Who’s The Bully Here?

The latest item in the stack of daily horror stories that we call “news” is about students harassing and even threatening bus drivers, teachers, and administrators. As a recent Yahoo story tells us, The most recent school safety report from the National Center for Education Statistics, the data branch of the U.S. Department of Education, found that 5 percent of public schools reported students verbally abused teachers on a daily or weekly basis. Also, 8 percent of secondary school teachers reported being threatened with injury by a student, as did 7 percent of elementary teachers.

And we wonder why our education system is on the ropes! We refuse to pay teachers what they are worth and complain when they want to make enough to live on while at the same time we expect them to raise our children for us. It is clear even from this small sample (and we have no idea how many people refused to respond) that many of our children have no idea what the word “no” means. They suffer from an enlarged sense of “self” fostered by unlimited time in front of the TV and playing video games (which help isolate them and convince them that they are the center of the world) while their parents are off somewhere else trying to make enough money to pay the bills. The parents, accordingly, are being irresponsible by ignoring their children and refusing to teach them such elemental things as “manners.” What they are teaching their children are lessons in irresponsibility: do your own thing and the hell with others. It’s hard to determine which is the “cause” here since there are multiple factors involved.

For some time now as a culture we have rejected the notion of authority as a bad thing — even the authority of expert opinion. Now everyone has an opinion about everything and all are equal. As Ortega y Gasset pointed out some time ago, “Today the most average man has the most mathematical ‘ideas’ on all that happens or ought to happen in the universe. Hence, he has lost the use of his hearing. . . There is no reason now for listening, but rather for judging, pronouncing, deciding. There is no question concerning public life in which he does not intervene, blind, and deaf as he is, imposing his ‘opinions.'” Ignoring the fact that some opinions are more reasonable than others is a part of our preoccupation with self.

We have also rejected notions such as discipline and discrimination, both of which are now regarded as bad things, taboo.  Both are, however, essential to a responsible, intelligible, well-ordered, world. Contrary to popular misconceptions, none of these things causes repressed egos. When properly guided they merely cause a redirection of energy into productive avenues of expression.  However, as long as we continue to read and hear on all sides that the self is the only thing that matters, reject even legitimate authority as bogus, and identify freedom with lack of restraint, simply, we must learn to expect our kids to pick up on the hints. They take their clues from what is going on around them; they are not stupid. Unschooled and self-absorbed like their parents, yes, but stupid, no.

I recall a good friend of mine who was the school superintendent at our local school. The gym was located in the school building near the classrooms; he went out to the gym one day not long ago because a student was shooting baskets and making a racket instead of attending classes; because of this he was disturbing those students who might have wanted to learn something. He told the boy to stop and go back to class. The boy turned to the man and told him to f$%# off — and he continued to dribble the basketball and shoot buckets! My friend didn’t know what to do: he wasn’t strong enough to physically manhandle the young man and the local police weren’t an option if he wanted to avoid a scandal (which he did). If he suspended or expelled the student he would have to deal with the parents who would invariably take the boy’s side (because he is their son and can do no wrong). But he decided to suspend the boy anyway. As expected, he was severely criticized by the boy’s parents and their friends (it’s a small town) and was eventually “let go.”

Anecdotal? Yes. But symptomatic of the larger problem: our kids are learning to be irresponsible because they are surrounded by irresponsible adults. Clearly the parents should have supported the superintendent here. We are in danger of reverting to barbarism where the strongest (and loudest) rule. But “might” does not make “right.” The kids must learn, and we all must recall, that “civilization is above all else the will to live in common,” to quote Ortega once again.  We need others in order to become fully ourselves: we cannot go it alone, no matter how brave or audacious we think we are. But the first step is to acknowledge and above all respect the legitimacy of others’ interests even when they conflict with our own. We seem to be losing that and it is in danger of tearing us apart.

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7 thoughts on “Who’s The Bully Here?

  1. Great article! While I agree that there are many students who do not understand that they are not the center of the universe, everyday there are students who take responsibility and do the right thing. The message about listening to others and how some opinions are more legit than others is so true! It’s tiring dealing with others who make proclamations on subjects that they know nothing about and will not budge.

    • Thanks so much for the confirmation. I read a couple of your posts and see that you are a teacher, so you know what I’m talking about. The parents must at some point start taking responsibility for their offspring and stop dumping them on the schools — while they scream about overpaid teachers.I hope you keep writing: you have important things to say (you can read and write both: I am living proof!)

      • Thank you. I once had a father say to me after I called about his son’s misbehavior, ” What do you want me to do about it?!”. In the meantime I was teaching the boy’s mother about chores and privileges and how privileges can be taken away. The problem is is that these parents think they are raising their children. As for communication, collaboration among teachers is encouraged and expected, but it’s hard when everyone does not listen or thinks that their way is the right way.

  2. Indeed so. As Ortega suggests, hearing is a lost art and everyone thinks he or she knows everything — or better yet, no one knows better than they!

  3. My wife and I volunteer at schools and we see both sides. My wife says her pre-K class she volunteers in has kids who do not know what manners are. No one has taken the time to show what good behavior should look like. On the flip side, this same school is teaching the kids how to handle disagreements and diplomatically advocate for themselves. The two 5th graders I tutored wrote a polite note asking for help with math as they both feared they would fail the EOG test. We all need to exemplify the behavior we want to see. Unfortunately, they see poor behavior on TV, at football games, on talking head shows, etc. far makes up for these positive examples. I feel one of the keys to helping these overworked and underpaid teachers is to get volunteers who can be role models on this. Thanks again for a great post.

    • Excellent suggestion! The teachers could use the assistance and the students would benefit from good role models. Thanks for the comment.

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  4. Hugh, as you know, I think there are a lot of good young people out there, and some of them have things to teach us! But I also know first-hand that not every student respects teachers, administrators or even his classmates, and that is troubling. If it had been my dad, the former minor-league ballplayer who became a coach, teacher and administrator, in that situation, as soon as the kid started swearing at him, my dad would have kicked the boy’s ass halfway through a locker — and then it still would have been the boy and the parents apologizing to my dad. Everything started with respect for my dad. If you showed it to him as a student, he’d be loyal to the end to you and probably the best teacher you ever had. If you didn’t show it …

    I agree, too, with the idea that the world is too full of babblers these days and not enough listening. We’re only going to understand each other, we’re only going to fix things, if we listen to one another.

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