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 sickened...to 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 http://www.bvblackspin.com/2010/04/09/a-mother-s-love/?icid=mainhtmlws-main-wdl5link3http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bvblackspin.com%2F2010%2F04%2F09%2Fa-mother-s-love%2F .
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 reason...read about about another 5th grader taunted about being gay, Raheem Hererra: http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/23/bullying.suicide/
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 "Mama...me go...soccer...kick 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.