Thursday, September 24, 2009

Teachers Accused of Bullying Student, or Man Bites Dog

It seems some people are in hot water after student Alex Merritt has accused them of homophobic taunts in school. If this is true, I'm sorry for Alex, and I hope the perpetrators get their just deserts. Why is this news?

The alleged bullies are teachers.

It's bad enough people bully others, worse still that people bully others they have power over and are supposed to set a good example for. Worst of all...people seem to think this is a headline story.

It's like the Nickelodeon kids' comedy I grew up with in the 1980s: "You Can't Do That on Television." Part of the show was devoted to "Opposite Sketches," like the teacher asking a student if she's chewing gum, she saying "No" and he replying "Why not?". And to top it off, he then takes part of his gum out of his mouth for the student to chew. You get the idea.

In one opposite sketch, a girl comes home crying that she's being bullied in school. Her father reminds her to report these things to the vice principal. She tearfully replies that the bully is the vice principal. Laugh track.

I suspect that's how people viewed politicians' deliberate misdeeds a generation before that. Now, we've got occasional scandals. Yes, there are problems with a media that digs its teeth into politicians' private issues. Basically the same problems with police and courts that dig their teeth into ordinary people's private issues such as spouse abuse and child beating.

We're finally accepting the reality that bullying in school is a serious problem, and acting on it. I'm not saying every single policy to deal with it is a good idea. Knowing that we have to deal with it isn't just a good's the law now.

Teachers' bullying students seems to be one of our last frontiers of denial. And I speak from personal experience (and there's more where that came from).

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Many bullying incidents were provoked. The victim said or did something that started it, or made a bad situation much worse. That's why Aspies are particularly likely to be bullied by peers or teachers. We don't readily see that someone could be really upset, and we don't necessarily know about certain unspoken conventions (eg, about showing respect). So we often say and do things that tick people off, they respond nastily and we're left wondering what the heck happened...and why.

Does it excuse that kind of nasty response? Heck no. Let's go back to school: Teachers don't accept "He started it!" from their own students. They respond "Well, you didn't have to respond. You could have walked away." Why do teachers exert themselves like that? Presumably to set a moral example so the kids will grow up and behave better.

There is no excuse for bullying, and it needs to be condemned...especially when it comes from teachers. Bullies - students and teachers alike - who do it should be punished. That's one thing we owe victims.

Another thing we owe victims is helping them through a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves and their own words and actions, and where called for teaching them explicitly about how to talk and act differently so as not to tick people off. Or if people do get ticked off - which happens from time to time to anybody except maybe Casper Milquetoast - at least they'll still have friends to rally round them so their enemies will think twice before crossing the line. Predators of all species tend to pick on the loners.

Even in school, let alone out in the world, people who hate you can and will find many ways to hurt you that can never be punished. People who like you can and will find many ways to make your life better.

What do you think?


Corrie Howe said...

This is timely for our household. My husband broke up the first scuffle we've ever seen or heard from our son with Asperger's Syndrome. It was between my son and another boy known to conflict with each other. In fact, this boy is the only person I know of who has an issue with my son.

Now, my son will say and do annoying things to set people off. Sometimes he knows exactly what he's doing and sometimes he doesn't.

My husband said he could tell the other boy was more than angry as the boys had each other in a headlock. He said our son was smiling and thinks they were playing rough, like boys do.

I guess I need to contact the mom and talk about this. The boys are in the same classes and soccer teams year after year and she teacher's my oldest son's AP courses. We don't need feuding boys to come between us.

Corrie Howe said...

P.S. Sorry for the errors in the last comment. Should have read over it better before posting it.