Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bully Boy

A 6th grade girl at a New Jersey middle school girl receives a series of sexually graphic text messages from her former "boy friend" of one week. The messages mount, and she finally shows them to her parents only after deleting her replies. Frantic and angry, the parents demand that the school do something.

The principle's initial inclination is to demur. The texting didn't happen during school, he pointed out. The parents should take this up with the boy's family or call the police. The girl's parents objected: They knew the family, and dealing with law enforcement would take too long. They wanted immediate action and renewed their request to the school for help. Reluctantly, the principle agreed and turned the matter over one of his administrators.

The administrator called the boy into his office and demanded an explanation. It wasn't me, the boy claimed. I lost the phone. Someone must have found it and sent the messages. The administrator assumed that the boy was lying until he checked school records. The boy had difficulty with grammar and sentence structure, yet the texts didn't reflect that. The administrator concluded that the boy might be telling the truth and investigated further. He identified a likely culprit, but could gather no corroborating evidence.

Meanwhile, earlier this year New Jersey governor Chris Christie proposed an austerity budget aimed at reducing the state's $10.7 billion deficit. It includes an $820 million dollar cut in education, which will leave New Jersey school districts with few choices: They can appeal for increases in local property taxes or cut staff and course offerings. Affluent districts will go approve property tax increases; the remainder likely will not, thus further increasing the opportunity gap between the haves and everyone else.

This all comes at a time when parents demand more of schools, such as policing cyberbullying.

My first inclination was to sympathize with the parents. The kids probably wouldn't know each other were it not for school. The bullying may have started there. Moreover, the girl's parents may have had better reasons for not taking it up with the boy's family than they let on. As for calling the police, the parents had a point. I don't what things are like in that part of New Jersey, but Seattle police would get around to for in a week or two, if at all: They have resource issues of their own and bigger fish to fry. Where I live, the police would come right out, ask a few questions, then talk with the boy's family. But as the bully's identity hinged on grammatical skills, the school was arguably in a better position than the police to get to the bottom of the matter.

On the other hand, consider the school's situation. Operating and teaching in a public middle school are two of the most demanding jobs in education. The kids are all over the map in terms of sexual development: My late wife once told me that a typical class would have boys who shaved and boys whose voice hadn't changed, girls so shy they'd barely look up and girls falling out of newly stuffed clothes. Their minds are on anything but class, and yet they have to be taught. And all in the contexts of budget cuts and pressure resulting from the conservative tactic of blaming teachers for the problems in public education. Given this, one can hardly blame the principle for thinking, You want me to do what? About something that didn't even happen here? Give me a break.

I don't know the answer here, if there is one. As a parent, I'd feel unequipped to deal with the other family, and the issue seems bigger than typical bullying: This is sexual bullying at the most vulnerable age. Does the perp not understand what he's doing, or is he a burgeoning predator? Wouldn't a healthy community line up behind the girl in some way, whether through school or police? The problem won't go away even as the means to address it contract. What is to be done?...

Deep in recession, Ireland faces 13% unemployment, a brain drain, and the consequences of contracting an economy during hard times...

New Orleans skylight...

Ten myths about the Deepwater Spill. While these are on the money, it's not enough to say that clean energy jobs are better and more plentiful: Environmentalists and policy makers must draw a clear and convincing path of migration from extraction jobs to green jobs. (And environmentalists have to show that they care, which isn't always evident.) Otherwise, the claims come across as pie in the sky to the people whose livelihoods depend on drilling rigs...

The way we were? “Nah,” Mr. Osmond said. “Kids are still the same as they were in 1810"...

8 comments:

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

What a mess! Maybe the kids should have phones that only make & receive phone calls. They don't need to spend time texting, but that may be too simplistic. Still, I'm not sure why one thinks the school should be involved if it didn't happen at school or at a school function. It seems parents tend to look to schools to solve too many of the problems that involve kids. The end result as discovered by the school does seem to put things in a different light.

Roy said...

Love the Wes Montgomery clip, and it especially reminded me that Harold Mabern is one of the more overlooked pianists in the business.

I'd heard about that Leave It to Beaver set coming out. I knew Jerry Mathers was still acting, and of course everybody always makes a big deal about Ken Osmond as a cop, but I had no idea Tony Dow went on to be a director, especially for something as far out as Babylon 5! And there's just something very disturbing in the idea of Lumpy Rutherford (Frank Bank) guiding people's financial futures!

I have teachers all through my family, so it's no surprise to me to see the educational system once again being asked to serve in loco parentis. And the fact that one administrator caught the difference in style between the text messages and the kid's grammatical lacks points out that educators often are well suited to the task. But you're right, we ask an awful lot of teachers, and there really needs to be a national discussion on just how much we really should ask of them.

Renegade Eye said...

It's complicated being a parent today. I believe most females at a sexual experience by 12 yrs old. See Miley Cyrus's new video.

Rastamick61 said...

K Once again you've opened a can o' eduworms here. In Buffalo Schools we've always waded into stuff that happened off school grounds I think essentially it's because of what you noted above : if not for school these kids would not even know each other. Thus the thug who thinks he and his crew can annihilate some poor sap on the busride (soon to be videotaped) often confesses in the office the next day insisting it wasn't on school grounds so there's nothing you can do to me ! Au contraire. I am not certain of the legal position but it has always been assumed anything on the way to or way home from school is fair game and can be treated as a school infraction. A few years ago a student who suffered from situational stuttering if there is such a thing left an obscene message on a young female teacher's home phone. He was recorded expressing his desire to lick her p-p-p-p-p, well you get it....He was also formally suspended after being confronted with the tape and confessing. The thing lacking in most places I find is the most crucial element in any leadership role, a spine. Everyone is so terrified of a lawsuit that they'll often sit and do nothing at the expense of the kid whose getting bombed with sexts. The fact that this guy's compositional skills were not up to the level of the sexts should have been like a teacher's moment to shine. He should have been exonerated with solid educational evidence if that was the case. I am off to google this mess, thanks for the heads up. Sucks about the Celtic Tiger too, the truck drivers we talked to in the hotel lounge used the phrase derisively saying it should be called the foreign investment Tiger since none of the paddies they knew were doing any better.

Steven said...

What will it take for this nation to understand how important education is? I'm still of the opinion that a nationwide strike of the teacher's is the only thing left to do. But...the teacher's have been the 'whipping boy' for so long, I doubt that they have the will to pull it off.

Doesn't anyone understand taxation? Sigh...

K. said...

Lizzie: Personally, I think it's nuts for any kid under 16 to have a cell phone. But try getting that law passed... I don't know how effectively I could deal with these situations where a lot of kids pile on. That seems bigger than a worried mother and father.

Roy: Wes is a treasure! Still the best on jazz guitar.

Unfortunately, we don't have national discussions on much of anything these days. The Republicans use any given issue as a means of scoring ideological points.

Ren: Tell me about it. I once stopped going out with a childless woman mostly because she kept giving me advice about how to raise kids.

K. said...

Rasta: Thanks for joining in! Forgive me, but that one situation sounds like something out of Monty Python.

The point about a lawsuit is germane. Another part of the article dealt with the family of a bully who successfully sued the school that suspended the bully.

Steven: In answer to your question, no.

Teacher strikes are chancy; parents really resent them unless the reasons behind them are especially egregious, and a strike needs parental backing.

Rastamick61 said...

Steven, here in NY we have a Taylor law that dings us 2 days pay for every day on a picket line. Teachers are usually a little skittish financially to begin with ( read : cheap !!) so this law is a pretty good deterrent. You can lose the parents too and here teachers can lose tenure after a strike due to the same law which leaves anyone with an axe grinding administrator wide open for retribution that could never be had otherwise. My background as a union laborer however puts me in the minority when they start talking strike. It would be worth it if only to let them know it can happen. When French farmers roll their tractors through the Tour de France nobody wonders if they're serious !!!!