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Quiet desperation

For too many young people, school days become cruel days


I was in sixth grade the first time I heard about bullying. One of my classmates at Acacia Elementary in Fullerton, California, had a brother at the junior high school I would be attending the following year.

"Chris" told me about "pantsing."

I had nightmares.

However, he never mentioned slaps or punches. Mostly just humorous pranks. I think the humor in pranking is one-sided, and imbecilic.

It turns out that nothing happened in junior high school.

When I was a freshman in high school, the varsity quarterback knuckled my sternum for no apparent reason. There were others around when he did it. Maybe that was the point: Let others know that you are the BMOC.

It never occurred to me to bully a freshman when I became a senior. I left it for the dummies.

There are always a few, aren't there?

I read an Associate Press article headlined "Sex crimes increase in schools; bullying persists." I am not surprised.

"One in five middle and high school students has complained of being bullied at school; and the number of reports of sexual assaults on college campuses has more than tripled over the past decade, according to a federal study.

"The picture was bleaker for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students."

I haven't done the research, but my guess is that a lot of this starts at home, and is abetted by television and movies.

As a college student, I was naïve enough to think that things in America could change and be overcome, someday. But here I sit decades later, and things haven't improved.

There's a good chance that your overweight daughter will be picked on. There's a good chance that your effeminate son will be picked on.

"Gabriel Taye, 8, took his own life two days after being kicked and struck by his classmates at his public school in Cincinnati, according to the surveillance footage obtained by attorneys" (The Cincinnati Enquirer).

Maybe you have seen the video. It's heartbreaking.

But it's not a complete anomaly. Google: "bullied, commits suicide."

We pick on each other, and always have.

Maybe there is a "survival of the fittest" explanation in there somewhere. And it's not only boys being boys. It's girls being girls too.

Typically, I don't have any answers. I have noticed that respect for others has taken a back seat to self-absorption, however.

Have you ever observed a customer on the phone at the register? That's an increment of bullying. The employee is being "bullied" with disrespect.

I have seen parents bullying their children in public.

"Behave or I'll slap you," is a contrary message.

It doesn't look like all of the harassment and discrimination seminars that schools and other institutions provide have accomplished very much.

If little Johnny follows the news and has read about Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar, Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, the Marines photo scandal and others, what might little Johnny think?

"And crown thy good with brotherhood," with occasional exceptions for harassment, homophobia and sexism.

And then there is the internet.

I'll leave the role the internet plays in all of this to sociologists. I just know it's there, and that I am a fingertip away from regret, and an inevitable retraction or apology.

I wasn't there, Gabriel, but I'll say it anyhow. I'm sorry.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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