Is It Fair To Punish The Victims of Bullies in Our Schools?

February 3, 2011  |  

There is no denying, our public school system needs a massive overhaul. Many of our students struggle academically, but why? Much of what we see as a result academically, has ties to deeper more intrinsic issues. Parenting a public school child nowadays is tough. Many of us cringe at the thoughts of what our child(ren) may be getting exposed to behind the walls of the campus halls. We hope that the values we believe in are not tainted by the views of other parents by way of their children. In addition, we trust that our public school educators ensure the safety and serenity of our children that come from strong households.

However, what course of actions should we take when the schools that we entrust with the safety of our children drop the ball? I mean, severely drop the ball! I have had the unfortunate privilege to work with Masika Bermudez. You remember her. She is the mother of the 11 year-old boy (Jaheem Herrera) in Dekalb County Georgia that committed suicide after being bullied repeatedly at school. She went to the school 11 times to file complaints but she was dismissed and overlooked each time. Sadly, the 11th time would lead to her losing her 11 year-old. Her life has changed, the son’s life has ended, yet, the bullies live on.

Here we are two years later and very little has changed. Last week, I was faced with a bullying debacle of my own. My 12 year-old son was given in-school suspension for defending himself against a bully; a decision by the school system I grossly disagree with it. He complained to the teacher 3 times with no resolution from her.

The bully gained more confidence to assault my son as he saw there was no retribution from the teacher. My son eventually punched the boy in his face and bloodied his nose. My son is very small for his age, as was I. I am 36 and STILL small for my age. When I was growing up I faced boys much bigger than me who tried to bully me. Take note of the key word, “tried.”

Back then, as well as today, bullies repeatedly picked on those who were not willing to defend themselves. I was the youngest of three boys who had to quickly learn how to defend myself. At times my brothers helped teach me, at other times they pushed me around. It made me tough, and over the years, less appealing to bullies, despite my small stature.

I tip my hat to the school system and the teachers in it. They have a very tough job being in the trenches with our children on a daily basis. They are doing their best to reduce violence in schools but I think failing to recognize the victims makes matters worse. Good children are joining bullies because they feel unprotected by the school system. True, zero tolerance policies are in place, but understand that laws are only for those who will abide by them, especially if the punishment is the same for the aggressor and the victim.

I am sorry school teachers, but bad kids do not fear you. So what we see are bad kids pushing around good kids, good kids afraid of the bully “and” getting into trouble, bullies knowing this, good kids remaining human punching bags and suffering humiliation on and off campus. But should schools care about what one child encounters off campus? That’s the million-dollar question.

There’s no surprise we have cases such as Kelley Williams-Bolar, an Akron, Ohio mom who was jailed for tampering with school records in order to get her daughters in better school districts. There can be voucher programs, charter schools, and resource officers to alleviate the anxiety parents feel sending their children into, what we often feel are, war zones. This is why a focus on familial dynamics is outlined in my latest book.

At the end of the day, I do not believe violence is the way to solve disputes but remember being bullied is not a dispute; it is unsolicited aggression that usually contains little negotiable resolutions. I believe it is poor justice to have children trying to teach the “turn the other cheek” philosophy to other children.

They are not equipped to explain why they turned the other cheek. I know I am not alone. There are millions of parents who refuse to tell their children to become victims. However, schools seem to sometimes have a stronger influence on our children than some parents. We then witness our children change almost overnight. They become depressed, reclusive or angry. Parents must deal with this long after the school bell rings and long after report cards are issued. When it comes to my son, I teach him to diffuse, but when he’s unsuccessful, defend. He is their student for now but he will be my son forever.

Devin Robinson is a business and economics professor and author of Rebuilding in the Black Infrastructure: Making America a Colorless Nation and Blacks: From the Plantation to the Prison. Contact him at devin@devinrobinson.com.

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