A friend of mine called me this morning to vent her frustration over her local school district's growing obsession with its anti-bullying campaigns. Yesterday her kids attended what she believes was the fourth anti-bullying assembly since the beginning of the school year – not including the messaging that was woven into the annual Red Ribbon Week festivities – and she found it troubling that the leitmotif of each new event seems to build from the intensity of previous assemblies to what is now bordering on reckless cruelty.
This woman – this concerned mother is worried that the anti-bullying train has jumped the rails and is careening over a cliff, and she's fearful that it's going to drag untold numbers of children down with it as school districts continue to employ severe "scared straight" techniques to what one can only assume is an outright epidemic of student on student violence. No other explanation for such extreme and devoted messaging makes sense at this point.
In short, there is legitimate concern now that the problem of bullying as a social issue has transmogrified and has taken on an almost ghoulish life of its own. More and more, the anti-bullying message contains a level of fanaticism that is creating an unhealthy atmosphere for school children.
Yesterday's topic dealt the violence of cyber bullying and suicide. The same school district will continue its Festival of Violence tomorrow with an anti-sexual harassment assembly dealing with Erin's Law that will cover the following topics:
- Defining touch and non-touch offenses of sexual abuse
- Understanding incest as a form of sexual abuse, developing an understanding that sexual abuse is NEVER THE VICTIMS FAULT
- Understanding the motivation for sexual abuse, POWER AND CONTROL
- Understanding Risk Reduction and Prevention Strategies and the importance of TELLING A TRUSTED ADULT
Just this very minute I was harkening back to long ago when I was in middle school. I was trying to remember how I felt in the days before Christmas vacation…with snow covering the ground, with an air of excitement all around. Of course, some years were better than others. There were times I was in social demand. There were times I was a social pariah. Such is the ebb and the flow of life. Still, I don't remember having to endure even one lecture of this magnitude let alone four. I don't remember talking about suicide in middle school. I remember talking an awful lot about school dances, football games and going to the mall.
Naturally, that was without Facebook to keep a running timeline of every stream of consciousness meandering that a child can produce. Social media is definitely a problem for kids today and it's a nuanced interaction that we have a hard time explaining because we never precisely experienced it for ourselves.
In those days, the harassed would just change their phone numbers. In this age of hyper connectivity, it would take more effort to put distance between you and your bully. Discussing the pitfalls associated with nameless, faceless social interaction makes a lot of sense. The question is simply this; how much is too much?
We had assemblies when I was in middle school too. Usually there was about one a month, and they covered a wide range of issues and themes, but the best assemblies were in December. Sometimes we would get called down to the cafetorium to hear the school choir sing a selection of Christmas songs. Sometimes we would get a reprieve from third period math so that we could watch the student council offer their dubious rendition of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
None of that is possible anymore because the hegemony of Christianity offends.
It's a funny thing about progressivism, isn't it? Christianity offends. Discussions of sexual harassment and suicide do not. Those topics must be endured by children because those conversations are culturally relevant. They are important. They are what matters. Do whatever it takes to pummel the message into young brains by whatever means or force necessary - because the violence of bullying is out of control.
There are no Christmas concerts. There are no mythical visitations from three ghosts. There's no Christmas vacation…only winter break which is as cold and as soul sucking as four…no, make that five anti-bullying assemblies. For the low price of only $6.6 billion dollars of Illinois taxpayer funds annually and six mind bending hours of each child's life every day, our children have only bleak admonishments for violent crimes that they have not committed. They walk through macabre drills on how to survive a school shooting. They attend assemblies about intimidation, cyber stalking and sexual harassment that wear and bleach their spirits as the waves of anti-bullying and anti-violence messaging pound them over and over again.
No. I want you to think about this for a second from a kid's perspective. We send our children to school ostensibly to learn skills that will take them through life and help them be productive members of society. Math, science, social studies, English…throw in some PE and computer arts and we're good to go. They get all their supplies, some new gym shoes, a backpack, maybe one of those 64 packs of Crayolas. With that accomplished, we load our kids on the bus and they're off to the races.
They walk off the bus and from that moment forward, they are inundated with conversation after conversation, assembly after assembly, story after short story about violence. The violence that awaits them at every turn. Bullies, cyber bullies, sexual predators, racists, bigots, homophobes, kids and adults that seem okay on the face of it but end up doing unspeakable things to other people. To other kids. Maybe to them.
If I were a 5 to 18 year old student in today's system, if I were constantly berated with the message that any one of the kids around me might be lose it at any moment and start hurting me, I would literally be asking the adults around me, "Have you lost your ever-loving mind? Why do you keep sending me back to a death trap?"
Are schools death traps or aren't they death traps? If they aren't, then perhaps we should stop telling our kids that they are. If they are, then we have no business as responsible adults in sending our children into harm's way. We as society have the audacity to point to the sweat shops of the Industrial Revolution and criticize a system that would put children in such danger? We're morally superior?
Imagine a world where kids were excused from third period math for academic enrichment instead of another tortuous discussion on bullying. Imagine the math fluency that students would achieve if schools emphasized geometry with the same religious fervor that they use to emphasize suicide and bullying. We wonder why the United States scores lowest in academic achievement of all the industrialized nations. It's because schools tell kids that math and science are not what they should be taking away from their academic experience. Our schools tell students every day that they are nothing more than the walking dead. As a result, we are producing brittle and parched driftwood that will become the next generation of Americans.