Saturday, 26 February 2011

One of the local high schools

'phoned me yesterday. Could I possibly do them a huge favour and come over? They will send someone to get me. There has been an "incident" involving one of the disabled students and he is asking for me because his parents are away. He is staying with his grandparents this week and does not want to worry them immediately.
"What sort of incident?" I ask cautiously.
"Bullying. He's still very upset and this time it is too serious to ignore."
What? This time? Any bullying is too serious to ignore.
I tell them I will pedal over - be there in about 15 minutes because I would rather be independent with respect to transport. I do not welcome the idea of walking all the way from their carpark to the office. It is faster to ride and park my tricycle outside the door. Right.

Kid in question is in his first year there. He was bailed up in the toilet block. They knocked him around, took his crutches and left him to crawl out. He does not know the names of the boys involved and nobody else is saying anything.
The kid looks a mess. His shirt is torn and his trousers are filthy. There is a bruise coming up on his face and, when I get there, he finally admits to a few other bruises as well.
"Cat, I hate it here!" he mutters to me through clenched teeth as the school's first aid officer finishes physically sorting him out. I am sure he does.
Of course the head and the deputy head and a teacher and the teacher who was on duty all want to know what he did to bring it on.
"Nothing. They just don't like me."
"But there must be a reason."
Kid and I look at one another. Yes, there is a reason. It is not one he can do anything about. It is simple. He is different. He knows I understand that but we both doubt the staff do - if they did they would not be asking the question.
The school staff think they have educated the students. There is an anti-bullying programme in place. That may reduce the problem but it will not stop it, indeed it will only cause some of it to go even further underground. This was far more blatant than usual.
I can understand the staff not wanting to admit they have failed but placing the blame back on the kid, telling him he must have done something, is not going to help. I doubt he is at fault. He will certainly not have answered back. He is just there. He is available. He is a target for the frustrations and inadequacies of the others involved.
He has made no friends to date although "some of the kids are okay". What he means is that they leave him alone. He would rather be left alone and lonely. He is worried, indeed more than worried about what his parents are going to say.
"They think I have made it Big Time just being here Cat!" he whispers to me as the head tries to deal with another issue as well.
He thinks he is a failure. We both know he is not. He has overcome huge odds just to get this far. He is in the top third academically but all that could change if the circumstances do not change.
We discuss all this. Inevitably we leave the situation unresolved. When his parents get back there will be another conference. He wants me to be there for that too. I might be old enough to be his grandmother but he believes I understand better than his parents or any of his teachers.
As I leave he says,
"Thanks heaps for coming Cat. Sorry it got too much for me."
He is apologising to me? Will they apologise to him? I doubt it.


widdershins said...

Dan Savage started the 'It get's better' project as a response to gay kids being bullied in school so much that some of them committed suicide, and mainstream newsrats picked up on it. Maybe there's something you can do along those lines for this very brave young man

here's the website

Rachel Fenton said...

Children can be cruel. Adults should know better.

I actually cried reading this.

Anonymous said...

Honestly Cat? If I could find the sods I would send them off to boot camp and give them a taste of their own medicine. Chris

Sheep Rustler said...

I cried too. He should be at our local state high school. They are far from perfect but they have never once suggested that my son has started any 'incident', and he has been involved in a few. They have a serious disability integration programme and the vice principal in charge of discipline takes all bullying issues very seriously indeed. Poor boy, I am glad that he at least has you to help him, but the world should not be organised in this way.

Anonymous said...

Oh right, so nobody is talking? What a lovely group of young people - not. I'll be seeing him tomorrow. Will see if I can find him something he can do to help me if you think that would make him feel wanted/useful. Bob C-S

catdownunder said...

Thankyou Widdershins! (Sorry do not know your name.)
Yes please Bob - his parents will be back Tuesday but a little extra right now will help. Thanks
Rachel I have passed over a copy of the book. He might relate to Chantal.
Judy - your son's school sounds better than most! Many of them think they are doing the right thing but they have no idea what is really going on.

Miriam Drori said...

Perhaps I was right not to tell the adults in my life about the bullying. They wouldn't have understood, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I think the teachers were perhaps trying to get both sides of the story... you have only one side. Admittedly sympathies should be with the victim, but invariably the situation and the incident are more complex than that.

It's also possible that the bullies are themselves victims and need support somewhere in this.

The knee-jerk reaction of outsiders is to attribute blame and seek 'vengeance' or retribution - and so by waving a magic wand put the world to rights. Insiders (here the teachers) seek to understand... both what they can do to apprehend the bullies and to prevent them from bullying again, AND to school the victim in how to better avoid the incident occurring against them in the future. That seems to me to be sensible.

As someone who went to many different schools in my school years, I was rarely bullied - I was in every place I went to 'different' and bullying went on. I learned how to avoid being bullied, how not to end up in the firing line. Now, I believe there shouldn't be a firing line, but I also believe that 'victims' can be educated to do something to help their situation. Schools need to tackle the problem from many different angles, not just clubbing the bullies over the head.

catdownunder said...

Anonymous (the last - I know the other two) yes there are two sides to every question. However in this instance the kid in question asked for me because I was one of the people who has trained him to handle verbal bullying and teasing. He has been in the school less than three weeks and did not know the boys who physically attacked him.
Now, what would you do to help a kid who has been given the tools to handle bullying but not physical violence? - which by the way he would be physically unable to handle. I would genuinely be interested to know.

Anonymous said...

At this distance from the case I could not comment fully on the specifics. What I wouldn't do for starters is make such a thing public and start a 'witch hunt' scenario. What I also wouldn't do is use this as an excuse to 'teacher bash'; god knows, they are apparently responsible for enough of society's failings.

Perhaps I would consider pairing the boy with a strong 'guardian' in the school, at least to start with, a pupil who could be trusted and whose finer side could be appealed to and relied on and who was already accepted and respected amongst his peers.

I would do more work on 'bullying' in the school, (you can never really do enough) more workshops, assemblies lead by pupils, set up a buddying system using seniors, make it a bigger part of the whole school's ethos, make it part of every subject in the school, hold a focus week, get adults from outside the school to come and talk about the impact bullying made on them... and so on and so on.

There is no magic wand and it does take time and effort... you will never completely eradicate it, but a philosophy of zero tolerance has to begin somewhere.

Oh, and the young boy will continue to need some counselling along the way.

Just some thoughts - trying to be helpful. Best of luck.