Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
CLEARFIELD, Pa. — Here’s one more disturbing story related to the shocking Penn State child sexual abuse case: Victim #1, whose allegations about being molested by Jerry Sandusky led to legendary football coach and alleged enabler Joe Paterno’s firing, has left his high school after being bullied by classmates due to his role in Paterno’s dismissal.
During the past 21 years when I reported from and did programs in schools, bullying has always been a problem. But along with the coarsening of adult America, bullying at school and online has grown. An exaggeration? Nope. On Sept. 4 I left San Diego on a nine-month national trip. Since then I’ve been in two cities mourning high school students who killed themselves to escape being bullied.
In case you’ve been on Mars, a virtual epidemic of bullying has led to a host of tough regulations throughout the country, an especially tough law in New Jersey and special programs in some schools. Parents of bullies sometimes cooperate and sometimes look the other way. Bullying has sparked civil lawsuits brought by parents of bullied kids against officials who they feel don’t step in or clamp down hard enough on bullying when it happens or who don’t try to prevent it — which may, in the end, be a bigger motivating factor to defeating bullying than bullied students’ pain.
Newspaper headlines, websites and Tweets never tell the whole story.
Each time a kid takes his or her life they leave shell-shocked communities, grieving parents whose lives are effectively over, bullies’ families stunned by their kids’ role in another child’s death and bullies who made terrible choices who’ll be haunted their whole lives. And, in nearby schools where siblings and friends of the dead kids are enrolled, staffers have to scramble to do ASAP damage control.
Meanwhile, news of a death invariably gives other beset kids bad ideas.
Discuss the lifelong impact of a bullying experience with school kids and it invariably it hits a nerve — with nearby adults.
For instance, two years ago, after I told elementary kids to ask any adult about whether they were teased and bullied to see how the pain and details of bullying last for years, a PTA President approached me.
“Oh, Joe,” she sighed. “When you mentioned that I suddenly felt goose bumps go up my arms! I had a sudden flashback to when I was in junior high school and the boys made fun of me because I was tall and called me names. I felt my blood was run cold and I had a kind of sick feeling.”
Something similar happened two years later at another school. After I told the kids to try this little experiment, the principal, a woman in her 40s, addressed her students: “All of you know what I’ve told some of you before. I am in teaching because I was bullied. I was in elementary school. And I was tall for my age. And the boys called me ‘The Jolly Green Giant’ after a TV commercial. It was the very worst year of my life and I decided then to go into teaching and see if I could do something to make sure no other boys and girls would ever suffer the way I did.”
On a partisan radio talk show a few months ago, some callers insisted the outcry over bullying and the need for stronger legislation was merely PC — that it somehow was an ideological or partisan thing.
No, it’s not about pushing an agenda. It’s about protecting childhoods and saving kids’ lives.
The only bullying that should be condoned is a no-mercy official clamp down on bullying by schools, legislators, law enforcement and civil litigation lawyers.
The kids leaving a school should NEVER be the bullied kids — but the bullies themselves and those who enable them.
Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.