Thursday, April 15, 2010

Our Personal Revenge

Two posts in one day, sorry, I never seem to shut up. But this has been on my mind and I can't let it go without comment.

I am sickened...utterly read of the deaths of our youth by their own hand due to the out of control hazing and bullying that now runs rampant on school campuses. Technology has only increased the availability of victims, as they are now almost never out of reach of their tormentors. The case of Phoebe Prince has been captivating to the world, but it is another case I read about yesterday that really left me with a leaden feeling in the pit of my stomach.

A year ago this month, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover took his own life after enduring the cruel taunts of classmates who repeatedly flung foul language his direction and derided him as they used anti-gay slurs and tried to pigeon hole an 11 year old child as being homosexual. This lovely, bright African American young man who had everything going for him was overwhelmed with helplessness after reporting it to school authorities only to be told that it is normal for kids to tease one another and it would "work itself out". You can see the entire article at .
After writing this post I did a google search and found ANOTHER story so similar my heart is breaking right now. In the same month as Carls' death, another little boy took his life for the same about about another 5th grader taunted about being gay, Raheem Hererra:
Gay or straight, black or white...or asian...this MUST stop. It is common knowledge that the suicide rate for our gay young people is quite high. Whether 11 year olds identify is gay or are just targeted for being gay because they have interests that make them non-jocks, they are being isolated and hounded literally to death.
Shame on us adults.

Today, our 11 year old son came home from school, head hung low as he revealed that kids in PE taunted him about his "ugly face". A week ago our youngest son was crying before school because of the racial slurs being directed at him from other FIRST GRADERS. Can you believe it? First grade and already hearts have been hardened and have learned to hate simply because of the shape of someones eyes or the color of their skin.
Thankfully, our children do not attend a school where the administration blows this off and tells us "it will work itself out", instead they took it seriously and two teachers became involved making it known in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable behavior and would not be tolerated.

How sad that beautiful little Carl's school staff didn't do the same for him. I can not believe that an 11 year old would be left to feel so despondent by the adults surrounding him at school that he felt the only way out was death. The word "tragic" doesn't even come close to expressing what we all should feel when hearing something like this.

As Kenny and I talked this afternoon in the car on the way home, I asked him why he didn't approach his teachers right then about it. He said he didn't want to make a big deal over it, as it has happened before and he knows it will happen again, and he thinks he needs to get used to it. Get used to being called ugly???? Get used to feeling "less than"???? I explained to him that he needed to take action immediately when such things happen, that his inaction almost gave "permission" to the kids saying mean things to continue. I asked if he was afraid of them being mean if he told on them, and he said no, that he just didn't want to call attention to it.
So he too would suffer in silence.

We talked about children who say such things, about what they must be learning at home and what they must be surrounded by. Angela piped up, understanding that someone had said something hurtful to Kenny, saying " bad boys..." and she meant it. We don't have the language to explain what will one day be explained, but I was able to articulate it to Kenny.

It is a line from a Jackson Browne song I used as an example:

My personal revenge will be to give you
These hands that once you so mistreated
But have failed to take away their tenderness.

We don't need to strike out in anger, our personal revenge is to offer love in return, because Love Wins. Anger against anger never reveals any winners, it only begets losers on both sides.
However, we also should not ignore this sort of behavior, and we should teach our children not to either. We do not need to strike out at those who mistreat us, but the time has come for adults to quit saying "all kids tease" and start taking this seriously. When our children are haunted, chased, ridiculed and harassed to the point that death seems to be the only option that offers relief, we are failing them, and failing them miserably.

Sadly, our culture has changed. Teasing is far removed from what it was 30 or 40 years ago. It is relentless, it is vicious, it is 24/7 following a child from school room to chat room to text messages, there is no place to hide, no haven from the evil taunts.

And THIS is what my children will miss out on by not being in public school? THIS is the socialization that our society sees as "normal"? They are worried about our kids not having enough interaction with kids their own age? Can you tell me why I would want our children's lives at risk, souls at risk, hearts at risk for being able to say they are appropriately "socialized"? I am sorry, this is the least appropriate form of socialization I can think of and what was described in these new stories could just as easily be speaking of a prison yard as a school yard. It is one thing to say "Hey four eyes!", it is another to have your sexuality called into question at 11 years old or to be called a whore repeatedly at 15 years old.

Look at the news article about little Carl. See that innocent face staring back at you, filled with childhood openness and dreams unfulfilled. Imagine finding him hanging lifeless from an extension cord, his final escape from the hatred and vitriol of other students he was trying desperately to escape.

Now imagine Carl is your own son. Look into the eyes of your own 11 year old son which can barely meet yours as he reveals the taunts endured about his "ugly face", and then tell me you don't feel a tremor of fear run down your spine.

Adults, do your job, be the adults. Zero tolerance. No bullying. Ever. Don't let another kid end up dangling from an extension cord because you want to take the easy way out and say "it happens all the time, it's part of childhood.". Recognize your own responsibility to step up to the plate and let it be known that this is unacceptable, that it often doesn't just "work itself out".

And thank you Mrs. Weber and Mr. Schneider, for being real adults in our kids' lives.


Na'ama said...

Thank you. The world needs more people who are willing to take a stand against problems like these.
So yes, thank you. Thank you very much.


PS: Kenny's very handsome - I hope he knows that many people think so, and learns to see it himself. :)

Michelle said...

I was bullied as a child and I am constantly vigilant about making sure it doesn't happen to my children. Even though what happened back when I was a child is mild compared to today's standards. I dno't know if you are familiar with Bryan Post..he does a lot of trauma attachment adoption lectures and writes books...he considers bullying trauma. It IS trauma and it needs to be treated as such!

Good Post!

Barbara said...

I will not tolerate bullying at all. We deal with it quite a bit because our youngest son dances and of course we hear the "gay" remarks, etc. He has grown that tough skin and overlooks most peoples ignorance and fortunately has not let these hurtful remarks stop him from dancing and now from singing in the high school choir. It is a shame that many parents these days are so unaware of what their children are doing or saying to other children.


Adrienne said...

I am sorry that both Josh and Kenny have been the target of these kids comments.....and am very glad that their teachers reacted with zero tolerance...
What a sad story about this young boy... Even though we live in Ireland there has been a lot of publicity about the tragic death of Phoebe as she only moved from Ireland, (was actually living only a half an hour from where we live) to the U.S. last September..... There was also reports that teachers were aware of what was going on and did not react appropriately....

As a teacher myself of 4 to 8 year olds I feel it is part of our job description to make sure bullying is not tolerated in our schools although as it often spills over to 'outside school'. It is a very difficult one....

How sad and tragic for their families...


Shannon said...

A timely post, Cyndi. Last night I was reduced to tears when my FOUR YEAR OLD pulled the corners of eyes and told me one of his friends at preschool was doing that to him and laughing. WHAT is this world coming to?

Anonymous said...

Very nice. I followed that story from when it first happened and it was a true tragedy. Hopefully more and more people will learn from stories like this and put a stop to it. Our children don't deserve to be bullied, nor do they deserve to receive the message at home or from their peers that it's ok to treat other kids like that.

Anonymous said...

Life gives us many lessons--bullying is okay, judgments should be rendered, difference is not to be tolerated, pain is to be cultivated, tears are fun to provoke. Then we who have become callused, insensitive, or just distracted somehow expect that our children--all our children--should grow up to be outstanding, upstanding, compassionate adults undamaged by either being treated cruelly or treating others cruelly Zero tolerance wherever we find cruelty is our only option for a more compassionate world. Love wins, but first it must be extended. Love wins, but first it must be taught, and love wins, but first it must be given and experienced.


Anna said...

Its a struggle isnt it? I am so thankful to have the scriptures to guide and direct me. We have always homeschooled and I enjoy seeing my teenagers with the self confidence that comes from doing whats right no matter what. I just dont see public education as an option for little hearts and minds.

Hilary Marquis said...

My compliments to you as a mother and to you sons' teachers. Bullying has horrible effects not only in childhood but in adulthood as well. I think I got Tyler out of school just in time. I seem to remember that roughly at age 10 the boys started being either good at sports...or not so good. And that is when the bullying seemed to start. I saw what bullying did to my brother and I'll die before I see it happen to my kids. Way to go, Cindy!

Anonymous said...

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
--Leo Buscaglia

Kathy W said...

Yep, zero tolerance for bullying. Can this though also be turned into a learning opportunity? Would the teachers be open to having some people with disabilities and/or birth defects visit their classroom and discuss how it feels with them? (I don't mean Kenny, he could easily not want to do that -- but I know there are adults out there who do this type of thing).

It's not enough I think to "just say no" even though that is of course the first step. We need to explain and encourage empathy as well.

Kathy W

Anonymous said...

Joy! As a retired teacher, I think teachers and administrators who don't address bullying have failed in their jobs and should be immediately REMOVED tolerance. As a teacher, I addressed problems "solo" and unsupported by "spineless" administrators. Once, I was so sure that it would be a battle with my administrator so I phoned the police directly for assistance ....not to be a troublemaker but to immediately support the student and her parents. Today, I'm very proud that I was focused and did the right thing for the student. sure that the teachers/administrators are not just "pacifying" you. Teachers...DO IT RIGHT.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend the American Girl movie: Chrissa stands tall.

It is about bullying and trying to fit in. We watched it several times last summer to prepare for any problems that might start in 4th grade. Although it is about a group of girls, I think the discussion that can come from it is good for boys also.

We have taught our kids that when other kids tease and bully, they are insecure and trying to make themselves bigger by making others smaller.

We also ask, "Are you pink with purple pokadots?" "Of course not!" "Does my saying you are make it so?" "Of course not!" "Then what others say isn't necessarily so, either. You don't have to accept their brain trash!"

Sadly, our daughter was talking with a girl who was visiting our school. She is thinking of transferring because other kids are calling her "China girl" (she is adopted from China).

My heart goes out to you all. No matter how much we teach our kids to be strong in themselves, and that God looks on the inside, the comments still sting.

How I wish we, and our mutual friends in Richmond, could give Kenny and Josh hugs right now and reassure them they are beautiful, inside and out.

With much love,

Peggy in Virginia

Unknown said...

I'm am crying right now, for you, for your children. Why? Because I've been there, on both sides. As a victim and as the parent of a victim. When I was a child in grade school, there were students who taunted me, but the one who really got to me, it was the librarian, an adult, he used to call me a monkey, among other names. That is until my father got wind of it, my father had a certain way of articulating his anger and protective nature for his children. He conveyed this to both the librarian and the school administration, in a small town (friends of the family) soon the librarian was gone. I will tell you the rest of the story some time. His children still attended the same school.

I think that is even more heartbreaking to endure poor treatment of our children. My son only knows how to love and does not understand the concept of revenge or disrepect towards others. So defending himself is not a possiblity right now, hopefully he will learn someday, for his own safety. But for now, when I know that he has been mistreated, I am his advocate and protecter. And I give him more love than he can handle.

Anyway I got through my childhood, by the love and support of my family. Love gave me strength as I am sure your love will strengthen your beautiful son. (Tell him that) You are an awesome family and you deserve better, we all do.

Lindsay said...

Could not agree with you more whole heartedly.

Last month - the weekend Hannah turned 3 - I said (as I often do) 'You are so beautiful.'

And she replied: "No I'm not. I'm black."

When I inititally spoke with the school - that being the only place she could have heard it as it is the only place I am not with her - I met resistance and disbelief. A total unwillingness to take action (anti-Romani prejudice being so very common and strong here). As both a parent and a teacher I cannot think of anytime inaction is the right action!

This came a week or so after the 'drawing' she made at school, on recycled paper donated by a parent, turned out to have a racist email printed on the reverse side (the teachers had not bothered reading what was written, just issued the paper.)

It's not hard to find where children - even ones so young - learn to be so intolerant and bigoted.

So, so sad.

. said...

Amen! Homeschooling rocks...not only are we protecting our children from the mean kids, we are, by schooling them in an environment of love with siblings at various levels of maturity and ability, showing them the OPPOSITE of bullying, how to be loving and accepting and helpful themselves. I'm not saying there aren't many public school teachers who also do this, but at home we can do it/monitor 24/7 whereas at school, even the best teachers just can't be there for all of their kids all of the time. It's tragic.

And I agree w/Na'ama - Kenny is one of the most handsome little men I've ever seen...that smile!!!
Shan in CO

Carrie DeLille said...

You know I'm crying and very frightened of the fact that we may be sending two to public schools next year. Sweet Kenny. Tell him we love him for extra special reasons :o)

Anonymous said...

It's very sad to read comments that praise homeschooling as a way to isolate children from the world. Homeschooling can be a great thing but like anything else, it can be entered into for so many wrong reasons. Kudos to the parents out there working with their child's school to make it a better place for everyone.

DisneyDragonfly said...

Well said. I live in Massachusetts and in January of 2010, a 15 year old girl committed suicide after being tortured and bullied for months on end. The day before her death, she spoke with the assistant school who told her that it was a part of life and to suck it up. The uproar was so loud that 8 teenagers are being brought up on charges for her death. Until people speak out about how bullying is not a part of childhood, these sad stories will continue to occur!!
It happened to me throughout my middle school years. I cam home in tears everyday and with bruises all over from kids hitting me. Not one teacher spoke up to help me. Finally my mom spoke up and pulled me out of school and homeschooled me until I went to a new school for high school.
Thanks for bringing awareness to this important cause!
BTW, I love you blog. I'm only 24 but I really like to adopt internationally some day and I really enjoying reading all your stories!

Kelly and Sne said...

Well said. Particularly at the first grade level, adults play such an important part in role modeling appropriate behavior and educating on what is acceptable and what is not. Heck, I even see signs of this in toddler daycare! Amazing!

P.S. I am already thinking that I may hold our son back a year from kindergarten (he has a Summer birthday) because he is a bit small and meek and he is more comfortable with younger kids. I don't want to make him a potential victim as soon as he starts out in life. Sad that I have to think this way...

Ohiomom2121 said...

Dear Cindy,
I was saddened by the comment about isolating children through homeschooling. I personally believe every child should have the option to home school, especially middle school. I hated those years myself, and 2 of my children were victimized by bullies. I also am suing a school on behalf of an IEP student whose nose was broken by bullies, and the school has been terrible. We did home school one child b/c of bullying, and he blossomed. He then did a combination of school, college and home school classes in high school and graduated H.S. as a sophomore in college. He never complained about being isolated, and we were active in church, scouts, soccer, and he volunteered for the COSI science museum in the home school program. He even participated in a COSI program where he worked on a project with scientists at a business. He could not have juggled all of that had he been in public school. We had 4 children at the time and we both worked different shifts, so it's not like we just doted on him, but we did do everything for the children that we could. He even noted that in the science museum, he hated Saturday hours b/c the regular school kids had to put themselves up by putting someone else down, whereas the home school kids who were there on weekdays were always friendly and open. One of the best reasons TO home school is to get victims away from the breeding grounds where bullies hold sway. As far as working through the schools, my favorite memory was the V.P. saying, "we can't get any cooperation [bully's] parents." Like that excuses his torment of my son! Since schools choose not to protect their students, we as parents have few options, and the parents of my client w/the broken nose were unable to home school him especially given his special needs, and now he has incurred $30,000 in surgeries and the school is trying to be immune from suit by saying they did their best. No adult even saw the attack, since they had no supervision of the vending machine area where he was jumped while trying to get on the bus for home. We haven't pulled all of our children from school, and all of them spent the majority in public schools, but the years we did home school were incredibly valuable and created a sense of independence that will stay with them for life, I believe.
Sherry in Ohio

Ohiomom2121 said...

Oops, missed a word. Should have been ""we can't get any cooperation from [bully's] parents."

Anonymous said...

OhioMom, If you read my comments, I was very clear in saying that homeschooling can be a great thing. In fact, you actually validated what I said. You used homeschooling as an option when things got worse for your child and I assuming felt that there was little to no support to change the situation. You also tailored it to his/her particular situation and needs which is great.

My point was that homeschooling can be entered into for reasons that don't serve the child at all, and yes, isolating them from the rest of world and its perceived ills is one of them. I personally know more parents than I wished I knew that pulled their children out of school, or never even entered them simply because of exposure to different ideas and people. To make it worse, many of these folks have not even prepped for homeschooling in the least, just making it up as they go along... The best teachers, and in my opinion, the only REAL teachers, are the ones who have a true passion to educate, whether they are college-educated professionals, or parents wanting to do it at home. If anyone who wants to school their own child doesn't have that, then they should work with the schools, find alternative schools or programs, move to a better place, ANYTHING that will get the child the education he or she deserves.

I know this post got away from the bullying, but I wanted to comment on this as the usual folks who slam public/private schools all the time and praise homeschooling as perfection are popping up again. It's a good thing to remember that the world isn't all evil and that SOME who choose the route of schooling at home simply do not have the desire nor are prepared to take on the responsibility of educating at home.

PS - OhioMom, I hope your client is able to prevail for their child. That kind of bullying needs to stop and that's why, even though administrators are reluctant, we need to work with the schools. Not everyone can/should homeschool and it helps all kids, whether learning at school or at home, when they learn respect for each other.

Anonymous said...

Wow, to the last anonymous comment, for your description of a "real teacher." This is an old post, and probably won't be responded to but I still can't help but come on and say you must not have children. You must be a fairly new teacher that has come out of school after hearing repeatedly that trained and certified teachers are the only ones that can teach a child, that the parents are ignorant when it comes to how a child learns.
A parent becomes a teacher the minute a child is born. Do many use this opportunity wisely? No, and bullies are a perfect example, because they are being taught this at home. But to so erroneously claim that only a "real teacher" can educate their child at home, and there are only certain reasons that are "good" reasons for educating your child at home is sorely misguided.
I believe that in light of all the children that have taken their own lives because of bullying and teasing at school, taking your child out of the system even if it is only due to bullying is a fanatastic reason to home school if it means saving your child's life.
"Working" with your child's school is a wonderful idea, but this can often be a long process. Why jeopardize your child's mental well being while thinks are being "worked out."
No, with the first sign of teasing, you shouldn't pull your child out, but if it is an ongoing problem the child should come first, not the grandiose idea of hanging around to conform the system and make it better for all. With your child removed from the environment you can still work within the system to change it, and the biggest way to shock the administrators of a school into changing something is through the pocketbook. I know this because it is happening with my own school district. The school is well known for the bullying that goes on within it and their enrollment is declining. They have brought in a principal that is working specifically in this area, even going so far as having workshops open to the entire community on the subject, so don't tell me simply pulling your child out won't have an effect and isn't a good reason to home school.