Taking a stand against bullies

We all have encountered bullies, some more than others.

In Dixfield this week, educators at Dirigo Middle School confronted the problem of bullying with an assembly to talk about the harm of name-calling and other forms of harassment.

As part of that work, blank posters were hung in hallways on Tuesday so that, on Wednesday, students could write down some of the names they’d been called at school. It was a good idea that went awry because of — well — bullies.

Instead of a lesson in awareness, the posters became platforms for vandals to jot down racial slurs, vulgarities and any derogatory name a middle school student can think to call another. There are a lot, and all of them are unsuitable for print in this newspaper.

The name-calling wasn’t limited to students, and included grossly indecent language describing teachers and others.

Educators designed the project to find out what bullies are saying so they could confront the ugliness. It worked, but the result was much more repulsive than teachers and administrators could ever have anticipated. And, of course, parents were shocked.

They shouldn’t have been.

Name-calling and school-age harassment is an ugly rite of passage, even in the most civilized cultures. That doesn’t make it right.

And, at least in recent years, this “rite” has turned deadly in the form of homicide and suicide as intimidation becomes more graphic and personal with expanding social media becoming the preferred platform to convey insults, rumors and lies.

Suicide among young people who have been bullied has become so common that it now has a term: bullycide.

According to a 2010 Yale School of Medicine study, suicide rates among adolescents have grown more than 50 percent in the past three decades in the United States. It is the leading cause of death among children 14 years and younger.

Brandon Bitner is among those dead.

In November 2010, according to the Patriot-News, “rather than endure another four years of being called a ‘faggot’ and ‘sissy,’” the 14-year-old straight-A student-musician at Midd-West High School in Pennsylvania “stepped in front of a tractor-trailer rig” and killed himself.

Last April, 14-year-old pals Haylee Fentress and Paige Moravetz hanged themselves at Moravetz’ house after months of being bullied at their school in Indiana.

Last November in Illinois, 10-year-old Ashlynn Conner hanged herself in her bedroom closet after enduring aggressive bullying at her elementary school for the previous three years.

And, in the case of South Hadley High School’s 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, nine Massachusetts teens were indicted in 2010 for the bullying and cyberbullying that allegedly drove Prince to kill herself by hanging.

The Yale study reports that 160,000 students — that’s 15 percent of the entire U.S. student population — miss school every day because they’re afraid of being bullied when they get to class, and that one in every seven students in kindergarten through grade 12 is either a bully or has been victimized by a bully.

Statistically speaking, that’s “2.7 million students being bullied each year by about 2.1 million students taking on the role of the bully,” according to Yale.

That’s a lot of pain and fear in our schools, and it’s most intense among fourth- through eighth-graders.

On Monday, Maine’s Education Committee voted unanimously to pass LD 1237, an anti-bullying bill.

We urge the full Legislature to support this measure.

The legislation won’t make bullying disappear, but it will hold bullies accountable for their actions — school by school.

Schools will be responsible for writing and enforcing their own policies, based on a model policy drafted by the Department of Education, with input from parents, teachers, administrators, students and members of the community, so each policy will be tailored to the community and the people it serves.

If passed, Maine will join 47 other states that have passed such laws.

It’s a sad reflection on our society that we need to force schools to write and enforce anti-bullying policies, but if the episode at Dirigo Middle School is any indication, it’s clear that bullies aren’t going to police themselves.

We have an obligation to protect victims of intimidation and harassment in our schools. If we don’t, the lessons they learn there will carry into adulthood.

At Yale, researchers found that “among students of all ages, homicide perpetrators were found to be twice as likely as homicide victims to have been bullied previously by their peers.”

That cannot be the legacy of Maine schools.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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Comments

Steve  Dosh's picture

Taking a stand against bullies

all 1 pm hst
This is all c r a z y talk ladies and gents
Go volunteer at your local school and see what it's really like , for better or worse , in this , the 21st century . The up side is that it will make you feel much younger and better about yourself , too . You'll make tons of friends , too , who will physically " come around [ Paul ] " and visit you at the holidays . The kids all smile , have fun , laugh and will love you for it . They will . i do it :) /s, Dr. Dosh , Hawai'i

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Yup, and everyone has warm

Yup, and everyone has warm milk and cookies at bedtime and we all watch reruns of Little House on the Prairie. It's just not the way it is, Doc; maybe in Honolulu Land, but not here.

Frank Lambert's picture

Bullying

I was picked on when I was young because I was very big for my age. I learned to deal with it and drive on. The kids now adays are very week and we are making them that way. If they try to defend themselves they get into trouble. I have told my two girls if anyone threatens you or hits you to defend yourself and I will not punish you for it. On the other had if they start trouble they will be in trouble and it will be dealt with. More parents need to take this stance and maybe there children will not make the wrong choice to kill themselves. I have deffened a smaller kid in school against bullys and did not get introuble.

Steve  Dosh's picture

. . Tuesday 1 pm Hawai'i

. . Tuesday 1 pm Hawai'i time
That's right , Frank , yet, i wouldn't say they are weak . Compassion , empathy , and understanding simply signifies strength of character in my book
The kids know all who the bullies are and who started it . They , the bullies , might win a battle but they - always - lose the war . I said it before and i'll say it again ; friends come and go but enemies accumulate
Suicide ? A lot of these bullies commit slow suicide once they get finally in to drugs , smoking , spousal abuse and alcohol ( unfortunately ) . It's low self esteem that drives them to do all this violent and nasty counterproductive crap . That and an atmosphere of hatred , distain , abandonment , and rejection that they probably live in when they go home for the day , if they even go home to the same house every day
Bullies want to be loved and appreciated like anyone else
Think of the parents of these kdis
Yeah, them . ...
h t h ? Dr. Dosh

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Most bullies have to be

Most bullies have to be introduced to a clear understanding of what a good wack in the nose feels like. Many usually come around after that.

Steve  Dosh's picture

. .eEeEeEeeee , Paul , :)

. .eEeEeEeeee , Paul , :)
Violence begat violence
Two wrongs don't make a right ?
Violence is not a social norm where we all come from
We wouldn't even hit a dog on his nose
Live by the sword die by the sword ( think : Saddam Hussein & Muammar Gaddafi )
Only L o v e can conquer h a t e
hth /s, Steve <3

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

If one of your kids came home

If one of your kids came home from school beat up beyond recognition, you might see it differently. Sorry, Doc, but we will not agree on this one. Bullies respond to only one thing; retaliation with greater force.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

Defending themselves is all

Defending themselves is all well and good. However, bullying has changed. It is no longer just one kid bullying another but is now a group of kids bullying one. The odds are too overwhelming for one child to "just defend himself (herself)"

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Very true, Tina. They run

Very true, Tina. They run around, now, like packs of wild dogs. Going for the mouthy one can yield positive results at times, but it's risky as it can backfire some times. Or, better yet, befriend a really tough kid and your bully problems are over.

Sandra Coulombe's picture

Bullying has been on the rise

Bullying has been on the rise since the right to self defense was stripped from children in schools. The zero tolerance policies only make it easy on the staff and on the bullies who find it highly amusing the kid they have been tormenting for months finally snapped, punched them as they so richly deserved and is now the one in trouble.
Back in the dark ages when I was in elementary school something like 3rd grade I came across a boy terrorizing a smaller kid kindergarten, maybe first grader. I came to the defense of the smaller child. I was congratulated by the adults not punished for doing what was right! Today I would be the one suspended while the bully laughed all the way home. We have left our children powerless to defend themselves and wonder why things are as they are.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The things you say are true,

The things you say are true, Sandra, but that's no reason for any of us to refrain from doing the right thing when the opportunity presents itself.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

Bullying has increased in my

Bullying has increased in my opinion. It is now also a cultural difference between the children. With the current school population as diverse as it is there is a lot of misunderstanding of the different cultures and issues that face the children. A child who has ADD, ADHD, medical problems, learning disabilities, or are just plain different get bullied on a regular basis in some of our schools. My son is one of the kids who has been bullied to an extreme and I am looking at not sending him to this middle school as he will be put back with the kids who went after him on a daily basis. I moved once to get away from it but there is no moving to another district for middle and high school in this city.

MARK GRAVE's picture

What would be interesting to

What would be interesting to know is whether the amount of bullying in schools has increased over the past 1, 2, or 3 decades.

 's picture

of course it has, ever since

of course it has, ever since your clan has mastered social media

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Now, T...you know darn well

Now, T...you know darn well that any bullying that's going on is Bush's fault. "Your clan"....where do you get that stuff? Watching too much Sesame Street?

Steve  Dosh's picture

Mark Sunday night 6 pm hst .

Mark Sunday night 6 pm hst
. .One might tend to think that it has decreased over time seeing how teachers can not slap kids' hands with a splintered ruler any more or put them in the corner with a dunce cap on
The current trend in public education is towards mainstreaming everyone . Mainstreaming simply means having the ADD , ADHD , Down syndrom , Asperger syndrom ( a tic ) and other handicapped kids in the classroom with everyone else , albeit with special tutors and attendents around . In fact , having volunteered for the past 7 years at the local elementary school ( K - 6th = 7 :) and having been with all these kids , there are a lot more of us adults around to stop it when we see or hear about it . Elementary school kids are instructed to tell an adult about any thing wrong , weird , or out of place . Middle school is different it seems , being the teens and tweens
Kids are smarter these days , too , and they'll surprise you at times with their insights
Chalk it up to good nutrition , upbringing , more non-contact sports at recess and gym and less violence all around :) h t h , Dr. Dosh

Steve  Dosh's picture

Taking a stand against bullies

Dan ? Why the Governor ¿ WaAAaåAaay off topic , dudicle ?
Thanks Joyce , Sat. 22:22 hst •
We believe that children are our future . Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside . Give them a sense of pride to make it easier . Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be
Everybody's searching for a hero . People need someone to look up to Depend on yourselves . Never to walk in anyone's shadows . If you fail, if you succeed , at least you live as you believe
No matter what they take from you . They can't take away your dignity
-- Whitney Houston
Whitney's greatest hit song "I Will Always Love You," was written and originally recorded by Dolly Parton in 1974 . Funny , huh ? Bff's <3
Listen . You male or female anti - G L B T or homophobic bullies need to learn and fully understand that there's always another bigger and nastier bully around the corner out to get you , and you alone
Friends come and go , all you haters
Enemies accumulate • Remember that ? h t h • /s, Steve Dosh

 's picture

The anti-bullying campaign

The anti-bullying campaign should start at the top with the governor stopping his bully tactics. When kids see authority bullying, they think its acceptable. We need to teach from example.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Nonsense...the bullied need

Nonsense...the bullied need to start fighting back. More than one? Go for the mouthy one; the rest will fall in line.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

Paul while I might normally

Paul while I might normally agree with you but when a 70 pound kid gets attacked, bullied, threatened, or chased by a group of 20-30 I would not promote going after the biggest kid just to be pounded on by the rest of them. It is time for a reality check. When you report an episode of bullying to the police now a days they talk to the parties involved and come back and say well the 20-30 of them say this so it is their word against the word of 1 so there is not really anything we can do as it will be thrown out of court. It is time to say enough is enough...arrest the little bullies and give them a taste of the big bad world as a community and not just as an individual. The more the justice system looks the other way the worse it is going to get.

And for those that are going to start blaming the influx , think again, the white kids do it too. The difference is the influx runs in bigger packs because they are concentrated in one or two areas... but all kids do it. Let's put the power back in the hands of the teachers, parents, schools, and the justice department. When we say we have a 0 tolerance then let's treat it that way and make the consequences meet the crime. If you want to say they bully because of low self esteem then put the parents on notice too...charge them as well for failing to be responsible for their child. If my children ever acted the way some of the kids today do they would find out that mama is not one to make mad. I have no doubt that my children act differently when I am not around but god help them if mama finds out they did wrong.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Fair enough. My scenario was

Fair enough. My scenario was in no way suggesting one kid taking on 20 or 30. That's the time to start singing the anthem of survival, "Come on, legs". The ol' man used to say, if you can't outtalk 'em or outfight 'em, make damn sure you can outrun 'em.

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