There has been a court case that has, or should have, England up in arms. A three teens who attacked and tortured an autistic youth were tried and convicted. The judge called the defendants’ actions grotesque, and then sentenced them to community service and probation. For details see: <a href="http//www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1319575/3-evil-bullies-tortured-autistic-boy-17-walk-free-Manchester-court.html . Those who wish to lodge a formal protest may visit: e-activist.com/ea-campaign/clientcampaign.do?ea.client.id=10&ea.campaign.id=8189.
Had I been the judge, I would have thrown the book at him, or at least the chapters dealing with sentencing and jail. I advocate handing out consequences that are appropriate for the nature and severity of the offense. Not being familiar with the subtleties of the English legal system, I hesitate to comment further on the Judge’s decision, but I would like to point out that this act of violence is only the tip of an iceberg. Perhaps writers should be inspired to write stories slanted to make violence among teens unglamorous, especially violence against those who are defenseless.
The fact that the victim suffered from Asperger’s syndrome makes this attack all the more serious, but even in the general population, bullying and physical violence by teens is approaching epidemic proportions. Of course the weak and the handicapped are the usual targets.
There is no one reason to be a bully. Obviously psychological gratification plays a big part. For some people, dominating another builds one’s self importance. For others, participation in group violence is a matter of peer pressure and a way to advance oneself in the eyes of the group of attackers. Perhaps a few derive fun from the experience of beating or humiliating someone.
There is a fine line between bullying and a playground fight. A playground fight may be an expression of anger or a way to resolve a dispute. While these fights are not appropriate, at least the combatants are frequently well matched. The distinguishing feature of bullying is that a bully or group of bullies seek out a victim who is weaker than they, either in numbers or physical strength.
Bullying has always been with us. As a student in the 1950’s, I had to deal with bullies, but it seems to me there were fewer bullies, and adult intervention by teachers and parents tended to minimize the problem. Nevertheless, there were those who got their psychological rewards from picking on the weak, and who is a better target than someone who is physically or psychologically challenged.
Having recently retired from 8 years of teaching high school, I have witnessed increasing violence in the schools, much of which is bullying, and I did not even teach at any of the problem schools. Violence in general and bullying in particular are at all time highs.
In my opinion, the responsibility for this problem falls on society and specifically on parents. It has become popular to espouse relative morality. Several of my students told me directly to my face, “You may think that is wrong, but I do not.” The typical response to a teacher who reads the rules is, “That rule is dumb.” Perhaps indirectly, our children are being given the message that no one should force them to do something they don’t want to do. There goes authority out the window even though society without authority figures quickly decays into anarchy.
Parents are a major part of the problem because many parents fail to teach their children any morality and do not instill respect for others or respect for authority. Some parents are overly permissive. Very few parents back up the school. In fact, some parents actively train their children to openly rebel against their teachers.
No wonder there is a culture shock when a “spoiled” child hits the organization and discipline of a school. Often I have had students demand the class vote on an issue. Certainly it is nice to have the class agreeable, so teachers sometimes pole the class on issues that will not negatively impact classroom management regardless of which way the vote goes. Most of the time, however, the teacher must tactfully remind the students that the classroom is not a democracy, it is a benevolent dictatorship with the teacher as dictator-in-charge. There is not other way to manage a class of 30 students and still achieve the academic goals expected by the administrators. This is not to say the teacher must be mean, but the teacher must be in firm control of the classroom in order for learning to occur.
In the United States, schools operate under the legal principle of Loco Parentus. A school legally has the powers of a parent while the student is engaged in school activities. Thus it is the obligation of the school to instruct, direct and discipline the student while at school. It can be argue that there are a few teachers and administrators who neglect their responsibility or who abuse their authority, but the overwhelming majority of teachers and administrators are making good faith efforts to handle the students as a responsible parent would.
In the middle of the past century, a teacher or principal only had to make a call to a parent. The parent would meet out a consequence (in addition to anything that occurred at school) appropriate for the offense. Now disciplinary action on a student frequently brings the parent to school trying to shield their child from the consequences of their actions. At times, a quiet discussion of a parent with the principal works in favor of the child. After all, teachers and administrators occasionally make mistakes. Many parents come in ready to argue even when the child has obviously broken a published classroom or school rule. They want the consequence waved, or they wish to minimize the offense simply because they don’t want their child to “suffer”. Occasionally, they will argue that the school rule is wrong or should not apply to their child. This sends a strong message to the child that the school system is mistreating them. This also weakens the ability for the teacher involved to manage his or her classroom.
In the United States, schools are controlled by a locally elected or appointed school board. Sure, money, guidelines and recommendations come to the school district from state and federal government agencies, but basic control of a school rests with the school board. Disgruntled parents take their grievances to the school board. Because parents are voters, they can often sway the school board. One star athlete was caught drinking at a school function. The consequence written in the student handbook would bar the athlete from participation in athletics for 30 days. The father brought a lawyer before the school board arguing that such a consequence will prevent the boy from running in the state cross country championship. This, he argued, would not be fair to the boy because he was expected to place in the top five. He should not be deprived of his metal. The school board agreed with the lawyer and restored the boy to the cross country team. Other parents then confronted the school board saying that the the boy had been caught red handed and should suffer the consequences regardless opportunity for a state championship. The school board reversed itself, but not in time to keep the boy out of the state meet. Other parents, when unsuccessful before the school board drag the school district into court at great cost. It is this kind of political intrigue that makes administrators gun shy of confrontations with parents. In general, most administrators are only effective to the extent they are backed up by the school board. This trickles down. When administrators fear they will be criticized rather than backed up, they withhold support from the teachers. One principal told me, “That (referring to my discipline program) is a great idea, but please do not use it. We might get sued.”
In spite of all of this, teachers and administrators are expected to stop bullying and other violence in the schools, and police are expected to stop teen violence in the streets. Certainly the schools and the law enforcement community have a role to play. Government bodies can provide funding and encouragement to run anti-bullying programs. We can attempt to train students to be sensitive to handicapped students. These efforts alone will not solve the problems of violence and bullying, especially not bullying of special education students. My opinion, however, is that of utmost importance is to get all parents involved in the fight.
Parents must teach their children moral values in the home at a young age. I would prefer that Christian morals be taught, but I would rather deal with a student with different moral values than to have to try to control a child who has no concept of morality. Those who have different moral values than me at least understood what I was trying to accomplish. Those devoid of morality generally want only to do things the way appears right to them and will fight conflicting views of right and wrong.
Parents must toughen up and become less permissive. I know, we all wish to give our children possessions and opportunities we were denied. Likewise we do not wish our children to suffer. We do our children a disservice, however, when we give them too many material posessions and allow them unrestricted activity. Eventually children will have to learn that they must work for possessions such as houses, cars, etc.. This will also help children to learn that there are times when Mom, Dad or some other authority figure will say, “No.” because there is a valid reason. Authority figures need to be obeyed.
Parents need to start backing up the schools. Recognize that your child is not necessarily always an angel. Cooperate with teachers and administrators as best you can. When you have a valid complaint, approach the teacher or an administrator calmly. Generally a calm discussion will resolve the issue especially when your child is the victim of injustice. In general, when your child is in trouble, determine if he or she bears at least some responsibility. Defend your child when there has been a genuine injustice, but recognize that defending your child when your child deserves the consequences will only reinforce bad behavior.
Last, parents should teach their children to set goals. Students with a goal often will avoid destructive behavior, such as drugs, if that behavior gets in the way of their goal such as becoming a champion athlete. Students without goals tend to drift aimlessly. They are very prone to getting into trouble such as torturing an autistic classmate.
Teachers and administrators are committed to working with your student. Parents, it is your turn to participate in turning your child into a well adjusted member of the community. When parents work with teachers and administrators, the teamwork produces results.