Bullying is a time-worn, despicable custom, one that is still tolerated in many schools, and even winked at in other institutions, including the U.S. military academies. It is a scourge that can follow its victims for life, but school authorities seem reluctant to try to do much about it.
The Blade series on “Zero Tolerance” last week pointed up the inconsistency of school policies on bullying in school disciplinary policies in the wake of tragic school shootings. School districts crack down hard at the first sign of any violence or threats, even if uttered by harmless cranks, but throw up their hands at dealing with the problems of students who are bullied by their peers, often because of their size, physical appearance, or inability to blend in with the group.
For the victims, especially when they are insecure adolescents, bullying can seem worse than death.
Many people can recall instances of bullying in schools, either suffered personally or witnessed by them during their childhood or adolescence. It happens in public and private schools of every description, from those in the poorest areas of large cities to the wealthiest of suburbs. Very often, the ragging is directed at nonathletes, students who are regarded as loners or nerds, those who take their academic classes seriously, or who join others in seeking refuge in consciously appearing different, perhaps by wearing trench coats or shunning popular dress styles.
Prime examples of these were the two students at Columbine High School in Colorado who shot and killed 12 schoolmates and a teacher. In fact, Dr. Loretta Noviance, a child psychologist and adjunct professor from the University of Cincinnati, who recently conducted some workshops on the subject in Toledo, said virtually all the perpetrators of school shootings around the country had been teased or taunted by other students.
“In many schools they don't want to hear about the bullying,” she commented. “Instead of always telling the victim to walk away or move to another classroom, how about the bully walking away or moving to another classroom”
Teachers and administrators often turn a blind eye to bullying, although in light of recent shootings they have been quick to expel students in situations where a few ounces of common sense might have done worlds more good than pounds of punishment. However, the bully may be for many of his peers one of the “big men on campus.” Principals are politicians, too, and often find it expedient to blame the victims.
In countries like Japan, where the gun culture is not developed, victims of bullies may find it so unbearable that they take their own lives. That is a tragic occurrence under any circumstance, but victims in this country have ready access to guns in many instances, so when they finally crack under the pressure, they can get even by killing some of their peers (and often themselves). In such instances, students who have never bullied anyone pay the ultimate price of school authorities' timidity on this subject.
It is surprising that Toledo Public Schools have no express prohibitions against teasing or bullying. That is probably the situation in most school systems. It is not that hard to identify the bullies. A whiff or two of zero tolerance toward bullies would in the long run pay off in preventing the shooting sprees that have stalked American education. Most bullies themselves are cowards, and in any functional family setting, they might cower at the prospect of a few weeks of expulsion, along with zero grades for that period.