Identifying the real problem at schools

This NPR story addresses the Day of Silence gay kids are holding today at American schools and the Day of Truth that Christian kids are countering with tomorrow at American schools.  I think both are proselytizing, and I'd like to see both out of the school.  However, to the extent any given school allows one, it should definitely allow the other.  My question, though, is whether the premise underlying the Day of Silence (which started all this) is correct.

The NPR story indicates that the purpose behind the Day of Silence is to counter the bullying gay kids undergo in American schools.  (Most gay kids, when polled, say that they've been bullied.)  I'm not gay, but boy was I bullied when I was in school.  I'm short, I was skinny and pale, I wore thick glasses, and even then I was a bookworm (not a pretty picture, huh?).  Getting through the halls often wasn't pleasant.  Indeed, it was my own private Hell.  With age, though, comes wisdom and shared experiences, and I've since learned how many of my peers were harassed — because they were too tall or too short, too dark or too light, too smart or too dumb, too fat or too thin.  

Basically, children are cruel and they will seek to assert their own status by picking on others whose differences they can easily discern.  It's a pack behavior.  "If I can distinguish you as too dark, I can gather near me all the other kids as pale as I am and, voila, I'm safely in a pack.  I just hope that my pack doesn't notice that I'm too heavy (even though appropriately pale), because then my pack will turn against me."  It's a dog-eat-dog, or maybe "Lord of the Flies" world out there.

The question then, is whether kids who get harassed because they're gay actually got harassed more often than other kids.  If that's the case, there's really a problem.  However, if they're getting harassed at rates equal to the harassment visited on other children, with the harassment being directed at their sexuality, rather than their looks, or whatever, than the problem isn't homophobia.*  Instead, the problem is a bullying climate in the given school. 
I think bullying is an appalling problem, having been on the receiving end of it myself.  Every school should address it, because school should be a safe space of all students, regardless of sexual orientation, height, skin color, religion, intellectual pursuits, weight, whatever.   But if the problem is endemic bullying, it's no solution to focus solely on the bullying visited on a single identity group in the school.  Instead, the behavior should be eradicated entirely through a focus on civil behavior, good manners, and simple kindness.


*To me, harassment is name calling, teasing, humiliating, etc., not physical violence or intense psychological torture.  If gay students are experiencing the latter, that's conduct beyond the pale of the ordinary bullying that distinguishes so many young people, and does deserve special and immediate consideration.
Talking to Technorati: , , , ,

Be Sociable, Share!
  • Ymarsakar

    The predominantly black community I grew up in really did not like gays. It was the second worst insult next to mfer.

    Children’s psyches are weak, they rely upon numbers not quality. Which is why it is so important that people not learn bad habits early on, and that they devote their natural instincts to good standards and causes.

    I tend to think bullies achieve a lot of physical intimidation because playground and early fights are grappling exercises. Meaning that win/loss depends upon your weight and size, height and so on. If a kid knows now to grabble with the big guy bullying him, he has a much higher chance of winning a fight. And winning a fight, preferably with 3 accurate blows to sensitive but not crippling spots, would be not only impressive but quite a deterence.

  • jg

    ARe we talking about jungles? or schools? That’s a really important point. Much of the conversation about schooling of the past has always focussed on the ills. Bullying was one of those. But I suspect those many ills were warts on a largely well run scenario–at least in comparison to today’s chaos. Bullying is a danger, as here, but profoundly disturbing is the suspicion that the primary reason for assembling young people, schooling, is no longer relevant in today’s public institutions.

  • CDR Salamander

    How about, “Just leave me alone and let me study so I can get a life and forget about all you losers…” day? In High School, that would have been a day I would have supported.

  • Earl

    Something else we need to remember is that schools were changed DRASTICALLY during the last several decades — small, even medium-sized, schools have largely disappeared in favor of BIG ones where we can “realize the economies of scale”. None of these problems were so prevalent earlier for the same reason that small towns are nicer and safer places to grow up than are big cities.

  • Pingback: My own brave new world « Bookworm Room()