There’s not much to celebrate in America in 2020. We’re in crisis – economically, societally, governmentally.
But I just read a news story that found one bright spot no one saw coming. Distance learning is proving to be a happy break for bullied students. They’re enjoying learning, they’re participating more, and the ability to simply “tune out” the bullies is liberating.
It’s heartbreaking, but it shouldn’t be a surprise. A classroom full of students has always been a hunting ground for mean kids, and only the best teachers and school administrators stay on top of it.
Teachers can be bullies, too.
I was bullied by a teacher when I started school. The teacher informed my parents that she would “break my spirit” by the end of the school year. She failed, and the teacher the next year found me to be “difficult,” too. I spent a lot of time in trouble for talking in class that second year.
I still wonder at my parents, who waited until the next year before moving me to a different school. But in those days, perhaps parents thought teachers knew best.
I’ve seen a school that was a safe, tolerant space where all the students seemed to thrive. It was a public elementary school in Connecticut. It was the neighborhood school my children attended. The principal was a kind, hard-working woman who knew every single one of her students. And the teachers she hired met the two most important criteria for dealing with young children. They liked them, and they didn’t tolerate bullying. From anyone.
It wasn’t a wealthy school district. It was a working-class town. Everyone there, including the parents, worked hard to get it right.
In another part of that same state, when we moved, I saw the public school in a much more affluent town get it wrong over and over again. Conformity was the only way to survive intact there. The kids who couldn’t, wouldn’t conform were bullied. Teachers refused to see. They blamed the bullied instead of the bullies. Administrators turned a blind eye, particularly when the bullies came from “good” families. It was a dysfunctional place, and many dysfunctional, destructive things happened there.
I cannot imagine the dread bullied children feel, knowing they may have to go back to school in the fall. And I know it is likely that schools, and possibly parents, dismiss their anxiety.
I do not know the answer, unless it is a complete overhaul of our educational system. I suspect it’s long overdue. There are children who desperately need, and totally deserve, that change to begin now.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.