaboration and harmony using creativity to build a better life. Bullying whether peer on peer, or institutionalized in the structure of the school itself, does not belong.

Make, fix, and create...

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