I have written 4 posts about bullying, and not published any of them for various reasons.
But today, watching the video in the post below made me feel the definite need to comment.
This video isn’t surprising to me at all. In the town where I grew up, this is how every bus I ever rode on was. Some were worse. Our school rarely provided bus monitors, but the kids themselves often took far more brutal treatment than this woman endured. I absolutely received far more of this bullying than any kid should have had to handle.
The thing that struck me about the video is Karen’s engagement with the children. She is still answering their questions, making comments, and trying to engage with them. This was one of my defenses as well; I thought that by continuing business as usual, and furthering my efforts to blend in and make friends with my bullies, things would eventually smooth over. Not so. My efforts at friendliness or attempts to look cool only gave them more fuel. I didn’t realize that until later, though. I’ll never forget one eye-opening day in tenth grade when I stumbled across the myspace account of a friend of one of my bullies, and on her page the two of them had posted back and forth- much to my horror- a long dialogue all about me. My habits, things I had said, my clothes. Most of the things they were attacking were things that I had changed specifically to try and alleviate the bullying. It was all out there, and had been for weeks and months, and I hadn’t even known. Clearly, in the video Karen is attempting to deflect the bullying in the same way. You can see her eyes scan for someone to connect with when students ask her questions, like whether she is sweating or not.
It’s hard to say whether it’s more disturbing to see children attack adults, such as Karen, or their own peers, other children, just like them.
My strong feeling is that adults do have the potential to combat bullying in a way that children do not, and so while I have deep sympathies for Karen, I do not think the internet outcry towards her situation is exactly just. People are creating pages to raise money for vacations for Karen, and to help her find another job. But this was Karen’s job, and it was her choice to take it. And rather than find ways to DO her job, she allowed herself to become a target of the very stuff she was placed on that bus to combat.
I am far more concerned for the children, who do not have the authority to pass out suspensions to their bullies. Instead, many kids face bullies who hit them, trip them, call them horrible names, trick them into getting into trouble, spread vicious rumors, and so much more. I’ll never forget the time a student sitting behind me in Spanish class rigged up an electrocuting pen that was so strong it left burns on the back of my arm from him jamming it into me for days, while our teacher just laughed. I’ll never forget the time a boy on the bus slammed his textbook over my head, once every 2 minutes for twenty minutes until we got to his house. And I’ll never forget the adults who bullied me either, whether it was the bus driver who joined right in, or the teacher who just kept laughing it off.
Giving mistreated school employees gifts and displays of affection doesn’t help them to do their jobs any better, especially considering that one of their primary roles is to halt the kind of mistreatment they endured themselves. Doing so brings the focus away from the children, who are both the perpetrators and the victims, and are without a doubt where the focus of concern belongs.