Victim NationSeptember 16th, 2011

Bullying was the subject of a half-hour training session for substitute teachers that I attended a few days ago. School employees must report instances of repeated abuse, whether physical or verbal. It’s not just pushing, shoving and hitting that concern policy-makers, but also mocking and insulting misconduct.

I didn’t ask any questions at the training session, but I had to wonder whether my own repeated humiliations in gym class–I was last-picked in every sport except spelling bee–made me a victim of bullying. It wasn’t that my peers didn’t like me or respect me; they just didn’t like depending on me to catch a ball or crash into an opponent, and they let me know. Likewise, the gym teacher.

I didn’t ask whether the casting of aspersions like “yer mama” or “moron” might be bullying or how freedom of speech might affect the bullying policy. I think kids still have the right to say “I don’t like you,” but they might risk punishment if they post that sentiment on your Facebook wall. “Four-eyes,” “sissy,” and a host of racial and ethnic epithets are out, but “know-it-all” and “dummy” may still be OK. I’m not sure about that, however, and I’m not sure I want to be.

I made no mention of the teacher’s role as bully. I had an English teacher in high school who made us read J. Edgar Hoover as literature. I didn’t do it, and the guy mocked me at every opportunity. Unpatriotic. Is it bullying to call a kid unpatriotic or lacking in school spirit or even unmotivated? Teachers do that all the time. They think it’s part of their job, and maybe it is. I gained strength from scrapes with the hyperathletic gym teacher and the fascist English teacher.

I didn’t ask whether I should discuss the bullying policy with kids. What an emabarassment it would be to have to juxtapose our nation’s military adventures or the value system of Hollywood to our school’s bullying policies. Where does torture fit in? Isn’t it OK to bully a bad guy? Isn’t that what Schwarzenegger and Stallone do in every movie they ever made? “If it’s not wrong for them, why is it wrong for me?” a child might ask. I’m not sure school is the appropriate place to discuss such things.