Romney a bully? A Columbine teacher's guide to shades of bullying
As Mitt Romney's high school buddies talk in the media about a case of bullying, a Columbine teacher's guide to the different shades of a bully may help guide your own analysis of his long-ago behavior or the behavior you see in teens today.
Ever since I blogged about reading Dave Cullen’s "Columbine," I’ve been following him on Facebook, so yesterday (April 28) I got a heads-up about his review of a book called "The Bully Society," by Jessie Klein. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t agree or disagree with Dave’s assessment of it. (I hate it when people who haven’t read my books review them – and it happens more often than you might expect.)Skip to next paragraph
Paula Reed is an author, teacher, and mother of two who lives in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado. She has taught English at Columbine High School for twenty-five years. Her latest historical novel, "Hester," is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s "The Scarlet Letter." She blogs here.
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The review just got me to thinking about the whole bullying thing and how I hear adults talk about it or how individual kids talk about it, versus the big picture I see as a teacher.
When people talk about bullies, we mainly hear about one kid who is relentlessly picked on by another or a group of kids – ruthlessly harassed physically and/or emotionally. As Dave points out in his review, we generally hear all about the kid being picked on. We get his point of view. We almost never hear about the bullies. We seldom get their side. This is important, because we can never hope to solve a problem unless we understand it, and you can’t just look at one side and gain any real understanding. Also, we have to remember that both stories will be biased, that neither the bully nor the victim sees himself or the situation with 100 percent objective accuracy.
The other problem is that we assume that all incidents of bullying are inherently alike. My experience has been that many adults who were bullied as kids (for that matter, many kids who are being bullied now) assume that Eric and Dylan’s experience at Columbine was exactly the same as their own experience as they perceived it. I saw this on the last anniversary of the shootings when I was asked to speak at a “Break the Silence” rally for LGBT youth in Colorado Springs. Several young people stood at the mic and told absolutely heartbreaking stories of cruelty at schools unable to adequately handle the situations. The thing is, I think I was invited to speak because they thought Eric and Dylan were them – fragile, gentle, confused. The idea that perhaps Eric was a psychopath, incapable of their tender, bruised emotions, was not anything they had ever considered.
Anyway, the combination of the book review and the rally got me thinking. I’m no expert. These are just my opinions as an educator. By the way, I’m using the masculine pronoun as universal; these individuals can be male or female.
The classic bully: This kid is the one most of us think of when we hear the term “bully.” He’s just plain mean, a predator who seeks out the weakest kid and picks, picks, picks. He usually gets a few cohorts to go along. Other kids don’t cross him out of fear. Conflict mediation is wasted on this kid. He smirks at his victim through the whole process and his apology is insincere – either openly sarcastic or saccharine-sweet. At end of mediation, everyone but the bully is dissatisfied—the victim, the victim’s parents, the school. Ironically, the bully’s parents are also dissatisfied because they see their child as the victim, forced to humble himself to a student who is beneath him. They complain that schools have picked on their child his whole life, and their strident defense destroys any possibility that the kid will learn anything.