Dustin Hammonds didn’t deserve the two years of torment that his parents allege he went through. For two years, a young man was tormented in the one place we all like to pretend our children are safe at: school. Now, the entire area is hurting over a child most of us never got to meet.
What Dustin went through is, unfortunately, nothing new. Far, far too many children endure this same sort of thing each and every day. Far, far too many children are victimized and damaged for years following their school careers.
I won’t pretend that I have all the answers. The truth is, bullying is a complex problem and there is not a simple solution to it.
Schools aren’t like society as a whole. Children face a highly regimented schedule from the moment the bell rings in the morning until the close of the school day. They are told where to go, what to do, and in some place they’re even told what to eat. They are given no real leeway in how to function. Then, a handful of kids seek out those they perceive as “weak” or “different” and do whatever they can to elevate themselves in the eyes of their peers.
In my day, a child wasn’t exactly permitted to fight back, but the ramifications of doing it were a good bit less than they are these days. Even in my day, if two students fought, both are punished equally, regardless of circumstances. With punishment now being more severe than it used to be, kids are terrified of fighting back.
“Just tell the teacher,” school officials say. Sounds good in theory. In practice, it often doesn’t work. My own son reported a child who kicked him last year. The other student was put in In School Suspension for a day. Upon his return, he ramped up his aggressive behavior with my son, including trying to slam my son’s locker door while my son’s fingers were inside.
The lesson my son took from this? Reporting a potential bully can actually make the problem worse.
Later in the school year, another boy decided my son would make a nice target. After hitting my son, my child returned the favor. From what I understand, he returned it with a bit of interest as well. Was this right?
According to the school, it wasn’t. My son was sent home. Of course, the result was that the other boy still leaves my son alone.
Now, I’m not saying that letting kids brawl will solve the problems. It won’t. A kid who just isn’t strong won’t come out any better. However, Iwill say that the schools desperately need to look at the problems they are encountering and recognize that bullies aren’t easily dissuaded, particularly by such miniscule punishments as a day of in school suspension, a couple of days of detention, or whatever.
If our children are not going to be permitted to be responsible for their own safety – something they will be responsible for the moment they set foot off of school grounds – then they need to step up and take it seriously. The truth is, children will often not say anything, for any number of reasons. After a time, they just get tired of talking about something that just won’t go away.
When a child fears retaliation for telling on a bully, then the offense will not be reported. An escalation in the bullying is never a desirable outcome, so maybe one solution is for teachers to be much more alert. If a bully is caught red handed, then the victim rarely sees any such escalation, yet the bully is caught and punished. That’s a win, folks.
How will that happen? Who knows. As someone who was once the victim of bullying myself, I would be thrilled to sit down with administrators and let them know what these kids are really going through, and how the rules as written don’t empower the victims. They need to understand.
If they don’t, then this area will mourn many more Dustin Hammonds before we are through.