I read an article in Time about the Alliance School is Milwaukee, a school for kids who have been bullied, many of them over their sexuality. The school was started by a teacher who was outed in her previous school and she took that opportunity to create a thriving gay-straight alliance for the students there. She was so inspired by the spirit of tolerance in that small circle that she started a school that would bring that spirit to a wider student body. About 50% of the student body is gay, transgendered or questioning with the rest being students who left their old schools in search of more tolerant waters for other reasons.
The descriptions of this school make it seem like a place for all the kids I would have been friends with in high school: nerds, artists, misfits, all the tortured souls who knew all the lyrics to the song Kiss Off by the Violent Femmes. Sensitive kids whose soft spots would be all too visible to bullies.
Part of me loves the idea of school entirely for kids like this. Another part of me is outraged because this is a form of victim blaming. They didn’t do anything wrong. Why did they need to leave their old school? And why did the bullies get to stay?
There should be a very basic rule in life that you don’t get rewarded for being a dick. Obviously, that rule does not exist, which is why Mel Gibson still gets to make movies. But in the compulsory world of public school, that rule should apply. Being that kids are required to attend school, it should follow that schools are safe and any elements that diminish the safety of the school should be removed. Including other students.
Moreover, we don’t accept harassment or assault in the adult world. If an adult were being harassed or physically harmed in the workplace, for example, that person would likely file criminal charges. No one would make excuses for the behavior of the assailant, as people tend to do with kids who commit similar acts. And harassed individuals aren’t forced to sequester themselves away from their attackers. Rather, the attackers are sequestered into correctional facilities.
I don’t buy the notion that fights, violent aggression, and endless torment are part and parcel of middle and high school. Nor do I buy the notion that we need to handle it by removing the victims because, and I can’t stress this enough, the victims are not at fault. The bullies are at fault and they should be forced to answer for their behavior.
I think step one might be to abandon the Oprah-speak about bullying. It should be permisible to say to the kid who just shoved anther kid into a bank of lockers “You are a dick. You are going to detention for being a dick. If you continue to be a dick, you’re out of here because this school is a dick-free zone. Now, I’m calling your mother to tell her that her kid is a dick.”
Even better, the school should be able to file assault charges. I guarantee if even one kid got hauled off in cuffs for pushing a smaller kid around, other kids would think twice about doing it.
And most important of all, the parents need to get pulled in and told point blank that their child is conducting him or herself in a manner that is not acceptable. The parents should be required to assist in correcting the behavior with the understanding that a child committing acts of violence or harassment will be expelled. No counseling, no arbitrating, no tolerance. Bullies should be punished swiftly and without qualification.
I want every school to be a safe place for students to come learn. I don’t think it’s acceptable that certain students should feel the need to flee their school because their peers are allowed to get away with borderline criminal activity. If it means we need to monitor hallways, libraries and lunchrooms, then so be. If it means draconian-seeming rules such as silent passing times or cafeterias and no open periods, so be it. If it means one-strike policies the eliminate bullies form the student population, so be it. If kids can’t obey the basic social tenets of compassionate behavior voluntarily, then they need to be taught the hard way. And teaching bullies that their actions have consequences is a priceless service to society.
Rebekah is a DC-area mom with an over-developed sense of irreverence, socialist tendencies, ADD, and a blog. She recently quit her non-profit sector job to pursue her dream of not working. Rebekah is the author of the blog Mom-in-a-Million, the column So Here’s The Thing at the Washington Times Communities and a contributor to The Broad Side.