Skip

"Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?"
March 23, 2008 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Every One That Hates Billy....” It featured a photograph of Billy’s face superimposed over a likeness of Peter Pan, and provided this description of its purpose: “There is no reason anyone should like billy he’s a little bitch. And a homosexual that NO ONE LIKES.”
Billy, busy building a miniature house, didn’t see it coming: the boy hit him so hard in the left cheek that he briefly lost consciousness. [His mother] remembers the family dentist sewing up the inside of Billy’s cheek, and a school official refusing to call the police, saying it looked like Billy got what he deserved.
A car the color of a school bus pulls up with a boy who tells his brother beside him that he’s going to beat up Billy.... While one records the assault with a cellphone camera, the other walks up to the oblivious Billy and punches him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead.

The video shows Billy staggering, then dropping his book bag to fight back, lanky arms flailing. But the screams of his sister stop things cold.

The aggressor heads to school, to show friends the video of his Billy moment, while Billy heads home, again. It’s not yet 8 in the morning.

....

Judging by school records, at least one official seems to think Billy contributes to the trouble that swirls around him.
posted by orthogonality (267 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
My only surprise is that this kid hasn't decided to get a gun and take revenge. His teachers, however are shocked, shocked that Billy "is easily distracted, occasionally disruptive, even disrespectful."

Disrespectful of authority? Imagine that!

I suppose there's an explanation for this in anthropology or primatology, that every social grouping needs a runt or a scapegoat to serve as an outlet, as the base of the school's rough herrenvolk democracy, and the authorities at the school instinctively realize that without Billy to be beaten up, their jobs would be all the harder. Or that'll "make a man out of him" or something. I just fear what it will make our society.
posted by orthogonality at 11:17 PM on March 23, 2008 [7 favorites]


Enroll Billy in boxing class and make him read Oscar Wilde.
posted by geodave at 11:19 PM on March 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


Jesus, why do his parents keep sending him back?
posted by moxiedoll at 11:20 PM on March 23, 2008 [16 favorites]


His parents need to enroll him in some Muay Thai classes.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:25 PM on March 23, 2008


It's funny. I'm an avowed pacifist. But reading this, all I can think of doing is destroying the lives and property of the bullies and their families. Torching cars, getting them in minor legal trouble, anything to make their lives miserable. And you know, if it was my kid, I'd do it and feel good about it.

I guess some things from elementary and middle school just never leave you.

And administrators in this sort of situation are worse than useless.

I'm a teacher now, and I like to think that I'd be aware of this happening and put a stop to it in my classroom, but I know that I allow a little bit of horsing around among friends and I really hope that I don't miss anything.

(Flashback- one year at summer camp I kept getting beaten up by a kid, can't remember what started things, I think he did something to me that I didn't like. I kept getting him to cry by saying he was the product of incest. I ended up with a lot of bruises that summer. But I think that's the only time I can remember that I actually provoked the bullying I received. But that was the exception.

By high school I was over six feet tall and had learned to game the social system. And I switched schools.)
posted by Hactar at 11:26 PM on March 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is our children learning?

Given the topic, I have to giggle a bit at that, though I'm not sure if it's intentional humor or an amusing typo.

This is one of those stories that infuriates me so, though. It's a tale of parents trying to work within a system, and when it fails, they just keep trying to work within the same system

hint: try a different school. It's obvious this kid doens't have tons of friends that he'll miss every day of his life. Or sue the school system, they're obviously not doing enough. Or both!

It's also a tale of a school that just sits there while things go to hell. OH, you suspended a kid for getting a fight? Bully for you, but the kid keeps getting beaten up, so you're failing somewhere. . . perhaps there are other options, other avenues is discover other than "sit and wait and react weakly"

And it's a tale of a kid who is probably turning into a less than productive member of society because he's surrounded by no one taking enough initiative to make any changes. He can read War and Peace later, right now he needs to learn how to take control, turn things around and get things done, and he's not.

I certainly hope he has enough self-control to not take control in ways that put him on the news and land him in our memories as a monster.
posted by Inversehelix at 11:28 PM on March 23, 2008


Oh yeah, and does this remind anyone else of Donnie Darko?

"And you... yeah, you. Sick of some jerk shoving your head down the toilet? Well, you know what? Maybe... you should lift some weights, or uh, take a karate lesson and the next time he's tries to do it, you kick him in the balls."
posted by Inversehelix at 11:30 PM on March 23, 2008


At least he is learning something useful, but I am missing the point of this post orthogonality. Why is this one article interesting or special? What I am supposed to learn from reading this?

“And if the page didn’t have stuff to learn, I’d rip it out.”

I see.

/Ripping this post out.
posted by Dr. Curare at 11:32 PM on March 23, 2008


Oh yeah, I'm sure a newspaper story will help. The publicity won't provoke even more beatings or anything.

Jesus, that poor kid.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:32 PM on March 23, 2008


In early grade school I was a constant target of one bully in particular. This, in addition to a couple other reasons, caused my parents to enroll me in Tae Kwon Do.
I really enjoyed the sport. It was something I was really good at. It brought structure and focus to my life.
One day we got our report cards at school and bully was really upset about his grades. He decided to take it out on me. He got in my face and shoved me. I started to stand up for myself and he punched me. I ended the fight nearly as soon as it had began. He never messed with me again.

I am a pacifist at heart, but a person needs to be able to protect themselves. And I can tell you from experience, most bullies are terrible fighters.
posted by matt_od at 11:34 PM on March 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Inversehelix writes "Given the topic, I have to giggle a bit at that, though I'm not sure if it's intentional humor or an amusing typo."

It's a quote by President GW Bush, in reference to his (and Kennedy's) "No Child Left Behind" legislation.
posted by orthogonality at 11:37 PM on March 23, 2008


I wondered myself what that article was doing in the Times. Hey Doc, what does "orthogonality" mean?
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 11:37 PM on March 23, 2008


Oh yeah, and does this remind anyone else of Donnie Darko?

"And you... yeah, you. Sick of some jerk shoving your head down the toilet? Well, you know what? Maybe... you should lift some weights, or uh, take a karate lesson and the next time he's tries to do it, you kick him in the balls."


Victim blaming: the acceptable bullying!
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:52 PM on March 23, 2008 [7 favorites]


Sucks to his ass-mar!
posted by fleacircus at 11:56 PM on March 23, 2008 [8 favorites]


I was bullied as a kid, and what made things turn around was the realization that acting vunerable made me vunerable. Any martial art or defense mechanism you develop will help (a witty retort is a fine solution). Showing weakness encourages bullies, therefore, you must learn to be proud of yourself, and then things will change.

However, it is probably unwise for Billy to stay in that school district. He could do with a fresh start, or perhaps a couple of fresh starts. It removes all the bad blood that may have existed, which, even if things get better, will surround him until he graduates with bad memories.

In my experience some of the best people I have met switched schools at around age 16. They had matured my that age, could leave their past behind them, and make an impact on a new school. It gave them freedom to become something greater.
posted by niccolo at 11:56 PM on March 23, 2008


“I suppose there's an explanation for this in anthropology or primatology, that every social grouping needs a runt or a scapegoat to serve as an outlet…” - orthogonality

René Girard calls it mimetic desire and the scapegoating mechanism. Things Hidden is a pretty neat read.
posted by Faux Real at 12:02 AM on March 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


My only surprise is that this kid hasn't decided to get a gun and take revenge.

Then there is the grown up version, but of course it seems to come with its own issues.
posted by caddis at 12:04 AM on March 24, 2008


Ahhhhhh, GWB, gotcha. I tune him out.

And I'm not blaming the victim, I figured I'd spare everyone from reading the entire scene. For those o you who haven't seen it, it's a school assembly where PAtrick Swayze's character talks about moving towards love as the answer to all problems. Donnie gets up and calls him out, and the underlying message in all of his attacks is "don't listen to this douche talk about love, do something about your problems"

A sentiment that I feel is sorely lacking in today's society, and in this case is lacking all around. . . as I stated before. I really do feel sorry for him, but at some point someone has to stand up and do something. Sympathy alone is a worthless emotion.
posted by Inversehelix at 12:06 AM on March 24, 2008


Worse than the bullies are the school administrators who take an active role in fomenting and encouraging their behavior, by setting up two sets of rules: one for the jocks, and another for those they get to torture.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:07 AM on March 24, 2008 [11 favorites]


I am the shrimp in my family, but then my "little" brothers are ungodly large. The funny thing is that they were bullied, in some ways, even more unmercifully than I was. Their bullies were just older and larger. "So, you are the biggest kid in your grade? Huh, are you bigger than me (sic)?" Their main tormentor is now doing life, thank God not for anything he did to one of them.
posted by caddis at 12:09 AM on March 24, 2008


Most bullies are physically superior to those they bully. Which includes kids with parents so disconnected that they don't care Billy's getting beat up, or too poor to afford martial arts classes, or kids who are so skinny and small, or even disabled, so that no amount of martial arts will help.

Nerds-Kicking-Ass stories are fun, but they're mostly fantasies, and do nothing to help, and much to hurt, as it places the blame right back on the victim.

The story's not about Billy, or the Bullies. The story is about how bullying in school and elsewhere is overlooked, tolerated, or encouraged as a way of enforcing social conformity... which is unacceptable in the modern day.

Adults can get a restraining order, an assault charge and a lawsuit laid down upon the perp to stop that shit cold. The way things are now, kids got nuthin - they have to take it and take it and take it, regardless of the physical and psychiatric injuries that occur. That is the very opposite of justice, and it happens every day to children.

Ever notice how "zero tolerance" policies make sure honor-roll kids who have a kitchen knife in a milk-crate full of cooking utensils locked in their car get expelled a month before graduation, but Biff Beefneck who's been sucker-punching and cramming kids upside down in their own locker gets a stern talking to from the vice principle? Yeah. That's gotta stop.

(To complicate things, I have my own "Nerd hits puberty, and winds up 6'3" 300lb wrecking ball" story. By then it was too late, I got the shit kicked out of me by kids older and bigger up until that point, and after that point I wasn't interested in revenge as much as being left the fuck alone. Which turned into its own little hell I'm still dealing with 20 years on. And so it goes.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:10 AM on March 24, 2008 [45 favorites]


hint: try a different school.Inversehelix

I was the unfortunate target of school bullies because I had serious health problems as a child. I spent most of my time in elementary and middle school either on crutches or in wheelchairs recovering from multiple surgeries and instead of being worried about my recovery, I had to worry about how to stave off an attack from a wheelchair. The constant harassment, particularly during a long and difficult recovery from a surgery when I was 12, made me seriously consider suicide. Luckily, my mother, who was not fully aware of what I faced at school, suggested I transfer to a private school. We researched schools and, I ended up at a private school where other students were actually supportive and helpful when I faced health issues. It literally saved my life.


It saddens me that after all this time, the best solution is to transfer schools,but, indeed as niccolo pointed out, it works.
posted by miss-lapin at 12:32 AM on March 24, 2008 [8 favorites]


I think the really depressing part of this is at the end, when we learn that he's underperforming at school, which he is justifiably deathly afraid of, and you realize, this isn't a story about some Normal American Teen who we all can relate to, because no one liked middle and high school, and there are bullies everywhere, but that this is a story about a kid who will likely be deeply scarred, and who, through the actions of others, has had his childhood--and possibly his future stolen from him. As far as I'm concerned, each and every kid responsible should be locked up before it's their wives and children getting brutalized. And those administrators should all be fired, and also locked the hell up for facilitating this.
posted by Subcommandante Cheese at 12:36 AM on March 24, 2008 [17 favorites]


I'm not sure how much good it will do, but I went ahead and sent Mr. Wolfe a brief message of support via his Facebook profile.
posted by washburn at 12:40 AM on March 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


Welcome to my childhood. He'll survive.
posted by empath at 12:41 AM on March 24, 2008


"Welcome to my childhood. He'll survive."
posted by empath at 3:41 AM on March 24


Eponysterical.

He'll survive as what? As a failure because he can't concentrate at school for his constant and justified fear? As someone who spends the rest of his life with PTSD? As a bitter person who can't trust anyone?

And the bullies, they'll survive too, I suppose, and make our country proud doing the Lord's work at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Remind me again how Pastor Wright was wrong, because I'm about to echo his sentiments.
posted by orthogonality at 12:53 AM on March 24, 2008 [26 favorites]


I am horrified that his parents do not want to take him out of that school.

Of all the people who are letting Billy down, his parents are taking the least action. Forget the binders and correcting the names of former bullies and all that, place him in another school !! The parents appear to have good enough jobs to make that switch, I don't understand why they would not even consider this.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:54 AM on March 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


Infintywaltz is right, how is a story in the New York Times (with a slideshow no less!) going to help this kid?
The story's not about Billy, or the Bullies. The story is about how bullying in school and elsewhere is overlooked, tolerated, or encouraged as a way of enforcing social conformity... which is unacceptable in the modern day.

Adults can get a restraining order, an assault charge and a lawsuit laid down upon the perp to stop that shit cold. The way things are now, kids got nuthin - they have to take it and take it and take it, regardless of the physical and psychiatric injuries that occur. That is the very opposite of justice, and it happens every day to children.
This is very true, situations like this are treated in an entirely different way in schools then they are in the real world. On the other hand, his parents are treating the problem as if it was an adult problem. They are engaging the bureaucratic channels (documenting evidence even!), and this approach is clearly failing miserably.

Bullies pick on people who they see as victims, and this kid has been turned into an uber-victim.

I'm not sure if the same machinery that we have in the real world can be effectively used in schools to stop bullying (I'm talking about bullying in general here, Billy is an admittedly extreme case). When a person takes out a restraining order, or files an assault charge, they are announcing to both the perpetrator and the legal system that they are being hurt. The need to label oneself as a victim in order to get help is why society views cases of male-on-female violence so differently then it views female-on-male violence.

An admission of victimhood is exactly the sort of thing the bully is looking for. "You're such a pussy that you had your mom come to the principal to complain about me, well I'll fuck you up real good now."

Please don't get me wrong, I'm by no means discounting the suffering of Billy or any other victim of bullying (myself included). I just think that institutionalized punishment is highly ineffective against bullying.
posted by fingo at 12:57 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


institutionalized punishment is highly ineffective against bullying.

Well, it's especially ineffective when the bullied, or their parents, are as you note forced to plead again and again for some sort of intervention or action by authorities that never materializes.

The institutions shouldn't be set up to require that pleading, or admission of victimhood, precede serious disciplinary action. Teachers, coaches, and bus drivers have eyes (and increasingly, cameras). They need to use them--and to held accountable when they choose to simply look away and let the kids "settle it among themselves."
posted by washburn at 1:11 AM on March 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


I hated bullying but I just don't see a panacea other than smaller classes, more faculty, more communication and more supervision. Defense spending needs to be transferred to education spending if we actually care about the next generation.

I think teaching is a calling that is discouraged by the very low initial pay grade for teachers and also the plain old shitty conditions that result from a lack of enough teachers being attracted to the field. To think that teachers willingly accept significantly less money to work at private schools with relatively smaller classes and significantly more involved parents ought to be quite telling...
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 1:12 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


> "Welcome to my childhood. He'll survive."
> posted by empath at 3:41 AM on March 24
>
> Eponysterical.
>
> He'll survive as what? As a failure because he can't concentrate at school for his constant
> and justified fear? As someone who spends the rest of his life with PTSD? As a bitter
> person who can't trust anyone?

Welcome to my childhood. He may very well survive--most do. Indeed, he may thrive--many do. If he does one or both of these, he may, just maybe, carry around a bit of a chip on his shoulder pretty much permanently. And when the peace 'n' love crowd gathers around the campfire for a kumbaya session he may be thinking "Bollocks. I can tell you just exactly how effective that shite is when the thugs are out looking for fun."
posted by jfuller at 1:17 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


A restraining order against anyone who harasses the kid would do nicely for starters. There's plenty of hard evidence to get that underway. Let their parents find a new school for their precious little snowflake.

Billy did nothing wrong: he, and his victimizers and the adults allowing it to happen, should be aware that as a law-abiding member of society, he has rights which must be enforced.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:19 AM on March 24, 2008 [15 favorites]


It's funny. I'm an avowed pacifist. But reading this, all I can think of doing is destroying the lives and property of the bullies and their families. Torching cars, getting them in minor legal trouble, anything to make their lives miserable. And you know, if it was my kid, I'd do it and feel good about it.

You aren't a pacifist.
posted by Bonzai at 1:32 AM on March 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


Slap*Happy and everyone else, this is a serious question: how old should a person be in order to be charged with a restraining order?

Are restraining orders ever filed against minors?
posted by fingo at 1:33 AM on March 24, 2008


fingo writes "Please don't get me wrong, I'm by no means discounting the suffering of Billy or any other victim of bullying (myself included). I just think that institutionalized punishment is highly ineffective against bullying."

Not if the principal, the cops and the DA do their jobs.

The kid's been knocked unconscious; he's had to have multiple dental surgeries; the bullies have filmed their assaults on him. And yet the school refuses to call cops to file assault charges. Probably because the bullies on on the football team, or the bullies' parents are connected.

As noted up-thread, schools these days have no problem calling the cops over a butter-knife. So why isn't the school calling the cops over multople assults?
posted by orthogonality at 1:33 AM on March 24, 2008 [12 favorites]


Ms. Wolfe remembers the family dentist sewing up the inside of Billy’s cheek, and a school official refusing to call the police, saying it looked like Billy got what he deserved.

Got what he deserved? WHAT THE FUCK?

Should he move schools? Maybe. I didn't move schools. I toughed it out and eventually the bullies found someone else to pick on or got expelled or transfered schools themselves. Early high school sucked for me, but leaving would have just taken me away from friends I did have. Then later the bullying went from physically to mental and I just wasn't able to combat that very well. And even though I was unable to socialise very well by the end of high school, there were always other social outcasts I could hang around with - tormented or ostracised for some reason or another.

He shouldn't have to move schools. And he shouldn't have to put up with school officials thinking any kind deserves this kind of treatment. And he shouldn't have to learn self-defense just to be able to go to fucking school.

I took up going to the gym in my last year of high school, which built me up and made me healthier and made me feel better about myself. It wasn't a tool to use against bullies, it was just something that improved how I looked at myself. Although I don't know whether that sort of thing helps everybody. It sounds like Billy has learning problems as well - although being bullied from the age of twelve probably doesn't help with that either.
posted by crossoverman at 1:35 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Welcome to my childhood. He'll survive.

Hell, I survived. I came out the other side unable to hear news stories about the strong abusing the weak without frothing at the mouth, and unable to trust anyone that even vaguely looks like an authority figure, but shit, who cares about emotional problems? He should just man up and turn into an emotional invalid, that'll show 'em.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:30 AM on March 24, 2008 [26 favorites]


Slap*Happy and everyone else, this is a serious question: how old should a person be in order to be charged with a restraining order?

Old enough to earn one.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:32 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I just think that institutionalized punishment is highly ineffective against bullying.

We have juvenile halls and an entire juvenile justice system to deal with this shit. It is baffling and outrageous to me that the same beating can merit imprisonment or suspension based solely on whether or not it took place in a school.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:34 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Victims of bullying? On MetaFilter?


In school I was bullied on a scale that possibly rivals Billy's - though, we didn't have Facebook or MySpace back then. But we also didn't have any sort of anti-bullying laws back then, either, and the thought of criminal charges being filed wasn't ever really considered - though in retrospect I probably should have filed criminal charges, and often.

It was so bad for a while that if the teacher left the room, kids would line up to punch me in the back of the head. For the most part, I just sat and took it. I didn't really know any better.

Or I'd finally snap and knock the stuffing out of some kid and get left alone for a while, but that was often even worse. People like me - adult or child - don't actually want to have to fight in the first place - even if we win, it brutalizes us directly and empathically.

Because violence is really fucking stupid.

One of the few times I fought back was in the beginning of the 7th grade. I'd a homeroom teacher who was, frankly, a drunk. There was a jock-type bully in her class. She'd placed his seat directly behind mine at the back of the class. After three months of taking punches to the back of my head and getting jumped by this clown, after three months of requesting that I at least get assigned to a different seat, or that she would do something about this idiot hitting me, I snapped. I turned around. I grabbed him by his shoulders, and proceeded to drag him bodily to the front of the room over desks and students to demand she do something about this guy. She proceeded to lie to my face that she had no idea what I was talking about, even insinuating that she would say I'd beat him up.

I simply walked out of that school that day, walked home, bawling, and didn't go back. My mom let me home school for a couple of years, which mainly consisted of a self-directed education at the (thankfully) gigantic library I was fortunate enough to have in my hometown.

(This is incidental, and I've half a mind to leave it out, but I was getting beat up at home as well, by a stepdad. I didn't really have any refuge at all, growing up, at home or at school. Which makes me wonder what Billy's home life is like, and the home life of a lot of kids who end up vulnerable at school to the point that they're outright brutalized - not just bullied.)

Or maybe I really was an insufferable know-it-all and I deserved it.

Kids like me don't really understand or even grasp that one until years later, if ever, because we value learning and knowledge-sharing above pretty much everything else, and can't fathom why anyone else wouldn't worship the font from which all radness does flow, for physics and engineering beget skateboards, ramps, slingshots, robots, rockets and laser beams - and thus we never shut the fuck up.

And yet, here I am making excuses - for bullies - twenty years later. Perhaps if only as a demonstration of the pattern of abuse for those following along at home, but still. Fuck that shit.


So, we're talking about deeply disturbing, brutally psychological shit. As in Stanford Prison Experiment brutal - day in, and day out - right under our unassuming noses in schools all over the US.

In our schools. In our goddamn schools. It's probably in your child's school, right now, just boiling like a bad David Lynch subplot beneath the thin veneer of normalcy. Chances are better than not, unless you attend some sort of exceptionally enlightened private or public school that is unnaturally blessed.

And what are we teaching our children, really? Violence? Bureaucracy? How to file paperwork and fit in? How to bend the rules of the system so you can slide by? And we wonder how we've ended up with not just one leader but an entire leadership that advocates perpetual war?

If you have a child in school, public or private, I beg you to take heed and listen to me and really use open eyes to inspect what's going on. Listen to your kids. Make your home a place they can speak freely as the adults they're rapidly becoming.


Your child may not be the direct victim, but this victimizes all of us.

I saw teachers - multiple teachers, not just one bad teacher, not all of them, but far too many for it to be acceptable or statistical noise - totally complicit in this abuse, often engaging in verbal abuse themselves, or directly being physically abusive. I've seen them permit bullying and abuse, encourage it, or otherwise maliciously allow it by intentional design. Leaving the room at opportune moments, not seeing specific incidents, misreporting incidents.


The problem isn't any one thing - rare is the simple problem. It's not just the schools - the schools are just a reflection of our institutions and ideals - but the schools reinforce these institutions and ideals.

These institutions are a reflection of our collective character - or at least the ones who manage to wield the power.

Speaking as a Humanist and an Objectivist, the values that I see reflected in our institutions and our schools are often ones of fear, of control, of malice and ill intent and, frankly, unhealthy. More succinctly, not nurturing to people.

Changing these things about our schools would probably be the best way to accomplish any lasting, real change in our culture and collective spirits.


Speaking personally, no, sometimes you don't just "get over it". Sometimes it stays with you for the rest of your life. Public school damaged me in a way I don't know if I'll ever really heal over, and I was a bright, strong kid.

I was even smarter, back then, before the school system taught me to adapt and dumb down - or perish. I was well on my way to being whatever I wanted to be. My IQ levels were nearly unrecordable, early on. I would have been a world-class scientist, or an incredible engineer, anything.

I wanted to build new computers for the world, incredible things, I wanted nothing more than to invent new, delightful things for everyone to share - but I let it all be smashed out of me, to fit in, to survive - simply to avoid something so stupid and senseless as pain.

Such a waste.

Today, I don't have much, but what little I do have is due to picking myself, my own spirit up out of the garbage-heap of society from where I was, more or less, thrown away. But, fuck it - this isn't about me, right here and now, at all.

I'm whining and baring my soul to you because this stuff is still happening. Forget me. It's happening to someone else. You can help them.

Right now, somewhere, there's some bright kid being thrown away - unable to fit through the educational system. Too bright, too threatening to teachers or peers. This kid might cure AIDS, or cancer. He or she might finally invent a really clean, cheap energy source, or perhaps simply the greatest toy since Lego.

But they're being thrown away, just because they don't fit into some damn machine. Imagine that, a human not fitting into the limited scope and parameters of a machine.

Yes, goddamnit, we should protect and coddle our children this way. That's called teaching.

What are we? Mere apes!? What other purpose does "survival of the fittest" even mean if we aren't to actually use these marvelous tools of society and culture we've discovered? What other point of civilization is there!? How the hell else do you expect us to evolve as a culture if we can't even have civilized schools and education? What do you people think the word civilization even means in the first place!?

We need to look out for all kids, smart or not - but we should especially be watching out for those bright, sensitive ones that seem to be magnets for getting the shit kicked out of them because they're different.

We should know, by now, that most of these kids are our artists, our scientists, our writers and engineers. Our architects. Our philosophers.

Because, you know, they're different.
posted by loquacious at 2:46 AM on March 24, 2008 [189 favorites]


I remember when I was young and in school in a rural and conservative community (not to say such things are restricted to such areas). I'm a rather physically small man; the average male in the United States is around six feet tall, I'm 5'6" but 5'7" in the morning (I like mornings).
I was the blunt end of bullying, harassing, and other maltreatment.

I'm a rather intelligent, witty individual. I found that the people who bullied me where horrified of public humiliation, especially when exposing what I thought was that drove them to how they acted. Although never always accurate, publicly berating them around their peers worked wonders for me. It also made me feel godly.

Flashing to them my most powerful weapon not only seemed to disarm the plebeians that attempted to use me to fill some deep seated well of unworthiness and self loathing, it bolstered my own feelings about my own capacities. I never once had to return a blow or have a second altercation with assailants during school.

A bolstered confidence and unwillingness to endure pain from assholes pulled me to the person I am today.
posted by ZaneJ. at 3:15 AM on March 24, 2008


The WSJ ran an excellent piece a while back in which the writer went back and looked up his town's bully.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 3:17 AM on March 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


I went to a high school where bullying essentially didn't exist. (I got plenty of it in elementary school and I only got gayer and nerdier, so I would know.) I don't know how it is now, but this wasn't too long ago. A peer-counselling program put grade 12s in immediate contact with grade 8s and provided a safe haven for the "weirdos" to spend their free time between classes / at lunch, and perhaps more importantly provided them and their would-be oppressors with role models as well as hall monitors. A lot of 17 year olds, even the jockish/cheerleaderish ones, are mature enough to not desire bullying in their school and are ecstatic to participate in a little social activism, and put it on their university applications to boot. Grads are also the coolest people alive to new kids, and command much more respect than the average teacher/administrator. I don't know if the program exists anymore, but it was undeniably effective.

There was something else at that school though. In a psych 11 class, someone once presented a video documentary on the "after-school fight", a relatively frequent phenomenon at this school. If two people had a grievance (though generally the actual grievance was forgotten before the fight began), a fight would be scheduled for after school, and by the end of the day anyone who cared to know, would. In this video, something like 50-100 kids gathered at a park about ~10min away from the school, and basically formed a circle and watched two kids beat the shit out of each other. Afterwards, nobody who was questioned by the cameraman (including the fighters) apparently cared enough to remember why the fight had occurred.

So maybe student counselling is the answer. Or maybe it's just letting the violent kids beat the crap out of each other. I don't know, I'm not an expert, but something worked. Expecting teachers to stop it doesn't.
posted by mek at 3:23 AM on March 24, 2008


So why isn't the school calling the cops over multople assults?

It's just kids wildin', yo.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:29 AM on March 24, 2008


I was shunned as a child (not physically bullied unless a few times where I got hit during gym were misinterpreted as accidents -- I was probably socially retarded) and people here don't have realistic advice for what is probably a large segment of the population.

enroll kids in karate classes: I am not a coordinated person and have never been good at sports. I'm not sure I would have been competent enough at martial arts to defend myself. There are probably a lot of kids llke that. cost would be another factor--good that someone mentioned that.

listen to your kids: No one knew how miserable I was because I never told them. It didn't even occur to me. And I quit the gifted school on my own because I hated the taunting and that was one way to avoid it. No one asked why I didn't want to go to that school--perhaps listening should switch to being astute enough to notice signs of trouble even if the child does not communicate directly.

Maybe if those around a child who has these problems can be taught to recognize them, they can try to help the child learn skills to cope -- not necessarily physical ones. I also think bullies should try to be taught to cope as well.

But I am skeptical that it is easy to recognize these things, or that the adults would be motivated to do much (see above), and I am not even sure there are interventions that are effective. Are there interventions that reasonably help the bullied (and the bullies)? interventions beyond teaching physical defense.
posted by bleary at 3:30 AM on March 24, 2008


The story is about how bullying in school and elsewhere is overlooked, tolerated, or encouraged as a way of enforcing social conformity... which is unacceptable in the modern day. which is the same as it ever was.

FYP.

Besides Girard, another author who's written about this dynamic is Jay Haley (I can't remember the title). Every social group has (needs?) a negative example, someone that allows the group to define themselves by being different from. He wasn't writing explicitly about bullying, but rather education. Still, I think it goes deeper than that, there's a bonding that comes into play between the tormentors. Nothing engenders friendship like the sharing of enemies.

I wonder what can be done about situations like this. Obviously there's no simple solutions or they would already be in place. Unlike a few of you, I don't think the teachers or administrators are necessarily evil or extraordinarily incompetent. More likely they want to do as good of a job as they can with the resources available. I dislike large institutions, including the public school system, partly because of situations like this. There's no answer to it other than lots of adult involvement. And that is adults who have discretion to act. When everyone has to be treated the 'same' (which is never the case; 'same' is an illusive abstraction), and every decision has to be justified a dozen times over to all the parents and administrators, not to mention being in line with official policy, it makes it tough to act. Effective takes a back seat to proper. Punishing both students in a fight equally is probably the best example of a rule that poses as some sort of effective policy but does little for the victim.

On a more personal level, the story turns my stomach. I was bullied and shunned for a number of years as well. The self hate I collected stayed around for a couple of decades. My family moved a lot, and changing schools did help. But it isn't a complete answer. The idea that we can somehow all get along, and resolve our differences without any recourse to violence is a fantasy. Clinton made some remark to this effect when commenting on the school shootings. Slap*Happy points out that not every victim has the potential to ever make an effective physical stand. True, and still there is something to be said for knowing you can respond, that your losses come from being in a mismatch not from some sort of emotional paralysis or denial of reality. Even if you lose, and no one thinks you were right to fight back, you are showing up for yourself and endorsing your own experience. This is pretty big. I used to think that any sort of public exposure in cases like this was a horrible idea, but now I see some value in taking the story to a newspaper. It isn't going to do much to change the situation, it will likely make it worse, but naming it for what it is, no matter the consequences, has some of the value of fighting back.

Finally, I am deeply grateful that I went through the school system before video recording devices were widely available to school children. Unfortunately, I have been all too capable of replaying some of my worst moments, over and over again in my head. If those moments had been captured and transformed into spectacle for other's continuing amusement, I really don't know how I would have made it. Somewhere on the web there's some video of a kid being bullied in perhaps Taiwan. The physical abuse is actually pretty mild, but you look at that kid's eyes and the emotional abuse is anything but. I can't help but to think that him seeing the camera and knowing the attitude of most of the future viewers of that video, is a substantial intensifier of his experience. Collecting footage of someone where they are at their worst, in their own eyes, and making that into entertainment is a deeply hostile act. It's a reduction of who the person is and what they can be. I won't say that the community perception of who and what a person 'is' can stop growth, but it can certainly inhibit it. It's a hell of an obstacle. And that's something that I think collectors of embarrassing photographs, and those who endorse shaming, mockery, and the like just don't get.

Good post, thanks.
posted by BigSky at 3:51 AM on March 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Welcome to my childhood. He may very well survive--most do. Indeed, he may thrive--many do.

Indeed, he might become a bully when he's able. After all, based on his own experiences, it's what's expected.

Just because something unpleasant happened in your childhood, that's no justification for letting it continue.

My childhood was like that for a while, until I started attacking my antagonists like a crazy person: breaking one kid's nose with a glass-handled umbrella, hitting another with a chair, slashing with scissors, etc. I quickly became worse than them. This was not a good outcome, although I never became a bully. I started to act preemptively. Needless to say, this caused major problems in school for me. It required a significant adjustment on my part not to see every interpersonal problem as solvable by extreme violence. Had guns been freely available, I'm sure it would have been much worse.

Is this the lesson you want taught to your kids?
posted by me & my monkey at 3:56 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


WTF are cops doing in schools if they're not arresting these bullies? Fuckit, this isn't bullying, this is motherfucking assault. It's really fucking simple: our authorities are pussies, it's already Lord of the Flies in this country, and we are obviously not a Christian nation, despite all the crowing.
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:02 AM on March 24, 2008 [7 favorites]


Bullying is everywhere, including here in Fayetteville, a city of 60,000 with one of the country’s better school systems.

That's part of the problem right there. School administration faces no consequences for their failures--they're even called "one of the country's better school systems" in the same freaking article.

Set it up so that Fayetteville's precious little snowflakes stop getting into the college they want because their school system is actually crap, and you'll see something done about it.
posted by gimonca at 5:18 AM on March 24, 2008


Billy, busy building a miniature house, didn’t see it coming: the boy hit him so hard in the left cheek that he briefly lost consciousness. [His mother] remembers the family dentist sewing up the inside of Billy’s cheek, and a school official refusing to call the police, saying it looked like Billy got what he deserved.

Didn't the parents call the police themselves?

When I read this article, I felt helpless, wondering what I would do if I had a child who was bullied. I was bullied and picked on too as a child, and I know I always felt that anything well-meaning adults tried to do just made things worse. But there is some good advice in this thread. Changing schools can help, as can martial art classes. And if school officials are plainly falling down on their jobs as Billy's are, I'd give them hell. Report them to the Ministry of Education, sue, whatever it took.
posted by orange swan at 5:18 AM on March 24, 2008


Changing schools, at the right moment, can be fantastic for a kid. It's not just bullying... you can reinvent yourself completely. Nobody knows the first thing about you in the new place. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say it can reboot a childhood.
posted by unSane at 5:24 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


This kid goes to school about three miles away from me and to my knowledge, this hasn't made it into the local news circuit yet. There is a neighboring town's high school which is relatively close (his parents would have to drive him about ten to twenty minutes depending on where they live), if he could some how transfer there. I'm not aware of a local private school, but there might be one nearby. Otherwise, it'd be about 25 to 30 miles away in the Bentonville/Rogers area.

I was never bullied, but simply on principle, I detest bullies and I detest even more the people in authority who permit bullying to continue. I'll keep an eye out to see if the local news picks this up at all or not.

On another note, I wish the article had been written better. The continual use of "Heh heh" seemed like some college journalist attempt at injecting a message that better writing and content alone could have accomplished.
posted by Atreides at 5:29 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


This story is, largely, a description of American society writ small. The bullies, be it physical or otherwise, are generally rewarded, promoted, worshipped and generally seen as "ah he's a good ol boy, sometimes he's just a little...edgy...". These people then grow up and continue their bullying ways.

Goof for the parents to fight this as much as possible, and good (I guess) for not moving away. Bad for the kid...

The school administrators are the saddest part of this story. They should be ashamed of themselves and probably should all be fired. I can't believe that these parents aren't suing the bejesus out of the school district.
posted by damnitkage at 5:43 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


If he's in Fayetteville, he's near a very good BJJ/Muay Thai/MMA school: Team Roc Fayetteville
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:43 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


To anyone saying, "Next time, kick the bully in the balls," or whatever: in my experience, this is the point where the school finally steps in and punishes someone. Unfortunately, that someone would be the kid who finally fought back and kicked someone in the balls, not the kid who deserved to be kicked in the balls for the last six months.
posted by naoko at 5:46 AM on March 24, 2008 [14 favorites]


It is baffling and outrageous to me that the same beating can merit imprisonment or suspension based solely on whether or not it took place in a school.

Fucking A. If a kid goes up to an adult on the street and punches them out, you can bet your arse something will be done about it. If a kid goes up to another kid and punches them out...no-one gives a shit, because they're "just kids". That's bullshit. Since when do we punish a crime less because the victim is weaker?

My memories of bullying stem from 15 to 20 years ago, I guess. And fundamentally, the way it was dealt with was as if both kids involved were equally to blame, as if it's just a disagreement between them. Kid A torments Kid B for months on end, beats him up, causes him huge stress until Kid B is living in fear, doesn't want to come to school, is constantly watching his back. Eventually Kid A and Kid B both land in the principle's office, where he wants them to "Discuss their differences, come to an agreement, shake hands and make up." It's not a fucking disagreement, it's bullying, it has a victim and a perpetrator, and should be treated as such.
posted by Jimbob at 5:51 AM on March 24, 2008 [7 favorites]


Just reading the comments here makes me want to go beat up the "responsible" adults in this story.

I survived some mild bullying in the 5th and 6th grades - in the 5th grade by fighting back (although I ended up never having to throw a punch; long story), and in the 6th by running away. Every day. In 7th grade, we moved (again), and so I was the New Kid (again), and was challenged to a fight by one of the girls in the class (yeah, girls do this too). "Why?" I said. "To prove you're not so tough," she told me. "Well, I'm not, okay? I'm not going to fight you." And that was that. She gave me mean looks the rest of the year, but nothing more.

So yeah, I lived through it, like others in this thread. But we're not going to hear from the kids who didn't survive - the ones who killed themselves because they couldn't take it anymore, or the ones who are so psychologically damaged that paying $5 to interact with people on the Internet is too frightening to contemplate.

My advice: take the poor kid out of school, get him some counseling and a new school, and handle the rest of it the old-fashioned American way: sue the fuck out of the school administration and maybe the parents of the bullies as well.
posted by rtha at 6:04 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I agree with the "Why haven't the Parents taken legal action, called the police, filed a civil suit, against the bullies and the bullies parents?" crowd...

And, in addition, why hasn't the school contacted the police?

I direct an alternative education program, during the initial interview when a student enrolls, the word they get is that any physical violence initiated against another person results in removal from the program and police involvement.

The adults here (school and parents) are not doing their jobs.
posted by HuronBob at 6:08 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most of the people involved in raising kids are other kids. That is stupid.
posted by Jpfed at 6:23 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is our children learning?

Given the topic, I have to giggle a bit at that, though I'm not sure if it's intentional humor or an amusing typo.


and you have been living on which planet for the past eight years????
posted by quonsar at 6:25 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, bullied people on MeFi -- whooda thunk it?

I went to a high school where physical bullying was really rare, but verbal/mental bullying was really common -- harassment, shunning, yelling "hey faggot, I'm going to kick your ass!" and other threats. At the time it was really miserable; about halfway through I changed schools (because my family moved, not because anyone intervened) and I was able to start over from scratch in a new place, and had no more problems.

Looking back, I have really mixed feelings. On the one hand, I think most of the teachers and administrators deserve a long stay in Dante's inferno, because they were supportive of, not just complicit with, the bullying. That high school was just like the schools in movies like Heathers -- sort of a social Lord of the Flies, sharp distinctions between jocks and nerds and preps, and so on. I was told that a few years before physical bullying had been really prevalent, but then a prank went too far and a kid ended up in the hospital, and the school enacted a zero tolerance policy on the physical stuff that really did stop it in its tracks. There were the usual fights after school, and a few fights in the lunch room, but not the tolerated physical abuse that you read about in this article. That, to me, says that if they had cared they could have made some minimal intervention in the other kinds of bullying -- that interventions can actually work. Provide some consequences (suspension, calling parents and police, etc), rewards, and safe spaces, and some of the worst of it can be moderated.

That said, though, in retrospect I have to acknowledge how much I brought on myself. That doesn't mean that I deserved it, just that it was as if I was seeking it out. Those witty comebacks? Mostly served to emphasize the us/them distinction that the bullying depended on. My social ineptness? Got worse the more defensive I got, into a nice vicious cycle where my own behavior got pretty weird and worthy of laughing at.

I would love to be able to go back to the 15 year old me and tell him to just chill the fuck out. Stop feeling so superior all the time, find more friends and allies, and get a fucking clue that the whole knee-jerk rejection of what "normal" people do was causing all of my problems. There was no way in hell I was ever going to be a cool kid, wearing the right brand of clothes and rocking out at the party to the Bon Jovi mix tape. But a medium or large high school has a lot of safer spaces within it -- there was the drama club where all the gay guys were; there was a whole panoply of social and academic groups that I rejected before they could reject me... except that now I realize most of them wouldn't have rejected me, and so I missed out on some really cool people.

So... if the article is giving an honest depiction of events, those administrators need to be jailed. But the parents need to be kicked in the pants for sending him back there every day when it is clear he is just going to get his ass kicked again. Almost every town has an alternative highschool, as well as usually Catholic and Protestant religious schools. Not to mention home schooling, residential highschools, and some places have alternative programs that work more like a traditional apprenticeship, where you spend more time out working or whatever rather than in school. If you kid is having that tough of a time, you need to be trying every other option that exists, plus hooking him up with supportive settings (like karate club, or the GBLTQ group, or the Sierra Club, or whatever the kid enjoys) outside of schools where he can meet people, maybe older than him, who just aren't part of the bullying. There just isn't any excuse for keeping him in that school system if it is going to so openly hurt him.
posted by Forktine at 6:28 AM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


The parents of this kid deserve to get slapped across the face for not doing something to protect their kid. They need to put the kid into a different situation like a private school, home-school, or whatever.

Then they need to sue the school district for so much money that they get somebody's attention. Complaining to a principal who doesn't particularly care is just performance art. They way you get situations like this to change is to make changing less painful, in terms of financial settlements or whatever, than maintaining the status quo.

As for this poor kid, I'd say that his abusers are extremely lucky that he hasn't yet gone rogue and put a stop to the situation with a gun, knife, or some other tool. I'd bet that the thought has crossed his mind.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:33 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Isn't the whole point of living in the US that you can buy guns and shoot people, and if that's not your cup of tea, sue the shit out of them? You would think after dental surgery number 1 the parents would be suing the school board or the families of these bullies for damages. For real.
posted by chunking express at 6:33 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I suppose there's an explanation for this in anthropology or primatology, that every social grouping needs a runt or a scapegoat to serve as an outlet, as the base of the school's rough herrenvolk democracy,

Oh good god.

Ever notice how "zero tolerance" policies make sure honor-roll kids who have a kitchen knife in a milk-crate full of cooking utensils locked in their car get expelled a month before graduation, but Biff Beefneck who's been sucker-punching and cramming kids upside down in their own locker gets a stern talking to from the vice principle? Yeah. That's gotta stop.

Well, they are both problems but I guarantee you they happen at different schools. In fact, I would argue that thoughtless "zero tolerance" policies are largely caused by things like this.

And the problem with "take some martial arts classes and fight back" is that once you do that, from a school administrators perspective you're just as much at fault as your tormenter. If one kid beats up another kid, then it's obvious who the aggressor is, but if you fight back the school is just going to punish the two of you for "fighting"
posted by delmoi at 6:38 AM on March 24, 2008


My IQ was nearly unrecordable...

Jebus, you still haven't learned that this is not a rad thing to say? You should see how many friends I lost the last time I bared my soul about my enormous, prehensile penis (I just thank His Noodly Appendage that they didn't kick my ass).

That said, bullying sucks. It really, truly does, and I can't stand even the ostracism-only version that exists where I teach.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:40 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'd have to agree with delmoi, and point out that zero-tolerance is a stupid idea. How does removing problem children from the school system help them? And I realize it's hard to have sympathy for little psychopath 12 year olds, but really, those kids probably need more help sorting their shit out then the kids they are beating on.
posted by chunking express at 6:43 AM on March 24, 2008


Actually, if you read the article all the way though it's clear they are suing the school.
posted by delmoi at 6:51 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder what can be done about situations like this. Obviously there's no simple solutions or they would already be in place.

There are plenty of simple solutions that would work. They'd merely be unpopular with connected people, including, apparently, the school staff.

(1) Put up video cameras throughout the school, assuming it hasn't been done. Suspend on the first instance of bullying. Expel on the second. This isn't rocket science.

(2) Sue the school. I would not be shocked to find that the parents are laying the groundwork for a dramatically punitive suit by continuing to work within the system and give the school notice that it is failing to protect their son and is endangering his lifelong earning potential. Let everyone's property taxes go up $500 to pay for the school's legal fees and settlement. This happens a couple of times, and suddenly bullying isn't so cute.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:58 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Man. Here's what I'm struck by, which I'm surprised no one's mentioned yet: Billy's cute!

If he could survive all this, get his grades up and get to college, he'd have girls clamoring for his attention.
posted by limeonaire at 7:06 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nothing stops bullying like a front page story in the NYTimes.
posted by null terminated at 7:15 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Changing schools doesn't help. I was teased and beaten up mercilessly for 8 years at catholic school, moved to another county and different school and started getting beaten up and teased by neighborhood kids before the school year even started. Some kids just seem to have 'victim' written all over them. It didn't stop for me until my senior year of high school, but by then I was an emotional disaster and needed to start taking huge amounts of recreational drugs before I could properly trust people enough to form close emotional bonds again.

It's not the school, it's the kid. I'd actually go further and say it's probably the parents fault for not teaching the kid to socialize properly. Kids like these are usually victims in school because their parents first taught them how to be victims at home. I'd be willing to bet his parents were either verbally or physically abusive to him before he even got to school.
posted by empath at 7:17 AM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


I feel bad for billy, he is in a TERRIBLE groove. But I can't stop thinking about when Judge Smails calls for "old billy baroo" oh billy billy billy billy. maybe he needs to bring a putter to school come to think of it
posted by MNDZ at 7:20 AM on March 24, 2008


If the point of the story is to raise awareness of bullying, I suppose that's important. Why this story is distinct enough to merit its own extended NYT article is beyond me. As this thread suggests, bullying is a significant and underreported problem for many kids.

It surely wouldn't have killed the reporter to try to generalize the story beyond one sentence to the effect of "Bullying is everywhere" -- but it's not too surprising considering the overall quality of composition. This is a poor article, particularly in light of the importance of the subject matter.
posted by spiderwire at 7:20 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I read pretty much any and all advice columns that cross my path. While I don't agree with John Rosemond on much, this column stuck in my head a few years ago when I read it. What made an impression was his unequivocally taking the side of the victim and pointing out the stupidity of the administration's solutions. I also appreciated the attribution of the school's half ass measures to the administration's reluctance to deal with the bullies' parents.

-----

ROU_Xenophobe,

I don't think those are tenable solutions. Video cameras might work for the rather severe physical violence in this instance, but what about off campus? This kid is being pummeled and humiliated before 8:00 in the morning. Sometimes boys can play rough but those particular kids are thick skinned or are in a good natured relationship and it's fine. You have to have adults who know the kids and who have the discretion to discriminate based on their knowledge of the relationship not just what happens on video tape.

Suing the school is appropriate here, but I'm skeptical that every bullied child has the plethora of evidence that the parents do in this case. Girls, in particular, don't have to be as overt. Finally, not every parent is interested in leaving their child in such a situation long enough to acquire the evidence to make a case.
posted by BigSky at 7:20 AM on March 24, 2008


It didn't stop for me until my senior year of high school, but by then I was an emotional disaster and needed to start taking huge amounts of recreational drugs before I could properly trust people enough to form close emotional bonds again.

Heh.

Not quite the same situation for me, but yeah, the huge quantities of recreational drugs helped like nothing else. Somehow I don't think that's the advice that anyone who's outside the situation would be willing to hear. And I'm not claiming it's the healthy road to take, just a common one that may actually do more good than harm.

It's not the school, it's the kid. I'd actually go further and say it's probably the parents fault for not teaching the kid to socialize properly. Kids like these are usually victims in school because their parents first taught them how to be victims at home. I'd be willing to bet his parents were either verbally or physically abusive to him before he even got to school.

And I wouldn't go quite this far, but there's something to it. My bet is that most victim's parents don't do much to teach a child how to establish and enforce personal boundaries. Their own abuse of the child might be one reason why, but there are other explanations as well: personal difficulty with those issues, neglect, ignorance of their importance, belief that children shouldn't be allowed to say 'No', etc.
posted by BigSky at 7:29 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I would have to agree with everyone who says that things like zero-tolerance policies for violence are a bad idea. Every scuffle between teenagers is not a bully-victim situation. These are still kids, they lack impulse control, and should have the chance to acquire some in a safe setting. (i.e. not getting expelled when an argument escalates to a could of shoves.) Kids have friendly wrestling matches at that age, too - hell, I know 35-year olds who still do it.

And in true bullying situations, the victim will always get punished along with or instead of the bully. Because the victim gets picked out for being "weird," socially inept, or nonconformist in some way. And teachers have the same impulses that make them side with the "normal" kids. Even if they're borderline violent psychopaths. Or in some cases, teachers may be actively afraid of the bully, and not want to provoke a confrontation.

It seems like the best solution is safe spaces for the "weird" kids - at my school, sympathetic teachers' classrooms would fill up at lunchtime for socializing and board games - or clubs and other productive channellings of weirdness.

And if there is actual violence, teachers should not be in the middle of it. It should be professionals with real training in defusing such situations... Not that that will ever happen.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 7:31 AM on March 24, 2008


There's something sad about the naiveté and earnestness of the parents here. Ultimately, they're resorting to a lawsuit, which is probably warranted, but they seem just unable to understand the intractability of bullying and how it can be enabled by the adults at the school. Billy is learning not just to distrust the authority figures at his school, but also learning to distrust his own parents.
posted by deanc at 7:41 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


The parents are dumbshits for not transferring the boy to another school. What does making him a martyr prove - other than fucking him up?

And putting it in the paper? Yeah, smart move there too.

I was absolutely picked on in school - glasses, I was missing teeth from a bike accident, I was small for my age, and I was smarter than most kids. The best thing my parents could have done was fixed my appearance issues and sent me to a different school, but they couldn't be bothered. So I found my own crowd and spent 6 years stoned out of my mind.

I don't think we've got the full story on Poor Little Billy either. I think there's a real possibility he's fighting back in misdirected ways and causing more problems for himself. That's the other reason he needs a fresh start.

I could get my Moral Outrage hat on and really get my hate going against society for creating the conditions that make this stuff happen. OR I could say honestly that if I were Billy's parents, I'd have moved out of town well before it got to this point. TI'd be an involved parent. I don't think his parents are as involved as we are led to believe.
posted by disclaimer at 7:50 AM on March 24, 2008


Excellent post loquacious. Thank you for sharing. I was home taught myself. Pretty much for the same reasons you were. However I was blessed with a loving set of parents. It sounds like you turned out good despite everything that happened to you. I'm sure you don't need someone on a forum saying it's good to see you turned out that way but it's good to see that you turned out to be a good person.


The only reason a bully is a bully is because something in their own life is causing it. (or in the minority of the time they are just assholes). What schools should do is see what is causing this behavior and instead of school being a place where they are pass on the abuse, have the school become a safe haven where the bully can feel free to drop his guard a little and try to learn something. Because just the like nerd who gets picked on can grow up to do great things... so can the bully. All they need is a little encouragement that they are obviously not getting at home.

Another jokingly and more drastic approach would be to give people convicted of domestic violence more than 2 times the three strike .357 treatment in a back alley. That might end the problem in about 30 years.

that is all

Mastercheddaar
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:52 AM on March 24, 2008


Schools are toxic. Don't send your children there. Even if they aren't the targets of bullies, they witness the violence and learn to accept it as OK. Or worse, they learn to join in on the bullying themselves.

Sending your child to school is a decision to turn your child into either a victim or a bad person. Homeschool! If anyone asks you, "but what about socialization?" tell them that you don't want your children socialized into the values and behaviors taught in schools.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:52 AM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


I really don't like how many responses about what should be "done" are in the form of clamors for vengeance, be it physically or legally. I don't really see how that remedies the situation as opposed to merely, once again, making all of us feel better about the thing that happened to the people we've never even met.

I wish there were more programs to handle bullies and abusive students that were community service-based: 20 hours helping out at a retirement clinic, or an inpatient facility, or a homeless or battered women's shelter. Not hard labor, I'm not saying they have to scrub toilets or do the jobs orderlies have to do but just anything that forces them to actually be exposed to the weak and/or abused in a context devoid of peer pressure or the need for social dominance. Of course, while I'm at it I'd like the "corrections system" in this country to actually be about "rehabilitation" and also a pony.

I understand people feel they want to punish someone, but it would be so much better if we taught them something. It's amazing that of all the places people refuse to consider this, it's a school.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:56 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]



There's actually a lot that can be done. But it is clear from the article that the school condones the bullying and it is part of the school's culture. If the administration, the teachers and the parents choose to focus on reducing bullying-- and they ensure that the teachers, especially, aren't complicit in it, these kinds of situations can change.

But many school administrators and teachers actually support the student social structure, favoring the jocks and the cheerleaders and the others at the top of the status ladder, while disfavoring the others. This gives the "go ahead" signal to the bullies, and the business about the kid "asking for it" is classic evidence of that.

Whereas if you have a school culture that genuinely values diversity in all its forms-- that different kids are good at different things, not just race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.-- while there will still be incidents, there won't be an ongoing culture of this kind of thing.

The "cool" teachers in school are either a great force for good or ill in these situations-- if they act inclusive, the kids take their cues there; if not, they do as well. People don't think teachers have that much influence on teens and not all of them do-- but certain teachers play a huge role in condoning or condemning this stuff.

Zero tolerance actually tends to reinforce this kind of atmosphere as it comes out to another arbitrary demonstration of power over the kids and makes the school community less friendly and cohesive.

Btw, every single high school shooting occurred in a school with a culture of bullying in which the teachers, admins and students collectively decided who was "in" and who was "out" and reinforced that with violence and emotional abuse.
posted by Maias at 7:57 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]



Also, Billy probably has Asperger's-- which will mean that he will be socially clueless and respond in ways almost guaranteed to escalate the bullying. Social skills training for him could potentially make a big difference-- if he were sent to a different school after a summer of such instruction, for example.

but his parents are insanely cruel to keep him there-- if he does have Asperger's, they may have it as well which might also explain their insistence on staying where they are.
posted by Maias at 8:00 AM on March 24, 2008


My IQ levels were nearly unrecordable

Were you masturbating in front of the mirror as you planned this post?
posted by autodidact at 8:10 AM on March 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


When parents and authority figures get involved, the intensity of the bullying only increases. I thought that everybody knew that.

The only solution to bullying is to fight back. It's the only thing that works.

However, I wonder if it's too late for this poor kid. It seems like the kids at his highschool really do hate him. If I were his parents, I'd find a sympathetic aunt or grandparent in a different part of the country to take care of Billy. He could go to a new school that wasn't so set on bullying him.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:14 AM on March 24, 2008


Maias, what points you to Asperger's?
posted by lizzicide at 8:16 AM on March 24, 2008


Because it's MeFi, and every nerd gets diagnosed with Asperger's here.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:18 AM on March 24, 2008 [12 favorites]


Oh my god.

I forgot about bullying. It wasn't so long ago that I hated high school, junior high school, and everything about college, I even hated elementary school, preschool...I distinctly remember hating it. I don't think I was ever a bully, nor was I ever seriously bullied, but I shunned and was shunned. Maybe I had a paranoid gleam in my eye that kept people away. Bullies included. I was an antisocial kid from the start, and I still have problems with that, but I don't ever remember distinctly being bullied.

Except by my father, who I got a restraining order against when I was 15 (14?). I bullied him back, and told him to go fuck himself every chance I got. I denied him any chance I could to let him be a father. And I may have bullied some people unintentionally, though in my life I've never been in a fight, or beaten up. That didn't win me any friends either. I was the kid who tried too hard, but who impressed some people, so I got away with a lot of stuff other kids didn't. I brought Jacke Martling books to school and showed them around, to anyone who would look. I made lists of condom slogans and solicited suggestions. I even got a bit of a name going for myself around the school as somebody funny, but aloof. And I quit "the system" in disgust when I was 16, got into an alternative school and didn't really talk to anybody, and never really made any permanent friends until I came to China and started living my life here.

I've never been bullied, but I know what it's like to feel alone, and to reach out and not really have anyone sincerely touch back. That pain, at least, I understand, even if I don't have any right to empathize with the way he's been violated. I've gotten off relatively scar-free from my childhood, I think, which makes it hurt all the more when I see someone so alone.

Bill, I'm sorry they do this to you. And if you ever see this, and you want to talk, my email is in my profile. All I can say is what they're doing isn't right, you don't deserve it, and I'm here. I'm sorry I can't be closer.
posted by saysthis at 8:20 AM on March 24, 2008


washburn: "I'm not sure how much good it will do, but I went ahead and sent Mr. Wolfe a brief message of support via his Facebook profile."

Facebook says:

"Billy has one friend."

Let's remedy that and all friend him on Facebook as a show of support.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:25 AM on March 24, 2008 [11 favorites]


The parents of bullies and victims both are often just as screwed up/violent/socially clueless as the kids. Obviously. But you can't change the parents - that's beyond the reach of the school. And what about the kids whose parents are working multiple jobs to stay afloat, and don't have the time or money to be involved? Or immigrants who have limited understanding of American school culture? In this kind of situation, the kids have been failed by both their parents and the school - and changing the culture in the school can help a lot more kids.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 8:26 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not just bullying... you can reinvent yourself completely. Nobody knows the first thing about you in the new place

Unless, of course, there was an article about you in the New York Times.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:29 AM on March 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


Seconding empath -- I never knew a kid who got bullied that didn't have either some kind of home problem or very poor socialization. Judging by the comments here, this is not likely to be well received news, but it's the truth.

School is mostly about socialization, and human society in general tends to punish those who are different to an unacceptable degree. Kids do this with special ferocity, being both semi-powerless themselves and also lacking in most of the empathy that most of them will develop later on.

Here are some things that will not help at all:

Suing anyone, or pursuing legal action: Doesn't anyone else here remember that one kid whose parents would sue anyone, any time, for any reason? Yeah, that kid got bullied even worse.

Moving / changing schools: Bully magnets remain just that, even at a different school.

Karate classes: Oh Jesus H Christ. It's one thing if the kid just enjoys the activity, but doesn't anyone else remember the archetypal karate nerd? Third-degree black belt whatever whatever. That kid got bullied. That was usually also the kid who was always stealing his uncle's throwing stars and switchblade and bringing them in to school. The karate nerd was usually the kid who was transparently being abused or at best neglected at home by a violent family.

What might work:

Change our school system to be much less like large jails for the young. Ha. As if. Moving on...

Teach the smart kids who get bullied (the big-word types), something about sociology and group dynamics and encourage them to figure out the social mores they're violating to attract all the negative attention, and stop doing it. It's all well and good to say that everyone should be as nerdy as they wanna be, but come on. No one here acts professionally when at work, regardless of how much of a hell raiser you are after hours? Acting appropriately for the environment is part of life. It's not different just because they're kids. I would have been the world's biggest bully magnet if I hadn't figured this out early. There are people around whom a 10 year old can casually use the word "lethargic" and there are people around whom he cannot.

The kids who are being bullied and are not notably brighter that the ones doing the bullying probably have something wrong at home. There's little that teachers can do about that. Sucks, but it's the truth. If anyone can solve this one, start drafting your Nobel speech.

Chip away at the neutrals -- the kids who aren't bullied themselves and don't want to be, and thus don't object when someone else gets bullied. They understand why it's happening, but they don't really want to be involved. This majority of neutral kids are the only ones who have any prayer of actually stopping it. Bullying is a mechanism of enforcing social conformity. The only real way to prevent it is to use the same powerful force to make it unacceptable. But it has to be done by the kids. Parents and teachers are not part of the social dynamic that produces bullies and victims. This is difficult to achieve in practice, but where the neutral bystanders are willing to stick up for the nerd, bullying basically ends.
posted by rusty at 8:31 AM on March 24, 2008 [7 favorites]


Wow, good talk friends.

I went to school in a slice-of-americana hometown where I went to kindergarden with about 1/2 of my 110 person graduating class. In elementary and middle school, my weapons against bullies were, in order, wit and a small group of friends. I knew a few guys who went the karate route with good results; from all reports its a good way to build up a child's confidence.

5th grade can be a nightmare, but I don't think that public school is inherently a toxic environment. I don't really think home schooling is the answer. The most interesting, well-adjusted people I know have been shaped by a wide variety of experiences, and they've grown to learn from those experiences and take them in stride. I don't know what the difference is between one of those people and someone who would be scarred by the same experiences. Maybe it's something inherent, maybe it's something learned early on, I'm not really sure. The experiences we live through make us the people who we are, but it's not an entirely passive process. I think we all have a say in how we let those experiences affect us.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:32 AM on March 24, 2008


This story is, largely, a description of American society writ small. The bullies, be it physical or otherwise, are generally rewarded, promoted, worshipped and generally seen as "ah he's a good ol boy, sometimes he's just a little...edgy...". These people then grow up and continue their bullying ways.

One of the notorious bullies from my junior high is now a weekend news anchor for a major American broadcast network.

So watching World News Sunday on ABC News hosted by DAN HARRIS always reminds me that adulthood isn't quite the utopia of comeuppance I had youthfully envisioned.
posted by dyoneo at 8:33 AM on March 24, 2008 [13 favorites]


Jeebus, bleary, I'm with you there. No one was stupid enough to try to harm me physically (I was taller than every single boy in my school until nearly 8th grade, and quite a few teachers, too), but damn, I got shunned like a naughty Amish girl. And not in the movie-friendly Mean Girls kind of way, either. The no-one-will-let-you-sit-by-them-on-the-bus-and-the-bus-driver-yells-at-YOU way.

Our own experiences make us extra-sensitive to these kinds of stories, sure, but I'm not exactly impressed with what I'm hearing about public schools these days. My friend's stepson, who is a sweet and clever 9-year-old, has been put in a corner, apart from all the other kids, and told -- BY HIS TEACHER, NO LESS -- that she's doing it because the other kids "don't like him." I mean, what the fucking fuck is that about? Did she go to the Marquis de Sade School of Education or something?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:45 AM on March 24, 2008


Jacqueline, I just friended him as well.. that's a great idea and it would be so cool if zillions of people did so as well.

Regarding Asperger's, the victim-blaming stuff seems very frequently to redound on people with Asperger's because people on the spectrum do exactly the wrong things in response to bullying: cry, respond with arrogance about intelligence, try to hang out with people who are rejecting them, persist in behavior that is annoying without realizing it, obsess about stuff that bores people and refuse to be quiet or take turns in conversation-- and consistently do so seemingly perversely despite all attempts to help them change.

I probably would have been diagnosed with Asperger's as a child-- and that is exactly what I did for most of elementary and junior high school until I discovered in high school that obsessing about drugs is an interest many people share ;-)

This was not your healthiest response... but it certainly made me much more popular.
posted by Maias at 8:47 AM on March 24, 2008


This article and thread make me want to home school my future child. Either that or add socialization to the things that I plan to try to teach her. "Daddy has to wear a suit and tie and pretend to be interested in law when he is at work or he will get fired. You have to do a version of that at school. Both of us can be as weird as we want when we get home."
posted by ND¢ at 8:54 AM on March 24, 2008 [16 favorites]


Okay, so I was twelve when I started working on the potato farm as a shaker, running behind the harvester shaking the potatos from the potato plants and DS started ragging on me because I was fat and because I liked "Photograph", by Def Leppard, a fag song if there ever was one.

DS was a year ahead of me at junior high school. He was short and scrawny and looked like a more simian version of Eddie Van Halen, but he wore Metallica "Metal Up Your Ass" shirts and listened to Venom, and smoked with the others at the Hole in the woods behind the school.

DS bullied me for about half a year, taunting and punching me until finally I had had enough. We scuffled in the halls one Monday in January after school. A large crowd gathered to see us push and shove each other. DS headbutted me and my nose started to bleed.

But then DS had to go. "I got to go to drum practice," said. Eggy gave DS a double on the back of his bike. Everybody chased after Eggy and DS and jeering at them.

The next day, Tuesday, DS came up to me and said: "We fight after school on Friday". I said sure. For one week I was popular.

By Friday, the entire school had heard about our fight. DS came to school wearing combat boots. I changed into some old clothes and put my school clothes, including a sweater I had got for Christmas, into a gym bag.

"We're going to take your gym bag to make sure you fight DS," said one of the tough kids. Then it seemed like the entire school started (or at least one hundred kids) trekking to an abandoned vacant lot near my house, about a fifteen minute walk away from the school.

When I got to the vacant lot, a circle of kids had formed. DS was somewhere in the crowd with his friends. I had none.

Suddenly, my mother showed up. She was taking my sisters to piano lessons.

"Get in the car," she screamed.

"But they have my sweater!" I said.

"Where is my son's sweater?" shouted my mother at the crowd.

Tony M., the only black kid in school, appeared with it. Eggy had burned it with a lighter.

"I tried to piss on it to put out the flames," said Tony.

Later that night, my mother went to Eggy's house to receive payment for the sweater. I eventually changed schools, but had to spend the next six months at the same school, at the very bottom of the social hierarchy.

DS and I are now Facebook friends.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:56 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


ND¢, you don't need to teach her that explicitly. If you're phoning it in at work she'll know.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:58 AM on March 24, 2008


I don't get it. What do you mean?
posted by ND¢ at 9:01 AM on March 24, 2008


I never had problems as a young child. I was a bit chubby and way too smart for my own good, but I was a kind and loyal friend so my classmates took me in stride. I also had the advantage of going to the gifted-track school in first grade.

Near the end of the first grade, my dad got transferred from Louisville to New Jersey. My parents, both of whom were from the tri-state area, were thrilled to be moving back home. I was not happy to be leaving my friends1. We moved to a primarily Black neighborhood in Orange, NJ. The only White kid in my class was Hispanic. Complicating matters was the fact that the administration immediately saw that since NJ had no such gifted track as Louisville, I would need to be skipped at least one grade. Next year, I started third grade with an entirely new crop of kids in an entirely new state, and I was still the smartest kid in the class2. I was resentful, to be sure, of the shakeups in my relatively docile life that had resulted from our move to New Jersey3. But I was never arrogant and always worked with my classmates to help them on their assignments4. I never had a problem with bullying. There was one kid I thought was a bully; he once tried to put me in a "full nelson". I quickly realized that he was just a big (and kinda chunky) kid who no one really liked and he just wanted attention and/or a friend. So I had some experience dealing with a bully or two, never anything I couldn't resolve by talking.

While all of this was happening in my life, my parents decided to split up (I was in 4th grade now). Despite all the changes in my life, I was still a well-adjusted kid. I hadn't won new friends at my school so much as just sort of fallen into them. There was no challenge, no resentment of my intelligence, no verbal abuse that wasn't good-natured dissing that we'd laugh about minutes later. It's possible my parents' divorce had some effect on me, but I wasn't really heartbroken about it. I wasn't much of anything, really. I may have withdrawn somewhat. But when we moved back to my mother's hometown in northern Jersey, I was met with nothing but contempt and scorn from the kids there5. I hadn't changed anything about my approach, but I was seen as a nerd/brain/dork/etc. I was ostracized before I'd even gotten my first test scores back. Naturally, I withdrew, became defensive, got into arguments. I became the victim. A few things saved me. One, the kids who actually liked me were the ones you'd probably think of as "bullies". They were of above average athletic ability (one of them had been left back once, as well). They had below-average test scores. But they were, in their own way, outcast as well. They never gave me a problem and we actually got pretty chummy. So while people might've picked on me, they hesitated at physical confrontation. Two, I could run faster than just about anyone, and for longer. Though I was the chubby kid, I could move when I needed to, and I could run all the way home while the other kids were huffing and puffing for breath. Three, I was not the bottom of the ladder. There was a local girl who was universally picked on by both the guys and the girls6. I started to get fed up with things that year (5th grade) and anger gave me back some of my confidence. We had mixed-period gym, which meant that we were paired with the sixth-graders for some of our classes. It was that year that I was introduced to dodge ball. And when I got fed up with being picked off as the fat kid and made a target of, I decided to make my stand. One of the toughest sixth graders threw a ball at me as hard as he could, and I caught it and made him sit the fuck down (he stopped laughing, too; you should've seen his face). I discovered I had a talent for it, whether they threw at my head or my feet; I would consistently catch the fastest throws of these kids, two or three years older than me. And wow, did that ever piss them off. My classmates had to grudgingly accept that I was an asset to our dodge ball team; once sixth-graders learned they couldn't pick me off easily, I'd usually be one or two of the last kids standing. Eventually they had to throw at me and that meant one of them would sit down, and one of our kids would be getting back up (that's how we played it, anyway). Next year, I came in third in the student council election and became our alternate. When the second-place kid dropped out of SC, I took over, and ended up participating in town government day that year (we presided over a town council meeting). Not many people liked me, but not as many outright hated me.

After sixth grade, we all went to middle school in a different town (ours had only an elementary school). That had the unfortunate effect of resetting things a bit. After a few scuffles (my friends were no longer able to protect me physically), I established an uneasy truce. No one would take me on one-on-one, at least. And I had other outlets now; I was acting again, and in the band. So I made a few friends. I have to laugh when I read about Drillbit Taylor; in eighth grade, I actually hired myself out as a bodyguard to some of my nerd friends. Not as crazy as a full-grown man protecting kids, but I think the nerd protecting other nerds is more nuanced. Part of my survival, though, was that we were allowed to leave school grounds for lunch. I was not confined to the cafeteria or the yard, and could get away from the other kids. I would take long walks (how far can I go in my lunch hour and still make it back for class?), I would hang out in parks and read. I went to CTY the summer after 7th grade, too, which had the effect of placing me into high school math the next year. I took math first period, which meant I had to wake up earlier and catch the high-school bus with *gulp* high school kids. The funny thing was; the former sixth-graders who loved to torment me were the freshmen now, and the upperclassmen all loved me. Especially the girls. I was their Little Man Tate (remember, I was at least a year younger than my classmates at the time. Having to take math first period had the effect of shuffling my schedule around a bit (I was the only kid with a "study hall") and kept me segregated from some of the more annoying of my classmates. So I survived. And by protecting my nerd friends (not really by any strength of my own, but by "protecting" several of them, suddenly we had safety in numbers), I sort of became king of the nerds, lord of the outcasts.

I had the fortune of going to a magnet school for high school, where I don't think I ever saw any kind of bullying. We were all smart kids. There were still cliques, and athletically gifted kids (jocks with brains), metalheads, and so on. And I kept up my solitary nature. I wasn't leading, but sure enough, people started following me. I became sort of the leader of the "no clique" clique. So by keeping my head for a few years, being true to myself (see footnote 6 again), and by never backing down (more like knowing when to back down, but combined with not looking like I was backing down), I made it. In college, I made the tightest-knit group of friends that I've ever seen. And I met my girlfriend of the past seven years. And ended up in, if not my dream job, the job I've wanted since I was a college junior. The road's been kinda bumpy, and there are still potholes but: Life's pretty good.

I have no idea if my story would be of any help to someone like Billy, especially at his age, but maybe by putting it out there in the world, someone will be inspired by it, rather than picking up a gun, dropping out of school, or something worse. Keep looking for the friendships, because there are always other outcasts. Keep doing what you love, whether it's acting, or music, or dance, or lunch-time D&D quests, or tutoring other kids (older AND younger). There's enough diversity in the world that someone will feel just like you do. Find them, or let them find you. Your life is about the other people in it, and that is how you will be measured and remembered. And this, too, will pass.

1 Including my "girlfriend", who I wrote a poem to every day on the bus ride home.
2 I don't mean that boastfully; I actually had my own section on the homework assignment area of the chalkboard.
3 I still hate NJ to this day. NY, not so much, go fig.
4 And I do mean work; I didn't do it for them but tried to help them think about the problem in everyday ways. I later went on to be the Tutoring Committee chairman in my high school's National Honor Society; once again, go fig. Now I work as a technical writer, explaining difficult concepts in engineering and telecommunications to regular folks. I never connected the dots this far back until today. I love how MetaFilter encourages self-discovery.
5 Recently, I've been wondering about this. There's been so much written lately about the persecution of intelligence in African-American cultures, but I never encountered this. My brain was always seen as an asset when I lived in a black neighborhood, and folks were proud to know me and be my friend. In the primarily white neighborhood we moved to, it was only the outcast/bullies in my grade (minorities themselves, though both of different backgrounds from mine) who held this same kind of pride in being the friend of the smart kid. The white kids (bullies included) hit me with nothing but scorn, contempt, envy, and resentment (and dodgeballs, at first). But that is a whole different conversation, I suppose.
6 I once used my speed to defend her; it was just about the only way I could help. The kids had her coat and had thrown it into a pile of mud and leaves and were jumping on it and taunting her. It was almost every kid in my grade. Since I was an outsider anyway, nobody cared where I was. I was atop a hill, overlooking the spectacle. I got so pissed off, I ran down the hill at full speed, snatched the jacket up, and ran with it. When it was safe to do so, I gave the jacket back to the girl. I got taunted, teased, told I was sitting in a tree with her (K-I-S-S-I-N-G), but no one would touch me physically. I fumed and raged silently to myself, but refused to rise to it. It was one of the few occasions that year for any non-academic pride, and the start of the return of my earlier confidence.

posted by Eideteker at 9:02 AM on March 24, 2008 [8 favorites]


I never knew a kid who got bullied that didn't have either some kind of home problem or very poor socialization.

Well, I had neither. The bullying I got was pretty light, and was probably because I was the New Kid for 5th, 6th, and 7th grades. I had one friend in 5th grade, none in 6th (that was the year I ran all the way home every day, to avoid getting beaten up by the biggest girl in class), but within a month or so at my new 7th grade, I had a half-dozen friends. I changed schools a lot because we moved frequently in those years, btw, not to get me out of bullying situations.
posted by rtha at 9:05 AM on March 24, 2008


It remains unclear why Billy became a target at age 12; schoolyard anthropology can be so nuanced.

"Nuanced" is about as inapt a word to describe the "anthropology" of school bullying as any that could have been chosen.

I'm eternally grateful that that period of my life is ancient history. There is absolutely nothing that I miss about it.
posted by blucevalo at 9:10 AM on March 24, 2008


Seconding empath -- I never knew a kid who got bullied that didn't have either some kind of home problem or very poor socialization.

I'm curious what you mean by "very poor socialization."

Do you mean boys that aren't interested in sports, as they should be?
Do you mean girls that aren't interested in fashion the way that they ought to be?
Do you mean kids that are interested in D&D, as they should not be?
Do you mean kids that are too fat, or too tall, or other things that don't have anything to do with socialization?
Do you mean kids that behave differently from the dominant group, who were by definition socialized "well," because good socialization is not about the inculcation of moral virtues such as integrity and compassion but is merely about getting to the top of the shitpile by whatever means necessary?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:15 AM on March 24, 2008 [33 favorites]


This post reminded me that I had been meaning to track down where my old bullies are. As far as the internet can tell me, they've done nothing of note since they graduated high school. That's somewhat satisfying. Kids: drop out of high school, it's the best decision you'll ever make.
posted by cmonkey at 9:29 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I wish there were more programs to handle bullies and abusive students that were community service-based: 20 hours helping out at a retirement clinic, or an inpatient facility, or a homeless or battered women's shelter."

You want to take a person who obviously has an abusive personality, and put them in a situation where they have access to vulnerable elderly people or people who have already been traumatized and need a safe space to heal?

Dear god, why do some people's first thought go towards enabling more victimization? Can you force someone to learn empathy, if they obviously have none? Many people suffer in abusive situations, but they never become bullies themselves. We learn to passively accept bullying behavior as normal in others because -- get this -- we keep blaming the victim by insisting that the victim has to change schools, take a defense class, read a book called How I Learned to Accomodate a Bully and Marginalize Myself in the Process.

Instead of trying to manufacture empathy in the empty hearts of bullies, or requiring the victim to make adjustments in his life, how about we put the onus where it belongs -- on the stinkin' bully and his family who obviously don't know how to socialize a kid properly?

I don't know what the exact mechanism for accountability would be in practice, but I do know that continual victim-blaming is not the correct response. Victim accomodation is running away from the problem, not solving it. It leaves yet another generation of bullies passing on their destructive attitudes to even more innocents.
posted by sunai at 9:34 AM on March 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


Jacqueline: Way ahead of you. Also sent him a nice long note. I hope things get better for him. Middle School, and parts of High School, were rough for me. So rough, in fact, that I can't watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer without feeling uncomfortable. It's a place I don't like to go back to.
posted by gc at 9:34 AM on March 24, 2008


No, ROU, they're generally bad at reading social cues and facial expressions, etc. I knew plenty of fat kids that were popular in HS, and kids that played D&D that weren't bullied. Out of the group of kids that I played D&D with, I was really the only one that got teased mercilessly and I wasn't even that into D&D.
posted by empath at 9:36 AM on March 24, 2008


I'm curious what you mean by "very poor socialization."

And so am I, rusty.

School is mostly about socialization, and human society in general tends to punish those who are different to an unacceptable degree.

No, school is about education, and that I have to even pipe up with that comment makes me fear for society. We're about two steps away from Idiocracy's "Ow, My Balls!" as it is.

If keeping my [hypothetical] child safe and in a position to actually, oh, learn something involves telling them to shut up and make with the Lindsey Lohan moves to fit in, that's the day the homeschooling or school switching starts.

"Socialization" and "selling out your personality to fit in" are two entirely different things. If I'd opted for the Popular Girl crap permanently (and believe me, I gave it a brief try to see if it would make my every day life less of a hell in school -- it didn't), I would not be who I am today.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:36 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


"We're about two steps away from Idiocracy's "Ow, My Balls!" as it is."

Are you unaware of the show/movie Jackass? "Ow, My Balls!" is already here.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:38 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Change our school system to be much less like large jails for the young. Ha. As if. Moving on...

the fact that you recognize the reality that schools are very much like prisons and then in the same breath deny that anything can be done about it... that is fucked.

i mean, *you* are not fucked. you are repeating the same shrugging and hopelessness that all of America seems to have about the school system and its inherent fucked-up-ness. it is an industrially designed holding center for children while their parents work. it is so prison like that the same social dynamic as prisons are a matter of expectation: commodities like treats are traded for favors, and cheating the system is the biggest suck of time that goes on. how to get around rules, how to gain favor with the wardens/teachers, how to do the least amount of work possible, constant bullying and pecking order jostling... these are all accepted in the schools. and prisons.

and yet we say we can transfer the child to another "prison", where he is less known, and there it will all be better. really?

i was a bullied child. my family moved, and i reinvented myself. but this was not getting at the root of the issue. bullying is not just a product of a fucked up child/parents. it is a product of the system. how many of us, after all, have to endure bullying adults without recourse? oh, only those of us in prison? gee.

the answer is to get rid of schools altogether as they currently exist. neighborhood learning centers, with tons of computers and their accessories, and a fully open enrollment/attendance policy is the answer that all the best minds in technology and education are pulling for. (it's green, it's answering all the studies about smaller=better, it's cheaper, it's more forward thinking.)

it's just that no one wants to give up their prisons--they're such a boon for so many bureaucrats that no one can think outside it.

but someday.
posted by RedEmma at 9:40 AM on March 24, 2008 [9 favorites]


To the "just take karate classes" crowd: I was bullied in junior high school (not anywhere near as bad as this kid was). I didn't take karate classes, but my dad (himself a black-belt Vietnam-vet Marine) showed me enough to get by. Next time I was bullied, I beat the tar out of my most frequent tormentor (who also had 6, which bought me at least a year of peace. However, it also got my suspended, which was a bit ironic considering that I got my ass kicked on quite a few occasions, and it was only when I left someone else in worse shape than I was that someone got punished for it.

That suspension almost kept me from getting into a magnet high school that I really wanted to attend. I had to sit there with my parents and explain in detail my "behavior problems" to a counselor at that school prior to an admissions decision the next year. Ultimately it didn't impact the decision, but it looked for a while like it could have gone either way.

The bottom line is that yes, fighting back will help for a time with the bullying, but it can also make things far worse in other ways.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:42 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


You want to take a person who obviously has an abusive personality, and put them in a situation where they have access to vulnerable elderly people or people who have already been traumatized and need a safe space to heal?

Or, another way of looking at it: moving some into an environment where their behavior is not empowering. Bullies bully because it empowers them in the context in which they do it. To move them somewhere else could foster the realization that life is bigger than the small corner of the earth they inhabit. We could encourage victims to do the same because it can allow for healing, I don't see why it couldn't work in some cases with bullies.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:42 AM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Many commenters in this thread don't seem to be aware than 1 out of every 25 people are sociopaths.

Kids who are bullied aren't bullied because there's something wrong with them, but because there's something wrong with the bullies. Bullies are young sociopaths. Our society fails to restrain these people, and they grow up to inflict tremendous harm on everyone around them.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:45 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Everyone knows that bullying is an important part of our society's development. The bullies grow up to be important politicians and the bullied grow up to be computer programmers. Problem solved!

Seriously, though, bullying sucks.
posted by papakwanz at 9:50 AM on March 24, 2008


Man. Here's what I'm struck by, which I'm surprised no one's mentioned yet: Billy's cute! If he could survive all this, get his grades up and get to college, he'd have girls clamoring for his attention.

Uh, how sure are you that girls are where it's at for Billy? The article mostly ducks that question (as perhaps it should, for his safety), and I don't think we should be making assumptions one way or the other other. Adolescents have really good noses for "differences" of all types, and really hammer away at those vulnerabilities. At the same time, people who are bullied and abused often develop some really self-destructive behaviors. Sometimes it's private, like self-cutting, and sometimes it's public, like provoking a likely abuser and thereby gaining some small sense of control over a situation, despite making things worse overall. Anyway, my point here is to be cautious on the assumptions, because those are the same assumptions that are making life difficult for Billy.

Teach the smart kids who get bullied (the big-word types)

That was me. But the kids who really got shat on, who had it so much worse than I did, were the kids who were not all that intellectual (some borderline special needs, some just learning disabilities or not that interested in school or whatever), came from poor families, and were socially inept. I can remember one girl really vividly, I think her name was Lauren. She was a late bloomer, real skinny and gawky, and I'm pretty sure her family situation was desperately poor -- her clothes were always old, and she smelled and looked unwashed (as you might, if you had only cold water in the winter) -- and she was in all the remedial classes. Lauren got called "lezbo" all the time, and looking back, I think that she probably was queer, whether or not she knew it yet. She, and students like her, got it a thousand times worse than nerds like me. At least the nerds had math club, and debate team, and witty come backs, and usually a parent who could come and be their advocate. The students without even those resources -- especially the queer ones -- are the ones that in retrospect I am amazed never came to school armed for a shooting. Maybe they were too beaten down, even for that.
posted by Forktine at 9:54 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


My IQ levels were nearly unrecordable

Yeah, I know that's bad form. Sorry if that stuck in your craw, but there's a point that I tried to make by mentioning it - above and beyond directly illustrating "very poor socialization".

That point is that my IQ levels are easily recordable, now. That point was that I lost something or gave up something to fit in, and later, burned it away through a fair amount of hard living.

Why?


I can't get much more emotionally inolved in the thread. I'm a little overwhelmed. Thanks.
posted by loquacious at 9:57 AM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


I was bullied every day in 7th grade by a kid named Brad. Recess was filled with dread and I'd often take as long as I possibly could eating my lunch until I was shooed out of the cafeteria to receive my daily drubbing. Headlocks, pinches and chokings. I don't recall any bruising to the face, but my body was covered otherwise, beneath my clothes. I would sometimes try to fight back, but I was so much smaller than Brad, he could just grab my arms and bring me to the ground. The worst was when I'd be walking down the hall, thinking maybe he wasn't at school that day, and I'd feel his hands clamp down on my neck from behind to give me a menacing neck massage. "How ya doin' buddy?" I knew what was coming after lunch.

In 9th grade, Brad was swimming in the river and he drowned. I didn't cry. I felt pretty good, actually.
posted by BoatMeme at 10:03 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


"That point is that my IQ levels are easily recordable, now."

How so? IQ is a measure of projected scholastic performance. You shouldn't have an IQ now, because IQ measures how well you perform on a 4th grade task, 5th grade task, and so on, vs. other children your age. It's a purely developmental concept; there are no IQ tests designed for adulthood.
posted by Eideteker at 10:08 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry to nitpick on you, loquacious; you know I love you like a brother. But this is a concept and a conceit that needs to die.
posted by Eideteker at 10:09 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


IQ changes over time. Many kids with really high IQs are just experiencing asynchronous development and are not actually little geniuses who could go on to change the world.
posted by autodidact at 10:10 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow, thanks for your comment loquacious. I want to point something out, based solely on what you've written, that I think bears mentioning that I don't think people are getting based on the comments that came after yours.

loquacious: "This is incidental, and I've half a mind to leave it out, but I was getting beat up at home as well, by a stepdad."

Not only is it incidental, it is the very heart of the matter. The thugs sense this, at first when you fail to respond or engage it the back and forth trading of insults that boys engage in, and later as you don't respond to escalating verbal insults. You're not an easy target, you were a wounded target before they even found you. That is why they all picked on you, and they all did it relentlessly.

Very few people are chronic victims of bullying who don't also have some major issues at home. In fact, the victims of bullying often have the same problems at home that the bullies do - verbally or physically abusive fathers, etc. Bullly and victim assume different roles in the same dynamic. The reason bullies nearly always pick the right victim is because they are subconsciously looking for the things in other kids that they themselves display to their fathers. In a way, the bully and the victim are very much part of the same family.

People talk about reacting violently. Believe me when I say there were no shortage of people in my high school who deserved the American History X curbside treatment. And in the case of Billy in the post, I wouldn't bother going after the bullies. I'd head straight for the administrators who turned a blind eye. Take that school official who said he got what he deserved. I show up at that administrators house at 2:30am with a crowbar and some lye, by the time the school bell rings, Billy's untouchable and free ice cream in the cafeteria. Few things are more persuasive to a bureaucrat than a well-executed home invasion.

But why do we react this way when Billy doesn't? This rage that swells up in us, where does it come from, and why is it so focused?

Because the rage has been nurtured in all those years after school. Because it's still happening to us, not to some hypothetical kid in some imaginary school, it is happening right now.

"But they're being thrown away, just because they don't fit into some damn machine. Imagine that, a human not fitting into the limited scope and parameters of a machine."

We still don't fit into the machine, does no one see that? We're on some website or another trying to connect with people because we do not fit into the system, or more appropriately, our needs and expectations cannot be met through the system. If the system worked for us, or we derived some benefit from it, we wouldn't be here looking for something else.

We all know there are bullies in every school and ten times more kids cheering them on, but there are no comments here from them. Because they aren't here. Those kids who were laughing in your peripheral vision as you were getting smashed into a locker don't even know this site exists. They fit into the system somewhere, and have no need of metafilter or the other sites you visit. They are happy with the fictions fed to them as news. They are happy to act out the political and social conflicts constructed for them using the a culture that is designed to keep them dormant, docile and dumb.

You aren't happy. You don't fit in to the system now. You didn't then and you don't now. You know why? Because you, all of you, all of us, see too much of it. You see the artifice of it. What is opaque to others is vaguely transparent in parts to you. What you can see raises questions that never get answered. You start to question your religion, your government, the financial system, etc. You aren't even rebelling against them, just asking questions. But the questions never get answered, and people look at you funny and vomit the banalities at you: "Why are you asking that? Why do you care?" So you keep your mouth shut in polite circles and you play along and deep inside you your demon is screaming.

So you see the system oppressing a helpless kids and you want to lash out because you are helpless in your own situation. Whatever, maybe it's just me.

"Yes, goddamnit, we should protect and coddle our children this way. That's called teaching."

Teaching has nothing to do with most public schools. The purpose of the school is not to teach, the purpose is to engender conformity in most and marginalize the rest - you do this, give these answers to these questions, learn that the popular kids are the loudest and the strongest, and should be obeyed. You are "taught" that there is a hierarchy, that you aren't at the top of it, and you will be punished severely by the hierarchy itself for attempting to ignore or escape it. That's the reality of American's industrial education system. Not only is it like the animal kingdom, with males fighting to become alphas, that's precisely what it was set up for. The educational system isn't a failure, it's working perfectly according to its design.

Do you think schools that debate teaching creationism are any good at all at teaching chemistry or literature? Do you think high schools that build NFL-sized stadiums for their football teams are effectively teaching the importance of art in an individuals life? We've got salesmen and middle managers to produce here, not "limp-wristed faggoty artists" who don't know when to keep their mouths shut.

You want insight, wisdom, and education, you need a private school, or a public school system where the houses cost 5x the national average, and for that you need money. That means you need parents who are successful at least at appearing to conform with the system in order to achieve any kind of financial success. But I would argue that if you spend to long faking conformity, eventually you forget that you were faking it. You lose yourself in the role, and by then its too late or you are too dependent on the system to extricate yourself from it.

So, yeah, poor Billy. I hope he gets help to find his way through this. And poor us, too, but we have to help ourselves.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:11 AM on March 24, 2008 [53 favorites]


bitter-girl.com & ROU_Xenophobe, about poor socialization: I was a chubby Dungeonmaster until around 11th grade, and I was not bullied, so no I don't mean that. I mean kids that simply don't ever quite grasp that what they do and how they act sends signals to others beyond those that are intended. The kid who walks in to homeroom, sets down his briefcase (I knew this guy in high school), and makes an airy remark about what a splendid morning it is, and how he enjoyed his postprandial stroll to school is telling most of the other kids in the room "I believe I am smarter than you and better than you." While certainly not intended (and probably not even realized by the nerd) this is perceived as aggression by many other kids. You don't have to change who you are, but if you cannot modify your presentation of yourself such as to not broadcast signals of aggression and superiority, you're gonna have trouble in life.

That's the heart of it. Socialization is about learning how to present yourself in such a way as to acheive yur goals in a social environment. If your goal is to piss people off, then by all means get down with your weird self.

RedEmma: I don't know if I agree with your plan, but I'm right there with you on the problem.
posted by rusty at 10:15 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was bullied in school. Physically, in elementary school, and in other ways later on.
But just speaking for myself, the physical bullying never leaves you.
Never. Not ever.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:16 AM on March 24, 2008


How to stop the bullying of your child, a 3-step process:

1. Speak to the school principal and demand action. If they do nothing effective:
2. Speak to the police, and demand action. If they do nothing effective:
3. Corner the bullies yourself armed with a nine-iron and beat the mother-loving hell out of them. A few months in ICU should convince them to leave your kid alone.
posted by illiad at 10:19 AM on March 24, 2008


"Very few people are chronic victims of bullying who don't also have some major issues at home."

I was a chronic victim of bullying -- in multiple schools -- and I didn't have "major issues" at home. No abuse of any kind. The closest I had to "issues" at home is my parents divorced when I was 8, but it was relatively amicable, and they had joint custody so I saw them both. (I later had "issues" during my puberty/teen years of fighting with my parents constantly because I was so headstrong, but the bullying started long before that and even the later fights were more over my parents forcing me to go to school than anything else.)

As far as I can tell, I was bullied because I was smart, weird, and preferred reading my own books to paying attention to whatever boring lesson was being given in class.

Early in my sophomore year of high school I finally figured out that no one could actually MAKE me go to school, told everyone to fuck off, and walked off. After being a dropout for a couple of month I enrolled myself in the local community college (left my birthdate off the application) and began taking classes there instead.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:23 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


"3. Corner the bullies yourself armed with a nine-iron and beat the mother-loving hell out of them. A few months in ICU should convince them to leave your kid alone."

Unfortunately, this would most likely be followed by:

4. Agonize over the abuse and bullying that happens to your child in the foster home he or she is living in while you're in prison.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:26 AM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Teaching kids who are the victims of bullying how to be properly "socialized" is going to reduce the likelihood that they'll be bullied? Why isn't the solution to properly "socialize" the bullies?

Or is the idea that bullying is an appropriate, even admirable, way to behave so completely and seamlessly ingrained in modern culture that bullying (whether it's at school, on the road, or at work) is interpreted as proper socialization?

And what is proper socialization, exactly? In school, if I kept my nose to the grindstone and did everything in my power to blend into the background -- that is, everything I could not to appear snooty or "superior" or "aggressive" or even "passive-aggressive" -- I got targeted. If I did the opposite, I got targeted. If I was asocial and kept to myself, I got targeted. If I made as many friends as I knew how to make, I got targeted. If I "acted straight," I got targeted. If I acted like a flaming homo, I got targeted.

I was student body president senior year in high school -- that's what a John Hughes movie (and most other "teen flicks") would peg as the very pinnacle of conformist socialization.

I still got targeted. Nothing I did changed any of it.

There may have been times when the bullying was less fierce or in periods of lull or dormancy, but it never went away.
posted by blucevalo at 10:32 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rusty: basically, her skirt was too short.
posted by sunai at 10:34 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I was the school goat, for a couple of years. It was open season on me at school, and unfortunately at home as well; so I withdrew into my books and my head and spent most of my time there.
They hospitalized me for the withdrawal, sent me to a kiddie psych ward. After that I switched parents and schools, came out of my shell a little - then switched parents again and went back to the same school. Where I immediately became the goat again. It got so bad that I'd simply hide from the school bus and not go to school, spending the days reading in a closet out of sight. If I did end up in school I sat with my nose almost touching the pages of my binder, writing the number of minutes until I could get out over and over again.
Sure, that kind of behavior probably didn't help - but it was a symptom, not a cause.
The principal of the school saved me, in a move which I really didn't understand until I was much older: she expelled me. But she added a very special clause to the expulsion: I could come back in the spring to write the exams, and if I passed then I would graduate. Which, high school exams being what they were and me being a smart, if miserable, kid, I passed easily.
That free year was the best in my life to that point. Someday I'm going to send that woman a bottle of damn good scotch.
posted by Billegible at 10:34 AM on March 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


In 9th grade, Brad was swimming in the river and he drowned. I didn't cry. I felt pretty good, actually.

posted by BoatMeme


My junior high tormentor died of meningitis when I was a senior in high school. I sat in front of some of his friends in Calculus. The day of his funeral, they were crying their eyes out; I just sat there and smiled.
posted by Lucinda at 10:36 AM on March 24, 2008


Teach the smart kids who get bullied (the big-word types), something about sociology and group dynamics and encourage them to figure out the social mores they're violating to attract all the negative attention, and stop doing it.

Asking questions in class. Giving answers in class. Doing well on tests. Not parading masculinity -- joining in the bullying of others, memorizing sports stats, memorizing car models, behaving badly toward girls in the class. Defending others when they're badmouthed for no or no good reason. Basically not keeping your head down and shutting up.

We're engineering our emerging adults' society to the bully's interests why, exactly?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:45 AM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Pastabagel, your assumption that there are no bullies or enablers on Metafilter is flawed: who the hell is going to admit to it in this thread? Or people may not even perceive their past behavior to be wrong at all.

The people who made fun of me, shunned me, or were outright hostile to me in high school have friended me on Facebook ten years later. They really have no freakin' idea that they were complicit in making much of school very unpleasant for me.

(Not that I wasn't occasionally hostile in my own way, but I'll acknowledge that. I mean, we're all assholes at some point, and as many pointed out, the bullies and the bullied are two sides of the same coin.)
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 10:46 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, folks. I'm comnpletely wrong. It wasn't anything to do with you. You were just victims. Always victims. Keep on being victims.
posted by rusty at 10:46 AM on March 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


Pastabagel, I think that's how I feel about this entire situation, with Billy and with ourselves. The anger for the system which if we could abolish would help everyone, the anger at the ones who have the power to change at least their local situation and do nothing, and the anger at myself for conforming to behaviors I don't entirely agree with so as to try and be a little less unhappy with being alone.

I can understand conforming to a point. I mean, I think it's reasonable to expect that someone shower regularly or be able to communiate with people. The system really fails in teaching those who have a harder time how to interact with others, but at the same time it doesn't do a good job at teaching acceptance of those who aren't close enough to what they think of as 'normal'.

Many of my coworkers are mostly nice people, but suddenly they see something strange and they start to criticize it and demean it (ie, overweight people, women they don't find attractive, gay people, etc). And while I don't play along and even speak out about it, I don't condemn it enough or stop hanging out with them because they're all I got for companionship these days. I worry that I'll turn into them before I can meet people who are open minded and accepting of others or that those openminded people will see me with the closeminded people and write me off as guilty by association.

on privew: rusty, that's one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is no one deserves to get the shit beat out of them for being different.
posted by Green With You at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


rusty, I've taught in elsewhere where the pressure among kids was to be smart and accomplished enough to fit in. But you go on believing that the way things are in your neck of the woods is some kind of natural order.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2008


Corner the bullies yourself armed with a nine-iron and beat the mother-loving hell out of them.

A version of this worked for my 5-foot-nothing grandmother in the early 1960s when the local redneck bullies were tormenting my uncle. She used the extra-fun shaming aspect of getting beat up by a tiny (and relatively young) woman to put her point across to the teenagers in question. According to my great-grandmother, the sheriff came to have a little talk with her, but threw up his hands at the situation.

I suspect what Jacqueline said would be more the case now.

Teaching kids who are the victims of bullying how to be properly "socialized" is going to reduce the likelihood that they'll be bullied? Why isn't the solution to properly "socialize" the bullies?

A very good question, the answer to which is hidden in some of the comments above. When expecting children to conform to the [frankly, sometimes stupid] sociocultural norms of the other inmates they're locked into classrooms with all day is considered optimal, the children who are different in any way are pretty much screwed. It all flows back to the modern theory of education, which is to beat all independent thinking out of your future factory cogs so they'll make better middle managers some day.

See here, if you don't believe me.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Boy oh boy, do I ever relate to Billy. At my junior high and high school, I was lower than dogshit. When I say I got the crap beat out of me, I got the crap beat out of me. One time at a party that one of my "friends" threw, I was tackled to the ground and had my hair cut off. This wasn't even the most humiliating thing to happen to me.

Nobody at that school would call me their friend, at least not in earshot of anybody else. The teasing and bullying were merciless and non-stop.

And yes, I did probably fit the profile for "bullied." I came from an abusive home, had "genius-level" IQ, and was never socialized in any sense of the word. Kids would come up to me and start fucking with me, and I didn't even know that they were fucking with me until they started chanting or punching or teasing. I just really had no conception.

The worst part was that I was a pacifist to the core. I did not believe in violence. I refused to let someone else's retarded behavior drag me into a violent confrontation. To me, this would be tantamount to "letting them win." This is how ass-backwards I was - I would just stand there and let them beat me up because it was against my pretentious teen anarchist philosophy to fight back.

And things went pretty sour. I got into drugs and I dropped out of school. I had a pretty terrible life until I finally got my shit together about 5 years later.

Of the entire article, this was probably the most disturbing part for me :
Whatever the reason, addressing the bullying of Billy has become a second job for his parents: Curt, a senior data analyst, and Penney, the owner of an office-supply company. They have binders of school records and police reports, along with photos documenting the bruises and black eyes. They are well known to school officials, perhaps even too well known, but they make no apologies for being vigilant. They also reject any suggestion that they should move out of the district because of this.

The many incidents seem to blur together into one protracted assault. When Billy attaches a bully’s name to one beating, his mother corrects him. “That was Benny, sweetie,” she says. “That was in the eighth grade.”
These parents obviously feel that by being more involved, that they're helping the situation. There's no doubt in my mind that they're making things worse for their boy. Not only is he not learning to fight back, but the kids will undoubtedly resent him more for invoking parents and teachers.

All I can say to parents facing this situation is this - TEACH YOUR BOYS TO FIGHT BACK! Tell your boy that it's part of becoming a man. Tell him that if he gets used to being beat up, that the beatings will never stop, and that he will forever be a victim of peoples' worst instincts. I don't know if it's different for girls (I imagine that it isn't), but for a boy growing up, it's hard to learn self respect if you never learn to fight back.

As for me - yeah, I eventually learned to fight back. I'm older now, and obviously don't have trouble with people trying to kick my ass while I wait for the bus. But some people are natural bullies and will always be bullies, and I'm glad that I eventually learned how to deal with them. People who know me universally describe me as being an assertive person, and I consider this to be an accomplishment. It certainly didn't come easy.
posted by Jake Apathy at 10:55 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why isn't the solution to properly "socialize" the bullies?
Exactly. Once anyone says, "people need to be better socialized to avoid being bullied," it raises the immediate question of why we aren't saying that "people need to be better socialized to stop bullying others."

Despite having a reputation for remembering anything and everything, it's been of great benefit to me to have basically forgotten most of grammar school and middle school. I mean, I remember facts and names from those years, but I don't have any lingering memories of them that I dwell on... I suspect this is because I don't regard those years as a missed opportunity due to the bullying. I've done so much else since then that it just doesn't matter to me, anymore, and I don't discuss it. For people who felt cheated out of the high school experience they expected or feel that the bullying did serious, lasting damage to their futures are obviously going to harbor more bitterness about those years.
posted by deanc at 10:56 AM on March 24, 2008


I'll also add that I've worked with teachers who played favorites mercilessly. I mean they'd basically ignore the uncool kids, or worse. Nothing subtle about it, and I don't know how they justified it to themselves.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:57 AM on March 24, 2008


I was not bullied, so no I don't mean that. I mean kids that simply don't ever quite grasp that what they do and how they act sends signals to others beyond those that are intended.

Ah. I'm sorry, I misunderstood you, rusty. I think I understand you much better now. Never bullied but you "understand" what it's about. I don't think you've seen the practical side of bullying.

Girl talks to you in class. Bully likes girl. Bully beats you up. (don't ever talk to her again - that was actually how it all started)
You do well on test. Bully does poorly on test. Says he doesn't care, but, apparently does enough to take it out on you.
New toy brought to school? (not shown off. you were hiding the damn thing from him.) Yeah, you know the result.
And on and on.

But do go on. I'd like to hear more about who deserves it and why.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:08 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


There was an incident in my middle school where a well-known bully got thrown out of class and, walking to a principal's office, shoved a little girl named Cheryl down the stairs. Honestly, Cheryl was not popular. It's hard to be popular in junior high when you have cerebral palsy and are on crutches. It's a rare moment in junior high when everyone, from nerds (like me) to jocks to teachers, can all agree than something is truly fucked up. Later that day another guy, a rich jock asshole who was actually sort of a bully himself, beat the ever-loving shit out of the bully for pushing Cheryl down the stairs. The school system gave the rich kid a day of in-school suspension (I don't remember what the other guy got for pushing the girl), during which teachers brought him lunch and treats all day.

I know there are a lot of levels on which it was wrong to be glad that the rich kid hurt the bully, but it felt right to me then, and it still feels right to me now.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:10 AM on March 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


Shad Smith, mixed martial arts dude:

“I was just mad-dogging everyone” — staring them down — “until somebody said something, and then I’d put my hands up and start fighting.” He said he had 46 counts of assault and battery as a juvenile. “And that’s 46 counts posted on me. Can you imagine how many there actually were?”

I asked Smith why he spent so much of his youth looking for trouble. I expected some sort of clichéd, though possibly true, explanation — a difficult childhood or a Napoleon complex. What I didn’t expect him to say was, “You know, bro, the sexual-preference thing.”

Smith is gay, and I know of no other professional fighter who is openly so. “I was always scared that my mom and dad would find out and wouldn’t like me, and my brothers wouldn’t like me,” he said. “I was petrified, because I didn’t want anyone to find out. And I would try to be the toughest person around. That way, no one would suspect, no one would ever say it, no one would think it.”


I am the antithesis of believing that violence is a solution to most problems, but I am convinced that if my dad had spent time teaching me how to defend myself that bullying would not have been as big of a deal in my early life as it was.

At the same time, it seems clear that this guy's socialization, because he decided that it was the way to survive in his world as a gay guy, was that of a no-holds-barred bully.

One of those conundrums of life.
posted by blucevalo at 11:24 AM on March 24, 2008


I got bullied as a kid, too. Not beat up, but bullied (I'm a girl). You know - things like merciless insults, social rejection, rumors, getting laughed at, getting blame for things I didn't do, etc.

I think the only thing that finally brought a stop to it was that I made myself a group of friends outside of school around 9th grade, and it made me a lot more confident. I met them through church - we had our own little community of freaks, geeks, nerds, punks, and social outcasts - and there I was cool. It didn't matter that few people at school knew that I had that other community. Because suddenly they didn't matter to me anymore. It just all started to fly right off me, because I knew people that thought I was cool. Eventually, they stopped making fun of me. I was still voted most bizarre in my high school yearbook, and I never did date anyone from my school, but I had my niche and no one tried to fuck with me anymore.

So I guess the take away is... extracurricular activities/community can work wonders?

Also, I can't underestimate the positive social effects of starting to smoke herb.
posted by lunit at 11:32 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


4. Agonize over the abuse and bullying that happens to your child in the foster home he or she is living in while you're in prison.

Nah, I'm not a single parent. And there's lots of family that could take my child in where necessary.

Hell, if the system isn't going to protect my kids, I might as well do it myself.
posted by illiad at 11:39 AM on March 24, 2008


I was bullied in elementary school by -- let's call him "Fred" -- who was new to our school in 3rd grade. Fred was short - less than 5 feet tall, but even at that young age seemed to have a remarkable ability to organize people into doing whatever he wanted them to do. IT was eerie. I was rarely physically picked on -- mostly teased and made miserable.

When we got to junior high / high school, the bullying stopped and Fred became very active in student politics -- class president, etc. We occasionally had classes together but we had different friends at that point, and other than occasionally being called "faggot" (by other people, not Fred), I was mostly left alone.

Then, Fred kind of backed off from everyone, around ninth or tenth grade. I always wondered what happened to him, then.

When he got to college (Emory U), we all found out that Fred was gay. At first I though that explained everything, but actually it explained nothing. Why pick on me? What was the deal?

When I was about 26, I received a letter from Fred apologizing for his picking on me. I suspect he was in some sort of substance abuse program which is based on AA and this was his way of making reparations to me. It was a bizarre letter to receive, though it reinforced to me that my memories of how bad it had been were accurate. (as you get older you wonder, maybe I was weak, maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought)

A few years later, I called Fred on the phone. I was just curious as to why he picked on me. He really didn't have an answer. He ultimately moved to Kansas, and as far a I last knew, he lived alone. He did spend some time in therapy trying to figure out why he had done the things he did.

My wife over the years has asked me, " why didn't your parents move you to another school when all this was happening?" I honestly don't know. I guess I never asked, as I didn't even recognize that as an option in elementary school. (and I was at a private jewish school, so that would have meant going to a bigger public school -- would that have been any better? I dunno.)

No big conclusion here -- just my 0.02.

Well, maybe one conclusion -- clearly all of this is still very clear in my mind, even in my 40s. And I think to this day, I don't respond well to "good natured ribbing" because my mind interprets it as someone starting the cycle of picking on me again.
posted by wittgenstein at 11:44 AM on March 24, 2008


Socialization is about learning how to present yourself in such a way as to acheive yur goals in a social environment. If your goal is to piss people off, then by all means get down with your weird self.

Oy jezus.

Because what we really want is a world full of conformists. What we really want is a world where we teach kids that by being "weird", they should expect to be beaten up and picked on. We're not chickens, raising another brood ready to kill its weakest members. We are, and should be, better than that. You can throw up your hands and say "Oh, it's just how kids are!", but it's not. Despite the (extremely mild and limited) bullying I faced, I only went to one school where I'd say that kind of behavior was accepted. At all the others - mostly public, a couple private - it was forbidden in word, deed, and spirit, and there wasn't any bullying. Since my friends were mostly kids who would have been bullied had it been tolerated, I'd have known about it, and it just didn't happen.

The closet can kill you. Whether you're in the closet because you're a queer kid, or good at math, or would prefer, like Ferdinand the bull, to sit and smell the flowers rather than engage in homicidal dodge ball at recess, the closet is a horrible, damaging, and potentiall deadly place to have to live.

Socialization is about learning how to present yourself, yes, and it's also about learning that it's not fucking acceptable to beat somebody up because s/he gets better grades than you, or wears funny clothes, or has a physical disability.

rusty, I'm glad that you weren't bullied. Nobody deserves that. But your perspective on who needs fixin' in this situation is seriously skewed.
posted by rtha at 11:47 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


How the hell can they say "he got what he deserved"? This goes way beyond bullying. They've actually knocked him unconscious more than once. It sounds like the school officials are also against him. If he did fight back and punch a bully even once, he would be detained or suspended and the bully would get away with it.

He should definitely take some martial arts classes, not only to defend himself but to build confidence.
posted by mike3k at 11:47 AM on March 24, 2008


Jacqueline: Let's remedy that and all friend him on Facebook as a show of support.

Done, and sent him a message too. There's got to be something us Faceless Masses can do for the kid.
posted by cmyk at 11:50 AM on March 24, 2008


I loved it when Ralphie "turned the tables" and went all "ape-shit" on Scott Farkus!
posted by ericb at 11:53 AM on March 24, 2008


Seconding empath -- I never knew a kid who got bullied that didn't have either some kind of home problem or very poor socialization. Judging by the comments here, this is not likely to be well received news, but it's the truth.

This is, in my experience, a very common opinion, but one that's ultimately very wrong and dangerously misleading. The bullying behavior--especially when it's pack-style bullying like the kind described in this article--isn't about the victim at all. It's about the bullies and the social bonds they're forming, about in-group and out-group dynamics that are at heart almost completely impersonal.

Here's an example from my own experience of pack-bullying gone out of control, that happened late in high school. This scenario is quite different because the kids involved were all much older kids (high school seniors--so arguably, young adults), and the chief bully in the plot was, in a manner of speaking, a close friend. Let's call him "Jim" for convenience. Jim was a high school senior, but a bit immature. Had a lot of friends, like myself, who were sophomores and juniors--liked to date young. I knew Jim from playing in bands with him (he was one of the better guitar players in our school).

One evening, Jim was out with some of his friends, cruising around his neighborhood looking for something to do. So, as he often did, he decided to entertain his friends with a scary story. He told them this fantastic story about a crazy hermit who lived down a particular street in his neighborhood; he made up a ridiculous nick-name for the guy, something random like Old Man Spraggly. In fact, "Spraggly" was a fellow musician we both knew who worked in a local music shop, and who had played guitar for a college rock band we later shared some members with. He was in his early 30s, a perfectly normal, grown man with a career and very active social life. Well, after telling his friends all about crazy old man Spraggly, my friend drove to this guy's house, parked in the street with his headlights out, and egged one of his friends on until they ran out and rang the guy's doorbell.

This was just the start of what quickly became a popular pastime for young kids in my friend Jim's neighborhood. After that night, word quickly spread, and before long kids all over the neighborhood were harassing "Spraggley"--they threw eggs at his house, stole his newspapers, slashed his tires. It just got worse and worse until one night, "Spraggley" decided he'd had enough and charged out of his house with a baseball bat smashing out the back windshield of a car full of kids as they sped away. A police investigation followed soon after. My friend Jim was called in for questioning. Even Jim, the one who'd started it all, couldn't believe how out of hand the situation had gotten; he knew nothing about the latest wave of harassment, word had just spread along the grapevine in town that fucking with "Spraggley" was a fun way to kill some time.

After the police investigation, the situation gradually returned to normal. But there was absolutely nothing "Spraggley" could have done to stop the situation from reaching the crisis-point it eventually reached, nor had he done anything at all (apart from being 30, which made Jim's story about crazy old man "Spraggley" seem plausible to a bunch of high school kids) to provoke the treatment he got.

This may not seem like precisely the same kind of issue as in-peer bullying in school, but I think the underlying dynamics are exactly the same, and they have less to do with the victim than with the nature of human social behavior. And this kind of thing is also why I am deeply mistrustful of human beings acting as members of groups.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:55 AM on March 24, 2008 [13 favorites]


The bullying issue is such a complicated one. It brings up quite a number of issues in our society. First, children are born little monsters and need to be socialized into more acceptable behaviour and its difficult to define how to do so and quite a number of adults aren't qualified to handle the transition. Second, our instituions really aren't good at understanding why children who have not achieved "the age of reason" don't apply reason to their everyday lives. Third, quite a number of people who look like they couuld intervene often don't for one of the first or second reasons. Fourth, even if we don't like to admit it, might quite often makes right --- Nuclear weapons are the only reason North Korea has any kind of voice in the International community.

I've been bullied, and if I am completely honest carrried out some bullying behaviour of my own. I can't honestly say that I know if I was worse as victim or offender. I am going to call it even.

Most Children don't understand their own behaviour.

What I think of now as the bullying I did as a child, to me was wrestling or rough play (now, what I am defining as rough play never had resulted in missing teeth, knockouts, or any kind of serious injury as described in the article nor was that my intention) what made it bullying was that some of it was unwanted. Stupid? Yep. Out of touch? Yep. I didn't clue into the fact I was being abusive until years later. Sometimes bullies succeed and aren't terminally unhappy, I know quite a few who have done very well in the corporate world.

When I was bullied I had a role because I didn't understand how to negotiate the series of alliances everyone needs, or how to pay attention to and acknowledge important social rituals and tribal behaviour - when one ignores these things it puts them out of synch with tribe and causes problems (bullying in school, problems at work later).

Saying hello to people, and engaging people with conversation about movies, pop music, local sports teams, weather, and nearby tourist destinations is a useful social ritual even if you really care about Dungeon Mastering, Wicca, and 70's Punk Music from the UK. When I was an out-of-synch nerd, its because I thought I was appealing to higher intellect or a silent majority - both these things are myths on par with Elvis sightings. I still spend my weekends reading about the occult, military history and get unapologetically teary-eyed recalling my days playing D&D and carrying out boy scout ativities - I can think what I want, but on the surface every unpopular nerd is unpopular because he/she isn't playing societies game. Appealing to brains and higher intellect is seldom a wining strategy - I can think of plenty of high-school achievers who wound up with very run-of-the-mill (or worse) jobs and lives.

What this all boils down to, is you will learn a lot more about the functioning of society by studying the Court of Louis XIV, Machivelli, and the 48 Laws of Power than you will from virtually any other source that doesn't paint society in such a bad light -------- and I am only endorsing them here because I can count on one hand the number of people who know who "deep dish" really is.
posted by Deep Dish at 11:55 AM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Heh... left something out:

"Well, after telling his friends all about crazy old man Spraggly, my friend drove to this guy's house, parked in the street with his headlights out, and egged one of his friends on until they ran out and rang the guy's doorbell. Then they sped away."
posted by saulgoodman at 11:58 AM on March 24, 2008


Can someone link directly to his facebook page?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:02 PM on March 24, 2008


Growing up in Houston, I remember being consistently bullied and harrassed, usually by kids I didn't know. The horror was far less about being slammed into a locker or called "faggot" or whatever than it was about the fear and stress and alienation. I've mentioned this story briefly before, but at one point during gym one day, a number of us outcasts, few of whom knew each other personally, skipped out on football and just hung out watching from the roof of the equipment shed. I sat down on one of the few chairs up there, and shortly thereafter got in a scuffle with the kid - Nathan - who'd been sitting in it earlier. I gave up the chair and went over to the other side of the roof. about fifteen minutes later, something happened which caused Nathan to fall off of the roof, and since he didn't see it, he assumed it was me. It wasn't.

Nonetheless, Nathan finally snapped, and the next day was caught loading up a gun in one of the bathrooms, waiting for me, just minutes before I would've crossed his path. This kid wasn't a bully. He was one of the bullied, just like me, but it's not like he knew that.

15 years later I still feel the fear and alienation of those days, which keeps me from speaking up to those strangers who I feel like might not be impressed by me. That's the end effect that I still live with - the worry of talking to people lest they decide that I'm not worth a damn. I'm not afraid of physical violence, but just of snap judgments, but I'd guess I'm far from the only one. Bullying leaves the victims fearful of and vindictive towards strangers, most of whom are or were probably victims themselves.

Still, I wouldn't give up my experience in public school for the world, as it's the only way I was going to learn to make the friends that I have. If the cost of my friends is that I had to suffer abuse at the hands of violent assholes, I'd take the abuse all over again if need be. Still, I wonder how many friends Billy has, if any at all. Justice dictates that he stay at the school and fight for a better life there. Reality dictates that he change districts to a place that might not make his life hell.

My story had something of a happy ending. When I was fifteen I moved to Oklahoma, which still had it's share of bullies, but at least I had a clean social slate, and was moderately well-liked. Still, some little shits, one in particular - who didn't know me would do stuff like slamming my head into lockers and what have you when I passed them in the halls. By this point I pretty much ignored it, like a strong wind on a cold day. Nothing you can do about it, it just sucks, so you just keep going on.

Then, towards the end of my sophomore year, I had to get an eye surgery which left my eyes nasty and bloody. I wore sunglasses for a couple of weeks to keep from distracting people. This unnamed kid decided to call me out because of them, and I'd had enough. Walking backwards up the stairs, I just faced the kid and started asking, "Hey man, are you cool?" He responded with threats, and I just kept coming back with, "I'm just asking if you're cool." Once I reached the landing, I snapped my fist up as if to punch him, he instinctively stepped back, and fell down the rest of the stairs.

He didn't bother me any more after that, and I didn't even have to touch him. I mean, I know it's not good to smile at someone else's harm, even if they're a total dick, but I think I started whistling as soon as my heart-rate got back down to normal.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:04 PM on March 24, 2008


Can someone link directly to his facebook page?

No- you have to be his friend to see his profile. I believe this is the default for all users in high school networks.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:04 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I for one, am more than a little sick of hearing stories of how the bullied kid finally got up the nerve and fought back either in a physical fight, or with dodgeball, or what passes for wit at that age.

I was bullied too, quite thoroughly, through to high school. What I realized reading this thread is that people dislike and therefore bully those who think they are superior. Just like I, and apparently many others felt an instant dislike for loquacious when he claimed his IQ was "unrecordable," and he might have gone on to change the world if the bullies hadn't ruined his fragile psychology. As hard as it is for me to say, I would have bullied you too. Maybe that is proof that I have become like my tormentors? But I tend to think it is just instinctual to dislike people who ooze arrogance and entitlement.

I'll spare you my stories of how I got fed up with it and kicked ass, or how it was all because I was more intelligent, or how I grew into a pretty butterly. That is not redemption. You are telling yourself a story about your childhood to make it less painful, and capping it off with a happy ending where you are the hero. Ultimately you end up exactly where you left off, believing you are better than other people.

I'm guilty of this too, and looking back it must have been a huge part of why they chose me. I went to a catholic school, and it may very well be a product of the "suffering is holy" masochistic mindset that comes with that, but I'm glad it was me. If it wasn't me, it would have been someone else, and it taught me a lot, and I'd like to think it made me a stronger person than I would have been otherwise. Less happy, less confident, but stronger, somehow.

There is something to gain from being bullied besides being bludgeoned into a conformist hole. With some reflection, you learn adaptation, and what different people like in others, and what they dislike, and how to hide or demonstrate those characteristics. This doesn't mean changing who you are, only changing the ways in which you are capable of presenting yourself. It could be said that I'm just lying to myself, and conformity is really all I learned. I say the world's a stage, and the fool is as important a role to play as any.

I feel sorry for Billy, and anyone else who has had to endure bullying of that magnitude. Pity won't help him though, authority won't help him either. Not in his current situation, and certainly not with the psychological issues that can, and likely will develop as a result. Self-awareness will.
posted by paradoxflow at 12:09 PM on March 24, 2008 [8 favorites]


Can we beat the shit outta Rusty, since he's not conforming to our social standards? I mean, really... He *is* asking for it, getting all up in our faces and shit.
posted by symbioid at 12:16 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


But I tend to think it is just instinctual to dislike people who ooze arrogance and entitlement.

Hm. I'm not sure this is true. To a degree, it is a mark of the bully to ooze arrogance and entitlement-- it's why they bully. Also, I suspect arrogance and entitlement attracts people more than it repels. After all, people who carry with themselves a certain level of arrogance (or confidence, if you want to call it that) are considered to have good reason for it.

The bullied are frequently the ones whose spirits are the most beaten down and the ones with the least confidence. I doubt if you met Billy you would find him to be a person who "ooze[s] arrogance and entitlement." I suspect just the opposite.
posted by deanc at 12:20 PM on March 24, 2008


There is something to gain from being bullied besides being bludgeoned into a conformist hole. With some reflection, you learn adaptation, and what different people like in others, and what they dislike, and how to hide or demonstrate those characteristics.

Bullshit. I've been a bully and I've been bullied and this is post hoc rationalization, along the same lines as when devout Christians argue that when God makes good people suffer it's so they'll learn humility and perseverance or so that others will appreciate their own blessings more. Those who are bullied may learn the things you describe, but that's not the function of bullying. Bullying is rooted in simple mammalian biology, and its function is to establish arbitrary social hierarchies. It's about creating a certain kind of social cohesion in which everyone's hands are a little dirty.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:21 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


This thread has been very moving for me. Thank you to everyone here who's shared their own inner pain.

I, too, experienced a lot of bullying as a child. From 2nd grade through 9th grade, it was a fairly constant thing with me. I took to hiding out at home and reading rather than playing with the neighbor kids because I was tired of being tied up to trees and left there.

For me, I'm still not entirely sure of the reasons why I was bullied so mercilessly -- intelligence and sensitivity I suppose. But one thing that kept it going was that I never fought back - I never reacted to the violence with violence.

I was never exposed to that kind of violence at home. My parents were college professors, and our home was fairly peaceful. My older sister would beat me up occasionally, but I never had any particular urge to reciprocate. Violence just seemed so... primitive and stupid. Plus, I was pretty religious as a little kid, and I understood very clearly Jesus' message about turning the other cheek, and that's what I tried to do. I was proud of being a pacifist, and I remember even as a child talking about becoming a Conscientious Objector if drafted into the military. So I mostly would passively take the beatings, or just generally try to avoid the kids who treated me in those ways.

I really never told my parents about the bullying because of the shame I felt. I felt deeply ashamed of not being good enough, of not being accepted by my peers. I suppose I was arrogant about my intelligence, as well, so that may have exacerbated to the whole thing.

I think one of the things that probably contributed to the bullying was that in my household growing up, education and intelligence were highly valued, and socialization wasn't, really. So I never learned the strong social skills that would have helped until much, much later.

So, not everyone who's a victim of bullying is being beaten upon at home. Some people just aren't constitutionally and socially prepared for the violence which wells up in others. It wasn't something I really ever understood.
posted by MythMaker at 12:24 PM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm quite happy with the way one of my tormentors ended up.
He's 400+ pounds of doctor shopping drug addict.
He's done nothing with his life for the last 20+ years besides live in his mom's basement and get stoned.

There is justice in the world.

I'm sure Billy would get suspended or expelled in a second if he so much as even made a list of his tormentor's names.

Speaking of, has anyone found out who these kids are yet?
They need to be called out.
posted by Dillenger69 at 12:26 PM on March 24, 2008


Speaking of, has anyone found out who these kids are yet? They need to be called out.

If by "anyone", you mean "everyone, than no, that is exactly what is not needed in this situation.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:31 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


rusty writes "I never knew a kid who got bullied that didn't have either some kind of home problem or very poor socialization."

Well, later you say:

"Parents and teachers are not part of the social dynamic that produces bullies and victims."

Hmmm. So, are they or aren't they?

IMO, of course they are, but you've barely touched on why and sorta missed a good solution.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:39 PM on March 24, 2008


Deep Dish writes "Saying hello to people, and engaging people with conversation about movies, pop music, local sports teams, weather, and nearby tourist destinations is a useful social ritual even if you really care about Dungeon Mastering, Wicca, and 70's Punk Music from the UK. When I was an out-of-synch nerd, its because I thought I was appealing to higher intellect or a silent majority - both these things are myths on par with Elvis sightings. I still spend my weekends reading about the occult, military history and get unapologetically teary-eyed recalling my days playing D&D and carrying out boy scout ativities - I can think what I want, but on the surface every unpopular nerd is unpopular because he/she isn't playing societies game."

I disagree. I think the best way to overcome it is to develop confidence (easier said than done, true). There's no reason you have to pretend to be someone you're not, unless you desire the company of shallow people. Sure, learn how to get along in everyday situations, but don't stop being yourself. If you're confident, then "appealing to higher intellect or a silent majority" is no longer an issue, because at that point you realize you aren't better than anyone else, but certainly not worse, either.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:47 PM on March 24, 2008


"Also, I can't underestimate the positive social effects of starting to smoke herb" with your friends who thought you were cool and whose postive support and validation counter-acted all the negative crap you were hearing elsewhere.

Personally, I wish the article mentioned what Billy thought of all this. Perhaps he's learning that with persistence, he will eventually come out on top, his bullies will be shown to be the cockroaches they are, and he will make his little corner of the world a brighter place for all victims of injustice. Or perhaps they will eventually kill him and the corner in which he previously inhabited will grow dimmer still.

Either way, we do know that bullies are indeed on metafilter. Who do you think makes excuses for beating up kids, if not a bully? But they scream unfairness when those same tactics are used on them, because they have an entitlement mentality. Do bullies ever grow out of their atttude, or is it permanent? Any former bullies want to weigh in?
posted by sunai at 12:47 PM on March 24, 2008


But I tend to think it is just instinctual to dislike people who ooze arrogance and entitlement.

Sure, which is why we elect them president (Shrub) or make reality TV shows about them (The Donald et al.)

Anyway, disliking someone is very much whatever. Assault and torture is a whole 'nother barrel of fish.

With some reflection, you learn adaptation, and what different people like in others, and what they dislike, and how to hide or demonstrate those characteristics.

I know this will sound strange, but it's actually possible to learn about those things without having the crap kicked out of you at school every day. And the inability or unwillingness to learn them (especially as a child) does not justify physical and psychological torment.

I haven't spent a ton of time with loquacious in real life - something I'd like to remedy - but in my limited experience he's about as far from arrogant and entitled as you can get. I know that tone can be hard to "hear" in a written medium, but it's very odd to me that what I saw as a matter-of-fact statement ("My IQ was nearly unrecordable") is being called out as arrogant or as an example of why someone would/should be bullied.
posted by rtha at 12:47 PM on March 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


Oh come on, that's uncalled for.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


How many of you are parents now?

My daughter was victimised at one primary school after we moved to a new city. She was smart, naive and never really dealt with actively mean kids before, and just didn't know what to do.

It was hard. While it was obvious that something was up for a while, it took most of her first year at that school to get her to tell us what was happening, because she was ashamed, as many victims of bullying are.

Complicating this for me was my memories of MY mother stomping down to the school to harangue the staff about how I was treated. Net result: further loss of face for me, and teachers less well-disposed to me that before. It is hard to find an effective middle path when dealing with schools. And in truth, when schools have to offer an education to every child, they have limited abilities to deal with hardcore kids who won't co-operate. I was wracked with indecision trying to figure out the best path, to try and nurture her self-confidence, and to get the school to work with us. I don't even like thinking about this episode in our life any more because I keep asking myself what else I should have done and how I contributed to making things worse.

We got the teacher's co-operation in monitoring and disciplining the chief offenders. That worked while the teacher was present. My kid also hit a turning point when she realised that she was bigger and stronger than most of the other girls, and she finally turned on the ringleader, gave her a shove, and shouted at her to leave her alone. (Yeah, I know sometimes standing up to a bully escalates into you getting an even worse kicking. Sometimes it works though). The remaining months of the next year were pretty tolerable.

In the end we moved town at the end of the second year, chose a new school very carefully, and that was the end of the problem for my now much-happier daughter. I do not know what we would have done if we lived in a small town and I didn't have professional mobility. And it was pretty mild, as these things go: a few kids, not the whole class, and mostly taunting and name-calling, not the full-on violence which so many of us know.

I feel for Billy's parents. They may well be doing the wrong thing. Knowing the right thing to do is damned hard though, and not everyone has the options of moving or home-schooling to fall back on. I'm saving my scorn for the school administration and the bullies' families.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:03 PM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Dillenger69 writes "I'm quite happy with the way one of my tormentors ended up.
"He's 400+ pounds of doctor shopping drug addict.
"He's done nothing with his life for the last 20+ years besides live in his mom's basement and get stoned.

"There is justice in the world."


Not that way. If he has kids, then they might turn out similarly.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:04 PM on March 24, 2008


"I never knew a kid who got bullied that didn't have either some kind of home problem or very poor socialization."

Heh, well fuck you too, pal.

I never knew a bystander who watched from their smug little safety zone who was well-socialised or didn't have a home problem either. Because if you had all been brought up right, you would have had the moral fibre to intervene. But you didn't. Don't try and escape your culpability by blaming the victims.

Has it occurred to you that being randomly singled out, and then brutalised, and then having no one help you, might actually be a cause of "poor socialisation"?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:09 PM on March 24, 2008 [15 favorites]


We should fly down there, shadow the dude for a bit, find out who the bulllies are and fuck them up.
Let's not even tell them why.
Black hoods, baby!

Black hoods
Boards with nails stickin out of em
Code names

I'm only sort of kidding. No matter what happens next, Billy is pretty much ruined forever (in certain ways at least). What's already been inflicted on him is going to govern and inform everything he does for the rest of his life. That part is set indelibly in stone.

So fuck em. At 33 I have pretty much lost the kind of guilty liberal empathy I might have had for his tormentors (in the "Lets try and REACH them" sense) at one point or another.

Yeah, violence doesnt solve anything. I fully understand that. Im not trying to solve anything with this approach. Cheap revenge or whatever.

So. In summation: Lets hospitalize some children.

And then get some Waffle House, since we're gonna be down there anyway.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:09 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


but it's very odd to me that what I saw as a matter-of-fact statement ("My IQ was nearly unrecordable") is being called out as arrogant or as an example of why someone would/should be bullied.

rtha: oh, come on--you know he was really just trying to look better than everyone else. you know how it is with those kids, acting all high and mighty all the time, had it coming.

/irony

someone's got an inferiority complex. lots of bullies do, too.

"I never knew a kid who got bullied that didn't have either some kind of home problem or very poor socialization."

no, not everyone who gets bullied stands out in some way. that's a nice comforting myth that, ironically, allows some of us to feel reassured that our position higher-up on the pecking order is secure while at the same time feeling smugly superior to others on the grounds that they "think they're so superior." People--this is all textbook inferiority complex thinking!

obviously, paradoxflow, all these lessons in humility you learned the hard way, make you superior to others who've yet to learn them. bully for you!

when i occasionally let myself be cajoled into being a bully in elementary and middle school, it had nothing to do with the kids i bullied. half the time, i barely even knew them. some spineless little rumor-mongers on the playground would just manufacture some thin pretext for a fight (which the other kids wanted to see, too, for no better reason than that they were bored) and then a bunch of little bully agitator twerps would whip up all my friends into saying how my reputation would be damaged if i didn't make the kid respect me. but afterwards when me and the other kid were alone in the principal's office, none of those other kids were anywhere to be found. scheming little pricks, all of 'em.

as i've said before, i'm so glad i eventually figured out how that stupid little game was played and why, so i could stay out of the way.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:14 PM on March 24, 2008


So. In summation: Lets hospitalize some children.

Fifteen-year olds who are big, brutal and filled with hormones are hardly "children" except in the most strict legal sense. They're young men who are bowing to their primal urges.

Around here we've had problems with teens swarming kids and even adults, beating them senseless, maiming them, and in some cases, killing them. I just don't have a problem with the idea of crippling or killing some of these "children" if I have to, to protect myself or my family.

And then get some Waffle House, since we're gonna be down there anyway.

Now you're talking.
posted by illiad at 1:21 PM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Waffle House is located on 6th street, incidentally, which is the same street the high school is on.

That said, violence against the kids involved isn't the answer. They need to be dealt with, but as to how and what, I'm not quite sure. Something that really impacts upon them what the results will be of their behavior.

In my entire public school career K - 12, I never saw anyone bullied. I never saw anyone treated poorly verbally or physically, and I'm at a loss to say how I didn't. I've never brought the topic up with my friends from the same school, but I can only assume that it must have happened. The closest thing I can call "bullying" which really was just upperclassmen idiocy, was when a senior pushed my backpack out of the chair I had planned to sit in during lunch and took the chair. I got back just in time to see him do it. I grabbed the chair and a short confrontation occurred where he said it was his, I said it was mine, and my friends grabbed another chair and gave it to me to end it. I was steaming mad. And that was it. Never crossed paths with the guy again.

Anyways, I think all the answers and solutions about moving away and giving up on the present school are intolerable. Communities need to take responsibility and fix the school, the problem. Bullying isn't a necessary evil of education, it isn't an unfortunate byproduct of a greater good. It can be fixed, but only when people stop being so darn apathetic to the problem.
posted by Atreides at 1:25 PM on March 24, 2008


Speaking of, has anyone found out who these kids are yet?

According to The Morning News ("Local News for Northwest Arkansas"), the kids are Ian Teeters and "several...other John Doe students."
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:37 PM on March 24, 2008


Discovering Machiavelli was the best thing that ever happened to my school life. That was when I learned the value of implied threats, the importance of careful planning when it comes to matters of revenge, and why it is always better to be feared.
posted by aramaic at 1:38 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's no reason you have to pretend to be someone you're not, unless you desire the company of shallow people. Sure, learn how to get along in everyday situations, but don't stop being yourself. If you're confident, then "appealing to higher intellect or a silent majority" is no longer an issue, because at that point you realize you aren't better than anyone else, but certainly not worse, either.

Confidence becomes arrogance really fast, and there is plenty of talk about that upthread and I am not really suggesting any kind of trade-off I actually believe people are diverse and interesting, but the majority of people aren't going to find the esoterics of some random persons' personality to be interesting (the unpopularity of my blog tells me that in spite of the fact I believe, in full-confidence that I am the most interesting person in the majority of rooms when discussing English soccer and the late Roman Republic; society thinks otherwise) so all I am suggesting is say hello to people, and be aware of a few fluff pieces about generally understood topics for two minute water-cooler and hallway interactions. Small talk like this shows a person you think they are important and interesting - in reality, nobody knows what you think.

If a person willlingly rejects popular discussion topics/behaviour they are also rejecting the tribe and may suffer for it; I don't deny a confident person could overcome it under the right conditions - this where guys like Barack Obama come from, but there are not many Barack Obamas out there; most of us have to be humble.
posted by Deep Dish at 1:44 PM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Discovering Machiavelli was the best thing that ever happened to my school life. That was when I learned the value of implied threats, the importance of careful planning when it comes to matters of revenge, and why it is always better to be feared.

It was during this time that I and my guards deposed the principal, hanging him from the flagpole as a warning to the other administrators, before forming the old football team into a garrison to occupy the neighbouring high school. The tributes grew in a pile on the sports field, and the children feared my justice as my counsellors and I held court in the gymnasium. If only we had not been forced to resort to mercenary football players from Switzerland to quell the staff uprising, our best troops being employed against the basketballers of XYZ High, I would not be writing this from my mean estate in the country.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:54 PM on March 24, 2008 [25 favorites]


not everyone who's a victim of bullying is being beaten upon at home

Wow, missed this part of the thread. Same here.
If anything, I would think it is the opposite. Sheltered upbringing.

I know it's cliche, but violence breeds violence. If my brothers or dad had taken to knocking me about, I am sure I would have considered it an option for me. If anything, I think the bullies are often being beaten at home. I look back at the kid who started in on me and it looks like a textbook case. Not that that excuses anything.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:56 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fifteen-year olds who are big, brutal and filled with hormones are hardly "children" except in the most strict legal sense. They're young men who are bowing to their primal urges.

Around here we've had problems with teens swarming kids and even adults, beating them senseless, maiming them, and in some cases, killing them. I just don't have a problem with the idea of crippling or killing some of these "children" if I have to, to protect myself or my family.


I find your statement completely horrifying. 15 year olds, no matter how big, are NOT adults. Even a cursory glance at available information on brain and social development can tell you that. I'm sorry if you don't have a problem with the idea of "crippling or killing some of these 'children'" - but I really think that you should.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:58 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


But, man, after reading your comment even I want to kick your ass.

Way to be a classy guy, not to mention part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

I'm remembering now that one of the things that got me most bullied (6th grade) was the fact that I had been off the island - out of the country, even - for the previous year. I entered that school as The New Kid; everyone else had been together pretty much since kindergarten, and natually, they wanted to know why I was the New Kid. It had never occurred to me that saying "We were in England" would get me the daily threat of an ass-kicking (not to mention always being "it" for dodgeball at recess). Clearly, this statement was seen as a pronouncement of my infinite superiority in the face of kids who'd barely been out of their neighborhoods, let along off-island or out of the country.

So, to the bullies who thought I was an arrogant and entitled little shit, I apologize for making you feel so bad, and thank you for threatening me every day for a whole school year.
/sarcasm
posted by rtha at 2:05 PM on March 24, 2008


An interesting discussion. I am wondering, though, if this is mainly an American thing? Don't know how many respondants here are from other countries, like myself (UK, then Canada). My impression is that bullying, while present in schools here, is not nearly so institutionalized in the culture. I was watching "Dazed and Confused" on tv a couple of nights ago and was appalled that "paddling" and terrorizing of younger kids by older was portrayed as an accepted and humorous sport. Kinda like wife-beating was a joke back until the 60s or so. The US in general, being a militarized, crime-and-punishment, conformist and anti-intellectual society, seems more ready to accept bullying than, say, Europe, Canada, Australia. Am I right?
posted by binturong at 2:09 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry if you don't have a problem with the idea of "crippling or killing some of these 'children'" - but I really think that you should.

I'll concede that their brains aren't developed like an adult's (and now that you've jogged my memory, I seem to recall a certain percentage of 20-somethings still possess adolescent thinking). However, given that 15 year olds have gleefully swarmed and murdered a fellow teen in the past around here, I don't see why I should be particularly concerned with their well-being.
posted by illiad at 2:16 PM on March 24, 2008


The US in general ... seems more ready to accept bullying than, say, Europe, Canada, Australia.

Given that the singular of data is not "anecdote" nevertheless I offer this: half of my childhood was in the US, half in Canada. I was only bullied in Canada. Public schools in both countries.
posted by aramaic at 2:16 PM on March 24, 2008


I want to shake his parents. Just because they shouldn't have to take him out of school doesn't mean they still shouldn't.

My father was the head custodian at my high school- his shift ended a half an hour before the school day ended. Sometimes, I would beg and beg him to wait that thirty more minutes so I didn't have to get on the bus. It always irritated him; sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn't. And I remember that the last time I begged him, I shamefully explained, "They told me if I get on, I won't get off."

"Just get on the bus," he snapped.

I never complained about riding the bus again. That doesn't mean it wasn't still torture.

Now that I'm a mother, I see the value in sticking it out- when the "it" in question is finishing a project or seeing an obligation through. But I also see those times when my kids' safety and happiness is more important than my ideals. No, Billy's parents shouldn't have to take him out of his school- but they should do it anyway.

Boys Town Helpline (Not just for boys.)
1-800-448-3000
TTY 1-800-448-1833

Covenant House Nineline
1-800-999-9999
posted by headspace at 2:16 PM on March 24, 2008


I don't know about Canada or the rest of Europe, but bullying is a fairly significant phenomenon in Britain, if media attention is any judge. (A 2007 report from the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee.)
posted by blucevalo at 2:18 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Regarding the question "why don't his parents move him," I noticed something:

At Woodland Junior High School, some boys in a wood shop class goaded a bigger boy into believing that Billy had been talking trash about his mother.
the prank caller beat up Billy in the bathroom of McNair Middle School

Middle School and Jr High aren't necessarily the same age range, but they often are, so unless there's something here like middle school being 5-7 and Jr High being 8-9, this suggests they have tried switching schools and it didn't work.

I do believe in the idea that a school move gives a kid a chance to reboot, but it doesn't always help. And not just because some kids are wounded, or alienate/insult people due to poor social, or whatever. The other half of the equation is necessarily the school culture. If that's the same and the kid's the same, the chances for change are pretty low.
posted by weston at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2008


However, given that 15 year olds have gleefully swarmed and murdered a fellow teen in the past around here, I don't see why I should be particularly concerned with their well-being.

Hmmmm... Teenage children not concerned about the well-being of one of their peers and murdering him....adult not concerned about the well-being of 15 year old children who are so screwed up that they would murder one of their peers....I wonder why some of our children are so screwed up and violent? [hint: look in the mirror]
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:28 PM on March 24, 2008


I'm sure there's a logic term for when someone describes what happens to them as a explanation for everyone's bullying. Geez, blame the victim much? Kids who are bullied are weird, unsocialized, beaten at home, too intelligent, blah blah blah. What/who are bullies?

Yeah me too and I'm trying to work out why. I didn't get bullied until I moved schools because my father died. I was quiet, but I remember the first day when I was the centre of attention because it was a tiny school (30 kids total) and someone new was always exciting. What happened? I didn't show up as being too smart because the curriculum was at least a year in advance of what I'd done before. I wasn't being beaten at home. I wasn't particularly weird, and yet, at some stage I was ostracised and finally one day, a group of girls grabbed me by my arms and legs and dragged me down the school yard toward a dead toad, with the intent to rub me in it.

As a parent now, I've had to deal with my (quiet but non-weird) children also being the victim of bullies, and school administrations who have been less than interested. One very honest deputy principal told me about the program for dealing with bullies, including victim impact statements and she said, some of them just never get it, they don't care.

Just like it is not ever a woman's fault for being raped, it's never a child's fault for being bullied. WTF?!? Bullies have never been properly "socialised" and they are allowed to get away with being immoral uncivilized savages because parents and teachers turn a blind eye.
posted by b33j at 2:35 PM on March 24, 2008


From the time I was a kid and read Tom Brown's School Days, I thought Britain invented bullying.

So no, it's not a particularly American tradition.
posted by rtha at 2:38 PM on March 24, 2008


adult not concerned about the well-being of 15 year old children who are so screwed up that they would murder one of their peers....I wonder why some of our children are so screwed up and violent? [hint: look in the mirror]

You really think so? I sure didn't raise the kids who murdered their peer. Maybe I have psychic powers though, and somehow informed them that if they Did Evil Things I would stop caring about their well-being. How terrible of me!
posted by illiad at 2:43 PM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


So no, it's not a particularly American tradition.

I believe it all started with the northern fur seals.

We bully for the same underlying reason we fight wars: Because we're dumb animals. And those particular behavioral adaptations haven't yet proven to be fatally maladaptive.

Emphasis on "yet."
posted by saulgoodman at 2:47 PM on March 24, 2008


Teaching kids who are the victims of bullying how to be properly "socialized" is going to reduce the likelihood that they'll be bullied? Why isn't the solution to properly "socialize" the bullies?

People who offer up karate lessons or lessons in social graces or new schools for the victims are not saying that no effort should be made to change the bullies' behavior. They're simply offering something proactive that the victim can do to potentially reduce their victimhood. Taking steps to improve a situation in your life is not the same as admitting blame for that situation, nor does it reduce the other party's responsibility for treating you poorly. You're simply taking control of your life back into your own hands, and that's a liberating, confidence-boosting, empowering thing to do. Seeking solutions for yourself, rather than relying on another authority figure to lay down the law against the people who hurt you, can be a big first step in no longer being a victim.

Of course, you shouldn't have to change yourself to not get bullied, but if it helps improve your situation then there's no shame in it. Life isn't fair. Realizing that fact and working within its constraints is a part of growing up. Given that you can't force anyone else to change their behavior, the best (that is, most effective) option you've got is to change yourself.

I'm absolutely in favor of whatever it takes to get bullies to knock off the sociopath behavior, though I have no idea whether punishment or empathy training or something in the middle is likely to be most effective. However, the fact that the bullies are in the wrong does not mean the victims must wait idly by, hoping that the bullies will change.
posted by vytae at 2:49 PM on March 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


There aren't really any "catch all " solutions to this problem. This is truly a YMMV situation.

Furthermore, saying that this is a school problem fails to acknowledge that bullying is just as likely to occur outside of the education system.

One of the major issues facing education today is that many folks want to run the education system like we're churning out cars instead of human beings. A car doesn't come to the plant with two hours of sleep, an alchoholic father and a boyfriend that just dumped it because it might be pregnant, know what I mean?

One side effect of NCLB is that even less budget money is being dedicated to some of the "safe zone" activities that previously protected some kids. Scores in your school are down in math? Better cut the music and drama programs so we can spend more time drilling problems. English scores down? Cut out all of the clubs so kids can drill grammar and spelling.

Furthermore, maybe Billy, who scores low on the standardized tests, is getting bullied? Good - maybe his parents will withdraw him and then I, his teacher, won't be held responsible for his low grades. Because if his grades pull my classes' grades down, then I'll get a bad report and my school will lose funding, etc. etc.

Not that this is necessarily what happens, but it could be part of the scenario.

Obviously, bullying existed before NCLB, but NCLB doesn't help.

So, yes, Safe Zones are good, but you have to be willing to fund them.

Peer mediation is another piece of the puzzle that, when implemented well, can have a positive effect.

Having a consistent policy on bullying is another factor. It needs to be enforced fairly and consistently. It is sometimes difficult to prove what happened, but it isn't impossible. If bullying is reported. but can't be proven, there are ways that you can look out for the well being of the students without punishing somebody unfairly.

A huge piece of the puzzle, though, is the parents.

Our school has a very aggresive anti-Bullying policy that addresses physical and psychological bullying whenever we become aware of it. Furthermore, when a kid shows signs of being bullied, even if nothing has been reported, our staff is pro-active about trying to find out why the child is feeling that way.

However, when we do discover bullying, it is very, very difficult to convince the parents of the bully that the kid actually did anything wrong. Short of a video tape of the kid doing it, many parents will support their kid despite even adult testimony.

We're a private school and the good news for us is that, frequently, when a kid is bullying and the parents refuse to believe it, they tend to pull the kid from our school in a snit and send him or her to another school.

Public schools don't have that option.

We haven't installed video cameras around the school or anything. That seems draconian and would, perhaps, ultimately cause more unhappiness for more students. Its that whole 'freedom v safety" thing.

Anyhow, my point is that school programs, administrator and staff awareness and parent involvement are three things that can have a positive impact on bullying during school hours.

Furthermore, there is no one single solution that will work in every situation for bullying. Standing up for yourself can be successful, or it can lead to worse stuff, or it can have no effect at all.

Indeed, there is no single cause for bullying. Every situation is unique and treating them like they all have the same cause is just as ineffective as treating them like they all have the same solution.

There's also no single outcome for all bullies. Of the bullies that tormented me in high school, four died in a single car crash, one became one of the friendliest and nicest adults I know, and a sixth is now a good friend that I'm still in touch with. Not that the memories of the bullying don't still bother me, but they're not the same people they were then. Neither am I.

What I'm saying, in essence, is that the problem isn't going to be fixed through a "since all bullies/victims are like [X], every solution should be like [Y]" formula. The problem also isn't going to be "solved" in a general sense at any rate anymore than we can win a "war on drugs."

Parents, schools and students need to work together and find multiple solutions that both prevent bullying from occuring and address individual bully situations as they occur. Even this won't be 100% effective, but it will be more effective than trying to pursue one single solution.

---

On an entirely different note, when Billy is assaulted at the bus stop, why is that the school's repsonsibility? Public schools should not be expected to be a justice system (period), especially for events that occur outisde of school hours and off school grounds.

No, somebody driving up and smacking you while somebody else records it is aggravated assault. Furthermore, the recording is proof that the assault occured. Pretty much somebody should be going to jail or juvenile detention.

Seriously, what the hell? A deliberate punch to the face of an unwilling target for lulz is pretty clearly a crime. Forget trying to get the school to do something. That is a fricken' police issue.

The kids and parents in that town don't seem to understand that simple fact. If somebody doesn't teach those kids that now, they're going to be doing some serious jail time later.

Seriously, parents of bullies, do your kid a favor before they end up in jail or worse.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:49 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


"We bully for the same underlying reason we fight wars: Because we're dumb animals. And those particular behavioral adaptations haven't yet proven to be fatally maladaptive."

I don't like that for two reasons.

Firstly, it's factually untrue, at least in that bare formulation. Research shows that absent resource constraints, primate violence is very much a production of culture. (That was the first Sapolsky article I could dig up on the matter, but there are others around as well. He's a very interesting read).

Second, to the extent that aggression is innate, our collective response to it can very much alter how it is expressed. I mean, rape and murder appear to be irreducibly part of human nature, but some societies produce far more than others. When I hear people blame our animal natures, I worry that some listeners will feel absolved of the responsibility to act, believing that it is pointless to counter nature, whereas this is absolutely not so: the expression of natural tendencies can be countered or channelled by nurture.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:59 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


On re-reading, I would like to retract the vehemence of my earlier comment, because I see that rusty eventually arrives at what I largely agree is a correct conclusion:

[...] Chip away at the neutrals -- the kids who aren't bullied themselves and don't want to be, and thus don't object when someone else gets bullied. They understand why it's happening, but they don't really want to be involved. This majority of neutral kids are the only ones who have any prayer of actually stopping it. Bullying is a mechanism of enforcing social conformity. The only real way to prevent it is to use the same powerful force to make it unacceptable. But it has to be done by the kids. Parents and teachers are not part of the social dynamic that produces bullies and victims. This is difficult to achieve in practice, but where the neutral bystanders are willing to stick up for the nerd, bullying basically ends.

I wish that first sentence of that comment hadn't been so compellingly inflammatory.

But however, un-fuck you, rusty.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:06 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I hear people blame our animal natures, I worry that some listeners will feel absolved of the responsibility to act, believing that it is pointless to counter nature, whereas this is absolutely not so: the expression of natural tendencies can be countered or channelled by nurture.

you're 100% correct here, i_am_joe's_spleen. i don't mean to absolve anyone of responsibility. at the same time, i still think bullying ultimately represents a form of the dominance-play most primates and other mammals engage in. does culture play an important role in how far that dominance-play goes and what specific forms it takes (i.e., physical versus emotional or intellectual bullying)? no doubt about it. but where does the tendency toward asserting dominance and trying to sort out strong/weak, etc., come from? i think it comes from a deep, instinctual drive to sort out social hierarchies. that's not a justification for bullying in any form.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:09 PM on March 24, 2008


Some more bullying stories that may or not have much of a point:

Someone upthread mentioned that anti-intellectualism put GWB in the white house. I agree. Also, my mother was bullied by none other than out current commander-in-chief while in middle school, and had to stop riding the bus because if it. This is all I see when he's on t.v.

My oldest nephew is a sweet kid, about a year or two away from the "Age of reason," and is the biggest kid in his age group. He's very much a sweetheart, but at his age, all kids are selfish, and he's got the size to get what he wants. My sister has been called out by parents on numerous occasions because of his bullying, and has no idea what to do about it. She also has no ideas on what to do about the group of girls who torment him. She just continues to reprimand him and wait for the day when he's mature enough to understand why what he's doing is wrong, but then again, most of the time he isn't like that, and he isn't sadistic, he's just big enough to get the toys.

My major elementary school bully was much the same - not a bad guy, just the biggest kid around. Our neighborhood being what it was, the barriers between friends and enemies shifted quickly depending on context. I hated this kid, except when he'd come to scrawny-old-Navelgazer's house and ask if I could come and play football with them, because the conditions were perfect and I shouldn't miss it. I learned years later that whenever he'd get his report card, and his grades weren't up to snuff, that his mother would ask him, "why can't you be more like Navelgazer?" So while I hadn't done anything to him personally, I definitely understand the resentment.

By the time we got to seventh grade, most of what he'd do to me had disappeared, and though he didn't understand my tastes or activities, he at least treated me civilly, my anger towards him remained. One time on the bus on the way home, I had just gotten a spoon ring, which I used to bang out a rhythm on his window (right in front of mine) just to irritate him. After a few minutes of this, and him asking me to stop, he punched me right in the ear, my head slamming against my own window, which thankfully didn't break. I shuddered down into my seat, and as I came up again, he apologized, saying, "I'm sorry, but you know why I did that, right?" I nodded, and we shook hands, and we were cool ever since. He even joined in with D&D. He's since become a wonderful guy, though comically whipped by his wife. So sometimes the bullies come out of it.

To me, the biggest thing that "the system" can do to help is to allow places where kids can feel free to be weird around similarly weird kids. This is harder and harder, as parents shelter their kids from playing around the neighborhood and thus destroy their chances to socialize and develop on their own (Parents: Fuck your justifications for doing this, it's the chief cause of harm for your kids) and thus keeping them from developing interests of their own within their groups of friends outside of school. Nonetheless, knowing that there are others like them, if not exactly like them, can massively help kids to cope when some kids act like assholes and others are too afraid to step in. Also, it more easily helps in finding which kids are picked on because they're smaller and weaker, and which one's have the social problems that Rusty points out, and which one's would be bullies themselves if they just had the size for it.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:23 PM on March 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


After checking the Fayetteville Public School System, the middle school and junior high appear to be just graduated schools. I.E., you go from one to the other, then to high school. So it wasn't a case of moving the kid to a different school, just the problem from one school following over to another. Google Maps shows that there's a 3 mile separation between the two schools.

Meanwhile, according to the Fayetteville High website, the school has a student population of 1,996 as of 2006. (2,250 now according to Wikipedia). Also in 2006, Newsweek called F'ville High one of the top high schools in the nation. Sports Illustrated ranks its athletic program in the 20 in the country in '06. Also, if Billy is in band, you'll be able to try and spot him in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. A student literary magazine has also received recognition from a national organization. Incidentally, the school boasts that it was the first high school in Arkansas to voluntarily enforce desegregation of its all white student population.

Thats the bubble in which all of this happening. Fayetteville has a reputation for a liberal population (has a fervent green mayor), banned smoking inside restaurants a couple years before the legislature established a state wide ban, and is home to the flagship state university.

Just figured I'd throw the info out there to provide the setting.
posted by Atreides at 3:27 PM on March 24, 2008 [4 favorites]




I spent a few years living like this kid. Getting hit all the time and was always scapegoated by teachers. I was an easy target. But I got pissed and started defending myself, and started targeting kids that I found to be easy targets. Total roll reversal and it was horrible for my karma. I had it figured out by the end of middle school though. I think it's human nature to fuck with people, but I started fuckin' with everyone equally and in a way that I hoped would make people feel more connected and a "part of".

I love how the Mom had to mention that her son, "likes girls". So it's not like he has the gay or something. Jeez.
posted by snsranch at 3:43 PM on March 24, 2008


people may not even perceive their past behavior to be wrong at all. Mr. Bunnsy

A friend of mine from middle school skipped a grade and was harassed so severely both physically and verbally that she asked to be kept back a year. A few years ago, I ran into her on the street. We stood chatting about things and she mentioned that she ran into one of her chief tormentors on the street only a few weeks before. The bully saw her on the street and proceeded to run up and hug her. My friend had no idea how to react to this and was polite but distant despite the fact that her former tormentor seemed genuinely affectionate and welcoming. My friend didn't address the issue directly, but it seems pretty clear that one possibility is that the tormentor had no idea what kind of pain she caused others. (Or perhaps her gushing was repressed guilt, or any other number of issues.)

However, bullies would know their behavior is wrong if those in authority (parents, principals, teachers, counselors) made it clear that this behavior is unacceptable, but too many in power dismiss this behavior as "just something kids do" or, as it seems happened to Billy, blame the victim.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:58 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was bullied as a kid, and I certainly failed to rise to the challenge. I think it culminated in me bleeding and crying in the 7th or 8th grade, or maybe even bleeding and crying when I was a sophomore in high school.

I have no stories from childhood of standing up to bullies. I never came out the hero. The only remnants of those days is my sense of shame from enduring it so pathetically.

I mean, eventually it ended, and I'm at least as well-adjusted and successful now as anybody else out there.

So, from personal experience, I wanted to note that no matter how many thrashings the Billys of the world take, whether some justice sort of justice (physical, cosmic or otherwise) occurs maybe won't mean a bean. This "Billy" never found revenge, never deprecated into therapy, never had a bully-related catharsis. I just moved on, grew up and ended up somehow decent, normal, successful, and not-bullied.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:27 PM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm chiming in late here. I live in Fayetteville, and the first I'd even heard of all this was when I saw the national edition of the New York Times at work this morning. Frankly, I'm appalled. The public schools here have a supposedly very strict anti-bullying policy. There are signs up all over my kids' school proclaiming it (almost as many as signs for the no peanuts rule, but I digress). I've got the handbook right here that every parent and student is required to sign in agreement every single year. It has an entire subsection on the subject.

The latest version states on page 62:

5.47 -- Bullying
Bullying creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, robs a person of his/her dignity, detracts from the safe environment necessary to promote student learning, and will not be tolerated by the Board of Directors.


It then goes on to thoroughly define what is considered bullying. It also states that students are supposed to be held accountable on school grounds; with school equipment; off school grounds at a school sponsored or approved activity; going to or from school or a school activity; while being transported in school vehicles, on a school bus, or at a school bus stop; or by an electronic act. (Emphasis added for those with questions about the bus stop.)

I have no idea what's actually going on here, or why this poor kid is catching the brunt of all this crap, or why it's being blown off like this. If it was my kid, it wouldn't be the bully kids I'd be suing. I'd start with the school administration for not doing their job.
posted by lilywing13 at 4:32 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


As Atreides says, this is generally a very nice and open-minded town. We have a wonderful, diverse international community, thanks to the university. The whole town is about as green as it can be. I find it somewhat embarrassing that I hadn't heard one word about this until it was in the national news. It's not something that is typical of the place.

Screw going to Waffle House, though, at least until after we all go for beers. There is a great brewpub down on Dickson Street. And my favorite dive of a pool hall is just a few doors down.
posted by lilywing13 at 4:46 PM on March 24, 2008


Buzzing in on the also-bullied, no-home-problems front. Oddly, as a chubby, punk listening white girl with horrible skin in a mostly black public school, it was a select group of white boys that picked on me, chased me home for miles, stole my bike, etc.

I don't know what became of them, don't really care all that much. All I know is, I moved with my family, who had no idea of the bullying, between eighth grade and freshman year of high school, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me, but of course, there was no guarantee that that would be the case.

Additionally, as an anthropologist, these behaviors are hardly cultural universals, and treating them as such is ridiculous. It is a rare person who is universally the subject of group shunning/violence. Other societies are able to find places for their intelligent, creative, transgendered, skinny, tall, fat, whatever people. Ours is not. I recommend highly John Taylor Gatto and his works to understand the role of industry in shaping our perceptions of what an education is supposed to entail.
posted by palindromic at 5:12 PM on March 24, 2008


Uh, how sure are you that girls are where it's at for Billy? The article mostly ducks that question (as perhaps it should, for his safety), and I don't think we should be making assumptions one way or the other other.

Forktine: Actually, the article quite clearly says he likes girls. Quote: "So who is Billy Wolfe? Now 16, he likes the outdoors, racquetball and girls."

I love how the Mom had to mention that her son, "likes girls". So it's not like he has the gay or something. Jeez.

snsranch: That would be a good point, if the article actually quoted his mother as saying that. But actually, it's simply stated as a fact, not as a quote from either Billy or his mom.

While it could be the case that Billy only said he likes girls to avoid being further harassed, or that Billy's mom told the reporter that he likes girls for similar reasons, we have no evidence that that's the case. Hence I took it at face value.

Furthermore, none of this changes the fact that Billy is cute, and in other circumstances could likely get a long way on looks alone.
posted by limeonaire at 5:18 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have tried repeatedly to write a comment on this, but it keeps turning into rambling, self-indulgent crap so instead I will just say this:
1) This thread brought up some painful memories, but also some interesting things to think about in dealing with them.
2) Even though middle school and high school were a long time ago, it turns out I still felt ashamed about what I went through; however, reading about everyone else's experiences makes me feel less so.
3) I really, really hope things don't get any worse for Billy than this article (frankly, I can't imagine anything that would have embarrassed me more as a teenager). Is it too optimistic to think that maybe things will get better?
posted by naoko at 5:19 PM on March 24, 2008


Additionally, as an anthropologist, these behaviors are hardly cultural universals, and treating them as such is ridiculous. It is a rare person who is universally the subject of group shunning/violence. Other societies are able to find places for their intelligent, creative, transgendered, skinny, tall, fat, whatever people. Ours is not.

Palandromic, which societies are you talking about?
posted by moxiedoll at 5:25 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying, btw, that any one society is perfectly inclusive of all differences, but Native American cultures have the berdaches for transgendered/homosexuals within the tribe, Quaker communities are strongly anti-violent. I have a personal theory that the loss of meaningful rites of passage in American society play a contributory role to the acts of aggression and bullying among prepubescent and pubescent kids - no effective outlets that include all members of an age group and sex - but this is personal and I can't back it up.

I knew I should have started looking for articles before I posted that...
posted by palindromic at 5:47 PM on March 24, 2008


Reading through the coments I see lack of distinction between "bullying" as in intimidation, and teasing, sometimes combined with physical attacks, and this other thing. Which really falls into an entire different category, and the inability to see the difference is part of the larger problem. There's a line that's crossed where bullying becomes abuse. The type of abuse that would get a child taken from a parent's custody, but is somehow tolerated at the hands of other children.

I spent a year on the wrong side of that line. Everyone who suggests that the kid take up karate or get tougher somehow, you're missing the point.

And loquacious, I've got your back. I spent most of my childhood breaking standardized tests by scoring too high. That's no reason to break a kid's nose.
posted by billyfleetwood at 5:57 PM on March 24, 2008


Hence I took it at face value. by limeonaire

Yea, I hear you. But it was just silly anyway and supports nothing, except that it proposes that he is "normal", which is still irrelevant.

billyfleetwood, I totally agree. I actually did take karate, and it sucked and I got bullied even more. By the time I got pissed enough to actually do something, I was behaving like a criminal, exactly like the shitty kids picking on me. Just as in the posted story, the adults/educators failed miserably.
posted by snsranch at 6:08 PM on March 24, 2008


Forktine: Actually, the article quite clearly says he likes girls. Quote: "So who is Billy Wolfe? Now 16, he likes the outdoors, racquetball and girls."

Sorry, I read right over that. Whether or not it's 100% true, who knows, but the claim is certainly made. Thanks for the correction.

I wonder if he sees his attractiveness, or if it is something he will only realize later? It can be really hard to see yourself accurately -- I thought I was a totally unattractive dork in high school; looking at old photos now, I see a perfectly fine looking young man, awkward but cute. The unattractiveness was only in my head, but there is nothing you could have told me then that would have convinced me otherwise.
posted by Forktine at 6:30 PM on March 24, 2008


I'LL EAT YOUR EYES! I'LL EAT ALL OF YOUR EYES!

This is exactly how I dealt with psychological bullying. You have to out-crazy them. Make them think you're a witch, invent spells, channel demons. This is what I'm going to teach my kids.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:34 PM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


My bully was my best friend up through fourth grade, and then one weekend in fifth grade I told him about a crush I had. The next day, I arrived at school to find an obscene drawing (we were in the middle of the sex ed unit) etched into my desk with the figures labeled with our names. The entire class knew and my crush was mortified. That betrayal became the turning point and we rapidly became the standard bully/victim relationship. The physical violence part happened occasionally, but mostly it was verbal and emotional harassment (and depantsings) instigated by him and several others in the class.

Other than being smart (but not the smartest) and chubby (but not the fattest) there wasn't anything that made me an obvious victim.

I responded poorly: I'd never really been victimized, at home or in school, and had absolutely no coping mechanism. Sometimes I cried, which made things oh so much worse but wasn't exactly voluntary. My parents were reluctant to transfer me, because it was an exclusive private school and they didn't think I'd get a better education elsewhere. Instead, they took things to the administration, who became extra vigilant about breaking up the incidents that they saw... but that just meant the incidents happened outside their purview. (as a side note, talking to my parents in later years it seems they didn't realize how bad the problem was, and they feel very guilty about it.)

By the end of sixth grade I started to get a better handle on my responses, and learned how to avoid escalating it. Mostly that consisted of avoiding any social interactions with my peers, because I never knew which one would be next to turn on me.

Cut to present day.

I've made amends with my bully, and we're facebook contacts. We live on opposite coasts, but have met up a few times in person as friends. We've talked about it all, and he has apologized profusely for what happened.

He wasn't being abused, nor does he claim to any particularly effed up home life. Neither was I or do I. We were just a bunch of kids with underdeveloped socialization. As far as the relevant adults were concerned, everything that could have been done right, was done right.

So for all of the people in this thread constructing revenge fantasies, blaming adults, blaming "sociopaths", blaming society, blaming the victims: you are oversimplifying a complex problem. Or maybe overcomplicating a simple problem.

Bullying is as close to "natural" as anything in human society. It's what happens when you try to shoehorn intelligence into an animal with the same feral impulses as every other creature on this planet. Some people have it worse than others, and some people have it reinforced by those who should be their role models.

But.

Just as not every child who tortures animals becomes a serial killer, not every child bully becomes a bullying adult. Many, perhaps most, either grow some empathy or learn to fake it convincingly. In the meantime, they're largely just troubled kids who would benefit more from some guidance. Punishment and retribution fit too neatly into the worldview that got them there, to be much of a deterrent.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:49 PM on March 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Bullying is destructive to self-esteem in the obvious sense that some kids come to believe that they really are worthless pieces of shit, but also in the far more insidious sense that some kids develop superiority complexes because of it. More than one well-meaning parent (including my own, once upon a time) has said, "Oh, they're just jealous" -- but I think this is as bad as impatience or indifference. Maybe worse, because it only helps to convince hurting, lonely kids that they really are actually better than everyone else, and to learn to equate suffering with superiority. At its worst, it's helping a kid build a castle on air that he or she will have to spend adulthood finding a way out of in order to have a proportional self-image and respectful relationships with other people.

I feel genuine sympathy for people who develop a badly inflated self-regard as a form of self-defense, because it's such a poor one. There is more than a whiff of that in the way Billy's parents have responded to their child's crisis. They keep making him fight a fight they seem far more interested in than he does. And though this short and not very insightful article makes the truth difficult to assess, on the surface they seem more in love with their fight for justice than with their kid. Their lack of precaution and sense really frightens me, and leaves me with a lot of questions: Why leave your children at a bus stop unprotected if you know other children have targeted him there? Why enshrine this horrible time in his life in The New York Times when he's still at an age where he probably can't comprehend the repercussions of that decision? What kind of day did the poor guy have at school today? What are they doing at right this moment to protect him?

Finally, Pastabagel: I wish what you wrote about all of us finding each other like we'd fetched up on the Island of Misfit Toys were true. Yet as wonderful as Metafilter is there are some genuine bullies to be found here. Everyone here probably has their own bitter experience of how the anonymity of the internet frees certain kinds of cruel, stunted people to do their worst. I have no idea how to deal with that aspect of online culture. I do know one thing, and that's cruelty perpetuates cruelty. That's a deceptively simple statement, but there are few codes more difficult to live by. I truly believe more of our collective intelligence and energy needs to go into finding ways of deflecting bullies without adopting their tactics -- toward finding a social form of aikido as opposed to the more violent responses so many are advocating here.
posted by melissa may at 7:22 PM on March 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


I don't understand the strong connection people have to their middle-school selves. I have difficulties to feel angry or any need of justice or correction for past. The actors... they are no more. Everything worked on emotional overdrive and I have no problem emphatizing with those who constantly felt righteous anger or irritation than to those who were sensitive in other ways. Youth is about learning to live with your emotions and young people fail badly with that. Being a bully or bullied was a transient state. It won't do any good trying to stick to that identity or correct it. It just leads to adult version of moral black and white vision that kids have, trying to remember and psychologize those facts that support the innocence of self and those that demonize the bully. Some things cannot be fixed, but must be left behind and it is perfectly acceptable that you at age n is one of those failed experiments of yourself, wrong person at the wrong place or something.

Go ahead and interrupt if you see bullying, use all of your adult sensibility, but try to keep your own experiences about being bullied out of it. It just adds one level of irrationality to situation where the best lesson would be that sometimes in peoples' behaviour cause and effect are really distorted.
posted by Free word order! at 7:24 PM on March 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


Re: Bullies and Abuse - most bullies suffer from unearned high self-esteem.
posted by schroedinger at 8:45 PM on March 24, 2008


That was weird. Link didn't go through. Link here.
posted by schroedinger at 8:46 PM on March 24, 2008


adult not concerned about the well-being of 15 year old children who are so screwed up that they would murder one of their peers....I wonder why some of our children are so screwed up and violent? [hint: look in the mirror]

You really think so? I sure didn't raise the kids who murdered their peer. Maybe I have psychic powers though, and somehow informed them that if they Did Evil Things I would stop caring about their well-being. How terrible of me!


Well, you sure missed the point! How about if I put it this way: when reasoning members of our society (and I place you in that subset) can actually say that they have "no problem" crippling or killing kids who have committed terrible crimes, I start to despair that there will ever be any real solution to our culture of violence. When we can honestly say that it's alright to dispose of children who commit violence, is it any wonder that they did it in the first place?

Even as an off the cuff statement, I find this thought repugnant.

I'm glad your kids haven't murdered anyone. Perhaps you can reach deep down and have some compassion for children who weren't so lucky to have you as a parent? Who knows, it might just catch on?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:00 PM on March 24, 2008


and there are bullies everywhere
I was an RAF kid and I can vouch for this. Every one to three years a new posting and I was the new kid in school. I've been beaten up in Middlesex, Hong Kong, Kent, Peterhead, East Anglia, Penang, Blackpool and Singapore. School pretty much sucked, wherever I was.
posted by tellurian at 10:26 PM on March 24, 2008


A few months ago, my bully from middle school found me on facebook and sent me a message about how sorry he was and asking how I was doing. Given that it was brief, not capitalized, and poorly spelled, it came off as incredibly flippant, and I had no idea how to respond, given that my honest reaction was something like, "Wow, I'm surprised you're not in prison! Go away." My mother suggested I say thank you and then ignore but, but goddamnit, why should I have to thank him for a note he took thirty seconds to compose after all that torment?

So I just ignored it.

There's no moral to this or anything.
posted by bettafish at 10:33 PM on March 24, 2008


When we can honestly say that it's alright to dispose of children who commit violence, is it any wonder that they did it in the first place?

Did I ever say it was "all right"? Of course not. I think maybe I wasn't the one missing the point!

I did say that I "just don't see the problem" in the idea of inflicting retaliatory violence on those "children" that have taken to swarming and maiming or killing people, kids and adults both. Although I agree it's a terribly sad thing to feel that we have no other choices, if it's a matter of protecting those I love from harm or death, then no, I don't have a problem with dealing out whatever violence is necessary to stop these murderers in their tracks.

Why is that such a horrible thing? You'd prefer I'd put one of these prats on my comfy couch and ask them how they feel about their mother? Of course you don't! When there are no other options, when you've exhausted all legal avenues, when your own kids are at risk of being crippled or killed, one has to draw a line in the sand, and at that point that line can only come about at the end of a fireplace poker or baseball bat.

I'd rather deal with the jail time and whatever guilt might assail me than the lifelong grief from having to bury my own child that died at the hands of a brutal punk who didn't like the way my child dressed.
posted by illiad at 10:35 PM on March 24, 2008


Let's remedy that and all friend him on Facebook as a show of support.

Nice sentiment but it's hard to see how it wouldn't result in "Billy haz no frenz only FAGS andn Homo's on metefliter!!1!!! LOL!!!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:39 PM on March 24, 2008


Nice sentiment but it's hard to see how it wouldn't result in "Billy haz no frenz only FAGS andn Homo's on metefliter!!1!!! LOL!!!"

Well they already had a Facebook page demeaning the kid anyway - I don't really think friending him is going to make things worse. I hardly think the bullies will be able to Google their way back to here anyway... well, they could but I just don't think they are going to.

Actually, the article quite clearly says he likes girls. Quote: "So who is Billy Wolfe? Now 16, he likes the outdoors, racquetball and girls."

As to saying that, I understand it. The bullies put on their anti-Billy Facebook page: "There is no reason anyone should like billy he’s a little bitch. And a homosexual that NO ONE LIKES."

Of course he could be queer, and feeling different has led to problems socialising. Could be why the bullies are beating him up - because they can tell he's different. Or - more likely - the meatheads are calling him a faggot because it seems like that is the worst thing they could say to another kid. Which sickens me.

It's hard enough to get a grip on who you are and what you like in high school anyway. If he's being persecuted for no reason, it's terrible. If he's being persecuted for being shy or being gay, it's worse - because being gay is linked directly to the bullying and the bashings.

All of that is speculation, of course. Who are we to speculate why? But in the end, the article is somewhat soft in its suggestion that "school anthropology is so nuanced". And there are many reasons he could be getting picked on - but none of them make it his fault.
posted by crossoverman at 11:06 PM on March 24, 2008


I was bullied for much of my school life. Unfortunately, I had a funny accent and I was smart and verbal and a year or two ahead of my grade.

In Canada, it's quite difficult to switch schools; you have to live in the school's district. My parents were extremely supportive but we didn't have much money at the time and couldn't move. We resolved to stick with it; my father would remind me that the chances were that I'd be a lot more successful than my attackers were, in later life (which turned out to be true).

As I got older, it slowed down a lot. The last incident I remember, I was eating pea soup in junior high school, something I really loved. Some minor second-string bully was flicking pie at me - a piece landed in my soup - I just snapped, stood up, and poured the soup all over his head.

The school called my parents, his parents called my parents asking for money for cleaning; my parents completely stood up to them, refused to pay a penny or to force me to apologize and said that I'd put up with enough of this - in fact, I didn't even hear about any repercussions till much later. <3 I miss them.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:52 PM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


And I should add that I really haven't forgiven my bullies. I read that article linked here about the bully dying alone of AIDS and I felt no sympathy for him, not the slightest. He sounded like the classic psychopath - I believe a lot of these bullies are psychopaths - I'm sure he damaged dozens of people, and it's a shame he lived as long as he did. Sic semper tyrannis.

Certainly, it's not the slightest surprise that the Smirking Chimp was a bully in childhood, because he's still a psychopathic bully to this day. I'd pay six figures to see that man beaten, humiliated and forced to eat shit.

Yes, as you can tell, I'm still pretty sensitive about being bullied.

When I was about 12, I was being picked on and an older teenager who I didn't know just got out of a car and grabbed the guy by the collar. It was an influential moment for me, because I realized that what people were doing to me was repugnant even to strangers....
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:11 AM on March 25, 2008


For most of 7th grade, I was taunted pretty regularly by a short kid, Zach, and his two friends. I was pretty tall, skinny, awkward, and had messed up teeth, so they'd call me Goofy any chance they got, and just generally mock and taunt me as much as possible.

I wasn't that bad off - I even had my own group of friends who tried to help. We tried some counter-mocking for a while, but none of us really knew how to tease someone, and our hearts weren't in it, anyway. This went on for several months until one day I just snapped. We were changing after gym, he was making fun of me, and I was trying to just ignore it so I could get out of there. Instead, I turned around and started choking him.

Someone came along and broke us up, and of course we both went to the principal's office. When I came to my senses I was scared of myself more than anything. I didn't want to beat him up, or show him his place, or anything like that. I just wanted him to shut up, and I seriously doubt that if there hadn't been someone there to stop me, I would have kept strangling him until he was dead.

The funny thing was, one of my tormentors, Tyler, lived right around the block from me. I ran into him a couple years later, and he reacted like we were old friends.

I'm pretty grateful for this thread. There needs to be some kind of "bullied support group", assuming metafilter doesn't already qualify.
posted by heathkit at 4:31 AM on March 25, 2008


assuming metafilter doesn't already qualify.

don't assume that a bunch of people descending on a thread close to their hearts is indicative of everybody's experience.

i was never bullied, for example, but i guess i'd support anybody who had been, and it saddens me to see so many familiar names telling such awful stories, so, um, what was i saying? oh, sign me up for the support group!
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:14 AM on March 25, 2008


I hope Billy finds his way to this thread.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:38 AM on March 25, 2008


I was watching "Dazed and Confused" on tv a couple of nights ago and was appalled that "paddling" and terrorizing of younger kids by older was portrayed as an accepted and humorous sport. Kinda like wife-beating was a joke back until the 60s or so. The US in general, being a militarized, crime-and-punishment, conformist and anti-intellectual society, seems more ready to accept bullying than, say, Europe, Canada, Australia. Am I right?

Uh, the heros of the story are the paddled, not the paddlers, in Dazed and Confused. The chief hazers (Ben Affleck and Parker Posey) were portrayed as complete assholes.

We don't like it when you generalize about the US in general via namecalling, amirite? There's bullying everywhere there are schoolchildren, though. I have plenty of friends who grew up in various other countries, most have stories about how the low kid on the totem pole was treated.
posted by desuetude at 6:39 AM on March 25, 2008


"I hope Billy finds his way to this thread."

I sent him a link early on in the thread (after his facebook page was first linked), if he reads the message I sent him.

But in retrospect, I'm wondering if it wasn't a bad idea. Something tells me that the last thing Billy wants now is a whole bunch more attention, especially judging from the fact that he still has only one facebook friend.

Which leaves me wondering... did he know that his story would be on the front of the New York Times? Was it his idea? Wouldn't that invite more bullying, even if he did change schools? Is it possible that "Billy Wolfe" is a pseudonym?
posted by lunit at 7:53 AM on March 25, 2008


Why is that such a horrible thing? You'd prefer I'd put one of these prats on my comfy couch and ask them how they feel about their mother? Of course you don't! When there are no other options, when you've exhausted all legal avenues, when your own kids are at risk of being crippled or killed, one has to draw a line in the sand, and at that point that line can only come about at the end of a fireplace poker or baseball bat.

Yes. It is a horrible thing. I really don't want to talk to you anymore.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:55 AM on March 25, 2008


Well they already had a Facebook page demeaning the kid anyway - I don't really think friending him is going to make things worse.

That page (the one for the group of Billy Wolfe haters) appears to be gone now, and there is now a group for Billy Wolfe fans.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:01 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, if you look at that page, there's a link to a profile for Billy Wolfe that is different than the one linked to in this thread, which would lead me to believe that that profile is fake.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:03 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


The real Billy Wolfe.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:04 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Doesn't anyone else here remember that one kid whose parents would sue anyone, any time, for any reason? Yeah, that kid got bullied even worse.

The solution to that is to keep suing until the kid's parents realize they'll be in the poor house if they don't disown their kid or correct their kid's behavior. If they can't figure it out, they deserve to pay the stupidity tax. And you're well within your rights to collect that tax from them.
posted by oaf at 9:07 AM on March 25, 2008


4. Agonize over the abuse and bullying that happens to your child in the foster home he or she is living in while you're in prison.

As a foster carer, may I just say: thanks so much for your support. I'm touched.

While we're letting it all hang out in here:

To little John L***poulos: I'm sorry I picked you up by the neck, and I'm sorry I hung you up on the coathooks outside the woodwork room. I was young and stupid and angry, and you were about the only kid I could beat up. I have to say, though, that in your position I would probably not have chosen to insult and abuse the school fat kid when your big mates weren't around to cover your back.

To John B****vita: it's taken thirty years, but I have finally got over wanting to see you die of a horrible disease after the utterly humiliating public beating you gave me that afternoon near the railway station. Just believing that you're in a total dead-end loser job and spending all day miserable is enough, now.

To R*****o S**k: I'm not the slightest bit sorry for slamming your head into the brick wall in Grade 4. You absolutely deserved it, and the fact that you and your horrible little brother completely quit your relentless harassment of me and my friend after I did it was one of the more useful social lessons I learned in primary school.
posted by flabdablet at 9:18 AM on March 25, 2008


I'm sorry if you don't have a problem with the idea of "crippling or killing some of these 'children'" - but I really think that you should.

If they're trying to hurt me or my family, it is right, and perfectly ethical, for me to do what it takes to get them to stop, including killing them (if nothing short of that will get them to stop). illiad is right; there's nothing wrong with introducing someone who is trying to maim or kill me to the business end of the TTC's rolling stock.

Teenage children not concerned about the well-being of one of their peers and murdering him....adult not concerned about the well-being of 15 year old children who are so screwed up that they would murder one of their peers....I wonder why some of our children are so screwed up and violent? [hint: look in the mirror]

Explain to me why I have any moral obligation to stand around and let others hurt or kill me or my family.

It is a horrible thing.

So I should sit idly by while someone beats me or my girlfriend up? Suggesting that I do anything other than what is necessary to get that to stop, and stop immediately, shows a lack of common decency. Perhaps once you've become acquainted with how the world operates, you'll understand that if someone is attacking you, beating them up is ethically and morally allowable (some would say it's an imperative).
posted by oaf at 11:01 AM on March 25, 2008


If they're trying to hurt me or my family, it is right, and perfectly ethical, for me to do what it takes to get them to stop, including killing them (if nothing short of that will get them to stop).

Obviously this depends on where you live. But even in states (assuming you are in the US) with really robust self-defense laws, like Florida or Texas, you are usually limited to using deadly force while you are being attacked. Going after the attackers some days later, taking the time to go and find a weapon first (what is a "TTC rolling stock," anyway?), making plans, etc, will put you in the category of "vigilante justice" rather than "justifiable use of force in self defense." IANAL, etc. And in states with less robust self defense laws (absent a "castle doctrine" law, say), you are even more limited in what you can legally do.

I'm all for the Billy's of the world to start kicking some serious bully ass, but what you are proposing isn't really going to work out all that well. Sounds nice and macho in the internet, but I wouldn't try it in real life.
posted by Forktine at 11:43 AM on March 25, 2008


illiad is Canadian. I thought he was talking about incidents like this one, so I just tried to point out that it wouldn't be immoral or unethical to throw people trying to stab you or beat the crap out of you onto the subway tracks.
posted by oaf at 2:21 PM on March 25, 2008


this isn't just bullying, it's fucking assault. why are these kids not getting the cops called on them? if someone comes up to me in the street, and punches me in the face, i call the cops. why do the schools not do this?

the school district where i grew up now does this. probably not as often as they should, but at least they do it. and i think it's a good thing, and i wish they would have done it while i was there.

i was "bullied" k-12. that's 13 years of emotional and physical abuse by my peers. you do not get over that. you don't forget it and you don't let it go. it shapes you and the outlook you have on society and your future.

the "system" is flawed. physical abuse should not be tolerated in schools. sure, there are bad teachers and bad principals and all that, but our education system is more of a holding pen so the adults can go to work and not have to worry about it. it's not about learning or education or functioning as a human being in society. and that's the problem.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:49 PM on March 25, 2008


But in retrospect, I'm wondering if it wasn't a bad idea. Something tells me that the last thing Billy wants now is a whole bunch more attention, especially judging from the fact that he still has only one facebook friend.-Lunit

He now has 60 friends on facebook, 29 of them are from his own high school. Many in this thread expressed the concern that NYT article and all this attention would make things even worse, but it seems it may have given Billy a new network of friends, many of them within his own school.

While it's easy to see how this article could make things worse, it may also have inspired other bullied kids to reach out to each other. I genuinely hope that this marks the beginning of a radical improvement, not just for Billy, but for other kids suffering in that school.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:00 PM on March 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


And of course there are some people making excuses "telling the whole story" over here.
posted by GrammarMoses at 10:49 AM on March 26, 2008


Parents sue son’s bully, threaten school district.

Billy's interview on NBC this morning [video | 5:52].
posted by ericb at 11:27 AM on March 26, 2008




Wow, that's a useless response from the school district. "We told the NYT that we had a policy in place! They didn't talk about our policy, so now we look bad."

Missing the point, School District. How about addressing how these events could have happened despite your policy? Oh, yeah. No comment. School records are private. Because you respect your students so much, right?
posted by desuetude at 11:52 AM on March 26, 2008


He friended me back, yay!
posted by Jacqueline at 2:06 PM on March 26, 2008


And of course there are some people making excuses "telling the whole story" over here.

As stated at 'The Whole Story' Facebook page:
"Recently, Fayetteville High School has had negative light shed upon it by national media and it has cause [sic] many to look down upon our students, teachers, and administration. We wish to share the whole story about the Billy Wolfe ordeal and to do so we would like those who have had alteracations [sic] with Billy to come forth and share their side of the story, which with their permission will be used for a documentary filmed by Skyler and myself.

NOTE: This group is not intended to ridicule, mock, or attack Billy. I, personally, am tired of all the crazy rumors that I hear going around and just want to hear truth. Any harmful things said to or about Billy (or anyone else) will result in deletion from group [sic].

The creators of this group do NOT advocate bullying. It is childish and the intent of this group is not to bully anyone."
I have e-mailed the page creator William Michael Sharp (sharpwill97@yahoo.com) making him aware of this thread and seeking clarification on the "ordeal" and "whole story."
posted by ericb at 3:09 PM on March 26, 2008


Reading through the comments at the 'The Whole Story' Facebook Group there are some disturbing allegations/rumors. Whether true, or not, I suspect we'll be learning more about this story.
"Billy is one of my friends. What I'm saying may make you think that he's not, but don't be fooled.

Billy has started A LOT of the fights he's been in. Just recently, he was punched in the face by a boy whom will remain un-named. And it wasn't just out of randomness. This boys mother is deceased, and Billy took it upon himself to talk about his mom. He called his mom a 'German Nazi Skank'. So the boy punched Billy in the face. I'm not sure if this was the LAST thing that happened to Billy, but it was recent.

Billy has been getting into fights since middle school. I don't know how many, but Billy has started plenty of fights by spitting in people's faces, or calling them names, or by provoking them in some other way. I don't believe that Billy deserved all of these beatings he got, no one deserves to be beaten up no matter what they did. The school board should've stepped in sooner and done something about it. Thats a short version of this story."

---

"My side of the story is Billy was never rude to me or vice versa but he has started multiple fights.

Billy has called two unnamed girls gay lesbians when both of them are 'straight', have boyfriends, and to knowledge have never been rude to him.

I have also heard that he had beaten up a mentally disabled kid in a wheelchair and killed his cat by throwing rocks at it and kicking it."

---

"I'm not saying that he deserved all these beatings, but i am saying that more than likely (if not for sure), he started the fights."

---

"There are two things I remember about Billy really. I remember hearing a first hand account of Billy killing the cat of one of my friends. That warranted his house being tp'd, with the, tp'ers being threatened to be sued by Billy's parents.

The second was Billy being knocked out in front of Matthews' room back at Woodland last year. The only thing there, is that Billy did start that, by insulting the kid's mother to his face. After that, it's all shrouded in rumor."

---

"I've seen him get in fights ever since grade school. And he always makes it seem as if he is the victim when he is anything but that."

---

"Anyway I think Billy just needs some counseling and some good friends but that must be hard to make if your constantly pushing people away with your rude mouth?"

---

"i was in the bathroom one day and he looked me up and down and said "what the fuck are you looking at." i didnt do anything knowing his mom would get legal with it.

and he was caught with a knife at school"

---

"don't believe the media. Billy is not the victim. He actually picks fights with others. What he's saying to the media is total bullshit."
Were Billy's injuries the result of repeated "bullying" or of "schoolyard scrapes?" Wahtever the answer, we live in interesting times where we have access to national media reports, as well as to local comments. The Web truly provides for the "local" to go "global;" the "golobal" to go "local."
posted by ericb at 3:42 PM on March 26, 2008


*Whatever the answer...*
*The global to go local*
posted by ericb at 3:43 PM on March 26, 2008


Fayetteville School District Notifies Police of Recent Threats
“Fayetteville School District officials filed a terroristic threatening complaint with the Fayetteville Police Department regarding a phone message received as part of the fallout from a recent New York Times news column.

The Monday story dealt with Fayetteville High School sophomore Billy Wolfe and acts of bullying that he has endured in and out of school during the past four years. Earlier this month, Wolfe’s parents filed suit against students who allegedly assaulted him, and they have hinted that they might sue the district for allegedly not doing enough to prevent the bullying.

As a result of the article, the district has received more than 300 e-mail messages and numerous phone calls.

The phone message in question was left at McNair Middle School on Tuesday and features a woman’s voice. Assistant Superintendent Ginny Wiseman played the recording. The caller could be heard saying: ‘All I can say is if it had been my kid who got repeatedly beat up in your school, some of you would be so dead, dead, dead.’

Wiseman said school officials think the call came from out of state and that they know who made it because the school has caller ID.

Police Sgt. Shannon Gabbard said officers are investigating to determine if the call fits the terroristic threatening statute.

Wiseman said she also planned to file a report with the FBI since the call apparently came from another state.

The district reported one of the e-mail messages received Monday to the FBI’s cybercrime division through the FBI Web site, said Chief Financial Officer Susan Norton.

The e-mailer, named Judge Holden, suggested the district would be hit with some sort of Internet or computer network attack.

It stated, ‘Myself and a few like minded individuals, who are involved in what some would call a hacker club, have decided to take action.’”
posted by ericb at 4:06 PM on March 26, 2008


Okay, the parent stupid enough to make death threats should be arrested. But "terroristic threats?" Sigh.
posted by desuetude at 4:32 PM on March 26, 2008


Some of those comments ericb posted are making me wonder if he's crossing the line into fighting words.
posted by oaf at 4:49 PM on March 26, 2008


I'm a Facebook holdout, so I'm just going to rely on what ericb posted. I note that nowhere does Billy hit anyone; that most of the allegations are rumours and second-hand accounts. I smell self-servingness. And I would expect a child who has been consistently victimised to be verbally aggressive.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:14 PM on March 26, 2008


It's interesting that the facebook profile TPS linked has 144 friends... the "fake" profile hasn't friended me back yet, but the fact that there are two makes me a bit leery of this whole spiel. I guess we shall see.
posted by Phire at 9:02 PM on March 26, 2008


Let me +1 the strong disapproval of Rusty’s attitude, advice, and approach here. Rusty seems like a scary person based on the written record of this post.

Bullied children require full-on protection, not reengineering.
posted by joeclark at 8:03 PM on March 27, 2008


Wow, that's a useless response from the school district. "We told the NYT that we had a policy in place! They didn't talk about our policy, so now we look bad."

FWIW having a policy and then ignoring it could be seen as worse than not having a policy in the first place.

If you want to avoid looking bad (and what's more important, of course--actually being bad) you need to both have a policy and follow it . . .
posted by flug at 6:15 AM on March 29, 2008


A bit late to add this, but...

To anyone saying, "Next time, kick the bully in the balls," or whatever: in my experience, this is the point where the school finally steps in and punishes someone. Unfortunately, that someone would be the kid who finally fought back and kicked someone in the balls, not the kid who deserved to be kicked in the balls for the last six months.

When I was in sixth grade, I was tall and painfully thin and shy and spending a lot of time hiding my intelligence at the public school I attended. A year before, I had a teacher who verbally abused me in class and repeatedly accused me of being a disruptive influence (she had many issues; she was eventually suspended for hitting a child in the head with a stapler.) The same year, inner-city kids began bussing into our school -- I was never directly part of the resulting racial tension, due to some flukes in my upbringing.

I had my share of bullying over the years, but it was always brief and relatively harmless. One of the new kids being bussed in, however, decided I was a good target (or so I thought at the time; looking back later I realized he was a very unhappy, very angry kid for reasons having nothing to do with me, but who sees that as a child?) and made my life miserable. And me, being shy and weak and only used to bullying of the more traditional sort, just accepted it and put up with it the best I could.

Until seventh grade, that is, when my teacher (after I asked for advice on how to deal with it) said "you're bigger than he is now, the next time he bothers you and I'm on recess duty, punch him in the face."

So I did. It wasn't a great punch, but boy was he surprised, and that was the end of that.

Trouble is, that's something that might (MIGHT) work in a single-bully scenario, with support from a teacher. In a systematic victimization scenario as with Billy, with no administrative support, leaving is the only thing that will work.

His parents need to stop getting hung up on what's right in theory, and do what's right in practice: protect their child by getting him out of there.
posted by davejay at 11:47 PM on March 31, 2008




I think that the original reporter was ridiculously naiive if they thought that this wasn't more complicated than "everyone hates Billy."

It's no big surprise to me that the bullied kid bullies others.

In my recollection, school records don't generally capture incidents in a way that's very true to how the kids perceive them. Trying to explain "what happened" to the school administrator/principal in such a way that they'll actually understand is usually pretty impossible. I'm not saying that the records are a lie and that Billy is all innocent -- just that the release of these records will invite another round of hearsay and speculation.
posted by desuetude at 9:55 AM on April 3, 2008


"The [Northwest Arkansas Times] article (Who's the bully? Police, school records raise questions...) describes him sneaking up behind his next-door neighbor, a boy confined to a wheel chair with muscular dystrophy, and shouting in his ear. Auditory hyper-sensitivity, a side-effect of MD, heightened the boy's surprise, confusion and pain. He also described an incident when Billy bounced a rubber ball against his head, ignoring his pleas to stop.

Another episode occurred in shop class. After Billy Wolfe was excluded from a group of boys, he returned and insulted one of them, Benny Burk, calling him a 'gay [expletive] German' (Burk had grown up on an army base in Germany.) A few minutes later Burk was told by a friend that Billy Wolfe had insulted his mother, calling her a 'vulgar name' behind his back. Burk's mother had passed away recently following a nine-year battle with cancer. Burk lost his temper and punched Wolfe in the cheek, causing lacerations that had to be sutured. Burk's father paid the medical bill.

A disciplinary log compiled by Bryon Zeagler, then vice-principal of Woodland Junior High, where this all took place, documented a list of Billy Wolfe's acts of aggression...."
'-May 5, 2006 - Burk struck Wolfe in the face after Wolfe called Burk's (deceased) mother a vulgar name.

-Sept. 9, 2006 - Wolfe was talking back to a substitute teacher and not listening to the teacher.

-Sept. 7, 2006 - Wolfe was given an assignment and directed to write a report about a certain issue. Wolfe gave the assignment back to the teacher and wrote 'Ya right LOL (laugh out loud ) you write a three page report about dancing.'

-Nov. 8, 2006 - Zeagler spoke to Wolfe regarding four complaints from teachers and students about him picking on students.

-Dec. 19, 2006 - Special Education Teacher Becky Knight witnessed Wolfe pushing a student. Wolfe admitted wrongdoing and stated he would not do it anymore.

-February 2007 - Special Education Teacher Terri Speer witnessed Wolfe scaring a disabled student in a wheelchair in the hallway. Speer also said another student told her that Wolfe stole his markers. He told Speer that he didn't want her to say anything to Wolfe because he was afraid of Wolfe.'" *
Billy a'int no angel.
posted by ericb at 7:48 AM on April 8, 2008




The parents respond to the local school paper's story (which always sounded a little fishy and defensive to me.)

As parents we hope that your children never have to endure the wrath of the public relations machines of Fayetteville School District and the Northwest Arkansas Times. Under the headline of “Who’s the bully? Police school records raise questions about claims made by Fayetteville High Student,” the Northwest Arkansas Times became a part of the problem instead of the solution. The head line is wrong and the Northwest Arkansas Times had all the information that we are sharing with you before it printed the article.

With the exception of one, all of the boys interviewed have brutally assaulted our son, or have participated in the Facebook group entitled “Everyone That Hates Billy Wolfe” including Dylan Gray who suffers from muscular dystrophy and is in a wheel chair. Dylan was one of the creators of the Facebook site. All of the boys interviewed have violated the criminal statutes of the State of Arkansas, except for Andrew Holtzen who claims our son threw dirt clods at his house. In this Facebook group they called our son a “b****”, a “homosexual” and reminded everybody how they yelled “F*** you” at him and hit him in the face with a newspaper and the teacher did nothing. Ian Teeters states in the Northwest Arkansas Times’ article that our son is blowing this all out of proportion and “[he] never really planned to hit Wolfe.” The Northwest Arkansas Times presents the attack as if Ian Teeters stepped in the middle of an altercation between our son and another student whose name is Will Starks. That is far from the truth.

On March 7, 2007, Will Starks posted on Facebook that “everybody’s going to kick his ass” referring to our son. On March 8, 2007, Will Starks stated “ha ha who said I was going to hit him? Ha ha nah I got people who are going to do it 4 me…”

On March 9, 2008, another Facebook site that encouraged “Everybody Start Carrying Their Cameras to School and Provoking People to get into Fights! We Need Some Pictures!!” the bragging continued. Will Starks stated further:
“my friend just clocks this little b*** right in his jaw and ends up bustin out 1 or 2 of his teeth and this little hoe just drops to the floor and just passes the F**** out or just starts ballin ___ but it was funny as sh**!!! I’m a little made that I didn’t get a punch in b/c a teacher was right around the corner ……. agh damn I wish I could of.”

We brought these posts to the attention of Byron Zeagler who did not approach any of these kids. On March 9, 2008 Ian Teeters sucker punched our son knocking him out cold. His whole face was bruised. It was not Ian Teeters stepping in between Will Starks and our son. It was a cold blooded and pre-planned attack. One 14 year old girl related the attack to her mother as follows:
She said a big boy just turned around and punched Wolfe in the face with his fist so hard it knocked him to the floor. She said that Wolfe had done nothing to this boy whom she did not know. The teachers stuck their heads out of the doors and said “kids cut it out.” They ignored the attack. This angered her and she wanted to say something to the big boy that hit Wolfe, but she was too scared.

This was not an attack brought on by our son as the Northwest Arkansas Times and the School District would have you believe.

Lindsey Broadway, the daughter of an FHS coach and teacher, posted in a new Facebook group entitled “Bias.” Lindsey claimed that she spoke with her father and another teacher, and that they spoke negatively about Billy’s academic performance. It does not surprise us that teachers continue to talk negatively and breed this culture of hate as they are just following the administration’s example. There is no way our son can learn in this hostile environment. She further stated “part of me wishes he would get the crap beaten out of him, he is lier [sic] and there is no need for that…he is lying!” Finally, she stated as if it were a fact that “Billy killed Dylan’s cat.”

Lindsey is just one of the students engaging in an intentional rumor spreading campaign on the internet. A significant number of these posts are being done during school time, supposedly at Fayetteville High School. The posts appear to be a coordinated effort to portray our son as a “cat killer,” that is cruel to animals in general. The only student thus far to post a conflicting opinion was Dylan Gray himself (the owner of the cat that many students claim our son killed) who posted that he only “suspect[ed] that he killed my cat.” Our son did NOT kill Dylan’s cat. Our son is NOT cruel to animals. These rumors are just more savage assaults on our son. The vast majority of the student’s accounts offer nothing more than rumors; things the students have heard from “friends” or sadly, parents and teachers as in Lindsey’s case. We have been very careful to only relay facts, or events that we have witnessed first hand to every media outlet we have spoken with. It’s unfortunate (but predictable) that our son’s attackers, the Northwest Arkansas Times and the School District are not doing the same.

Perhaps most heartbreaking is the continued bullying by the Fayetteville School District’s Public Relations Department and its Superintendent. On March 24, 2008, the school district issued a press release stating “In fact, the whole story cannot be told, since the Federal Family and Education Right to Privacy Act prohibits the release of any information from a student’s record to anyone other than the student’s parent or guardian,” inferring that if the New York Times writer knew that our son was really a loser, he would not be writing the article. John Brummett of the Morning News confirmed our suspicions in his April 3rd column where he wrote that although Bobby New, Fayetteville’s Superintendent of Schools could not discuss student’s disciplinary records, Mr. New pointed out to Mr. Brummett, with an assumed wink, a letter to the editor in the NWA Times which offered that it was the “shared opinion” that our son “picks fights,” he is “rude to his superiors” and his mother is an “opportunist.” This comes from a man that is supposed to protect our son. Statements like these from the School District are why it is necessary to have a police car at our son’s bus stop. This same attitude is why he has been beaten time and again. The School District is creating a culture of hatred along with the bullies and the Northwest Arkansas to savage our son and our family. By the way, the young man that signed the letter to the editor (we expect that it was written by the school district) in the Northwest Arkansas Times is the same young man that stated in the Northwest Arkansas Times article that our son threw dirt clods at his house.

The press release goes on to state that the District has no jurisdiction over many of the incidents leaving the impression that the District was somehow absolved of its responsibility. Please note that out of the nine (9) incidents noted by the Northwest Arkansas Times, eight (8) happened on school property or on the way to school. Also, please note that there was no police report available for six (6) out of the nine (9) incidents. The report for the one incident that occurred outside of the jurisdiction of the school was unavailable because the perpetrators were juveniles. The two available police reports were only made because we reported the attacks after the school refused to report.

It is interesting that although the School District and Superintendent New seem to lament that the federal laws prevent them from releasing student information they somehow found a way to get Byron Zeagler’s private notes about our son into the Northwest Arkansas Times with the purpose of making him look like a trouble maker. First of all, our son does not remember most of these incidents and secondly and most important are his individual education plans (“IEPs”) for the last four years. Our son is a special education student and a committee made up of his principal and his teachers develop a plan for him. This committee is one of Byron Zeagler’s responsibilities. For the last four years the committee stated that Billy needed no behavioral interventions. If Mr. Zeagler thought Billy’s behavior was a problem, it should have been in these documents. Instead of Mr. Zeagler providing the assessment of the controlling legal documents to the police or the press, he made his private notes available. Why? He did not have accountability to the committee for his private notes. The more incriminating question is why these documents were supplied to the police when our son was savagely attacked as noted above. Certainly he got our son’s records confused with Ian Teeters, the attacker. We wonder if Ian Teeters’ records are going to be made available to the Northwest Arkansas Times or does Mr. Zeagler only keep private notes on our son? Our son’s IEP reports showing this information will be made available to anybody that asks. Mr. Zeagler has defamed and terrorized our son. The IEP report goes further and states that Billy is “quiet, cooperative and pleasant, but has recently had dark circles under his eyes and they recommend counseling to help reduce his anxieties.” At the end of his IEP review one of the teachers said the “ bleeding of Billy Wolfe has to stop.” It will stop.

We will be glad to provide all of our son’s records, Facebook posts and other source documents to back up this letter. These are the same documents that were in large provided to the Northwest Arkansas Times and were ignored. Please email us at nobully@wolfetrade.com.

Sincerely,
Penney and Curt Wolfe

posted by anotherpanacea at 5:44 AM on April 11, 2008


Thanks for that update, anotherpanacea. While I think the anger on the part of the parents is completely justified, I wonder at the vehemence and the detail of the attack, including citing students' names, facebook comments, and stopping barely short of ad hominem. The length of the letter will be a deterrent to a lot of people - "If I had more time I would write a shorter letter" etc., and a lot of the rebuttal gets lost in the rather unorganized renumeration of "evidence". At this point I'm still more inclined to believe Billy's side, if only because his parents have actually been open about providing records and evidence of their claims, so it's mildly disheartening to see this counter-"attack" be so ... hysterical.
posted by Phire at 10:06 AM on April 11, 2008


Phire- I'm in agreement that the letter could have been better written, but to be fair, they've been on the receiving end of an attack launched in the pages of their local paper that indicts their son as an abuser of cats and kids in wheelchairs. It's gotten intensely personal there, and local journalists and school officials are collaborating in a public relations counter attack against their son, using supposedly sealed records, and even contradicting the information that Billy's official records contain. I might not be so coherent if I were in their shoes.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:53 PM on April 11, 2008


« Older Rapid Offensive Unit Xenophobe will no doubt be...   |   "To say that I am a patient... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post