This week we offer a different type of Rob Tornoe commentary. The topic is bullying. It comes through the thoughts of a friend of Rob’s with some first hand knowledge on the topic.
Here is Rob’s commentary:
When I sat down to come up with ideas for this week’s cartoon, I came across a Facebook post by Mary Roisland, a friend and someone I’ve known off-and-on since I was six. I don’t have kids, and other than a couple of scuffles, I was fortunate that I wasn’t bullied in school. But as she described what happened to her son, and the length he went to in order to end the torture imposed by bullying, I knew I had to draw a cartoon about it. I invited Mary to write an essay about her experience, and her frustration with the failures of the system intended to help protect her child: It’s been seven days since my son walked in front of his school bus hoping it would hit him. Those few steps have forever changed my family. How could I have not seen a warning sign from my son? Had I really been so busy that I missed something? What kind of pain must my eleven-year-old be holding onto to take such a desperate act? I have more questions than answers. It took several hours for my son to really open up about why he would want to hurt himself. The answer – bullies.
On the bus rides, every single day, there was trouble on my son’s bus. Most days he sat near the bus driver with some other innocent children who didn’t want any trouble. But most days, as certain children entered or exited the bus, they would hit my son and call him insulting names for being white. My son began to hit them back, since his request for them to stop has been ignored. Each time my son hit a child in response to being hit himself, the bus driver would tell him to stop hitting others or he would get a write up.
In the cafeteria, my son would endure verbal assaults, and the other boys would take his lunch. When he reported it to a cafeteria monitor, he was told simply to “go back to you seat and eat your lunch.” There was no lunch to eat, and sitting there hungry, my son was teased until it was time to go back to class. During class, a boy that sat behind my son would dart freshly sharpened pencils at the back of his head. When my son cried out, he was told “to remain quiet during classwork.” This same pencil-throwing child would whisper obscenities and threats in his ear, and my son would complain to his teacher that he couldn’t concentrate in that seat. It took two weeks, but the perpetrator was moved.
A week before my son’s involuntary committal to a facility for treating these issues, he was assaulted by four other boys. They put him in a headlock, repeatedly punched him, pushed him down and kicked him. They stole his sweatshirt and dragged it through a mud puddle before my son was able to get it back. At that point, my son knew it was time to make it clear to his teacher that there was a serious problem going on. He went straight to the teacher supervising recess and reported the incident. My son was told, “I didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.” That was the moment my son lost all faith in his school, his teachers, and himself.
My son asked to be home schooled. I asked if it could wait two weeks since I needed to make the proper arrangements to ensure our success. My son promised he would go two weeks and count down the days. It was five days later that he made the decision to walk in front of his bus hoping he would be hurt.
Through the last seven days, I have learned of many more incidents that went unreported by my son. My son was embarrassed to report that the same boy who threw sharpened pencils at his head also tried to climb into his bathroom stall on several occasions. It was as if the only goal at school was to get them in class, get them to stay there, and keep them there all year. The school system seems to take a “cattle” approach to our children. They are all cows, all the same, and while there may be pushing and groaning from the herd, the goal is to get the herd to the last day of school with mostly satisfactory scores on everything.
The moment you stop treating each child as an individual in school is the moment you have lost focus on why you are a teacher, administrator, tutor, or paraprofessional in the first place. My son isn’t a cow who must move along to the next educational destination – he is a boy. A boy who can’t trust any adult in his school, a boy who was hurt by classmates and bus mates, a boy who just wants to be safe. My son wasn’t safe in the classrooms and cafeteria at school, my son wasn’t safe in the bathroom at school, and my son wasn’t safe on the bus either.
My son will be safe at home, where I can home school him. But bullies hurt too, and who is helping them?
October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, and Delaware has launched a Web site to help highlight and support bullying prevention efforts – DEleteBullying.org.
Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.