Saturday, June 25, 2011

When bullying becomes dangerous

One of my childhood friends called me a few days ago. I was out, so I asked if I could call her back. She said yes. Later that night, when I got home, I checked my Facebook (as I usually do) and saw that she sent me a message. Her message included a link to news of a court case. From the first couple of lines, I knew it was about a dear friend of hers who committed suicide four years ago. Apparently, the boy was tormented by bullies to the extreme. While teachers had witnessed the event, my friend said that they would simply ask the bullies to calm down. The bullies were respected athletes and the teachers apparently cared more for their reputation than the boy's right to feel safe in a learning environment. Unfortunately, the judge declared that the school had no "special relationship" with the students and that they did not have responsibility in the death of this particular student. In response, my friend has written a petition to the U.S. Secretary of Education, stating a need to clarify teachers' roles in demanding accountability for bullies and making students feel safe. Here is the link to the petition as well as the link to the court case.

This all occurred in my friend's hometown, which unfortunately has a reputation for teen suicides. The reasons for these suicides involve excessive bullying. While I don't know all of the details for each individual student, it seems that there is an extreme lack of oversight into students' interactions. My friend is the daughter of a teacher (one who taught in that area) and is studying to become a teacher herself. Through her studies and her discussions with her mother, she has found that teachers must serve as "first responders" to crisis. While the teachers themselves may not have control of what students do at home, they do have the ability to intervene when a student faces intimidation or harassment. Through this, they have the ability to foster a respectful classroom community. As my friend witnessed, they did not. Due to teachers' authority and responsibility, it is natural that she finds this criminal.

I am asking all of you to please sign my friend's petition. In the U.S., it's obligatory to educate our children, usually by having them attend school 180 days of the year. As such, we expect that our children be safe and that our teachers diffuse any hint of a bad situation. More importantly, we are often taught that education is the great equalizer, the key to allowing others to follow their dreams. Those dreams are in vain if we are simply left with dead children.

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