The youtube capture of the 68-year-old bus monitor being bullied by a group of 12-14 year olds has been viewed by almost 5 million and has raised the ire of each one of us. We are all full of opinions and judgments. But what would you do if you were the parent of one of these children?
The situation was so horrifying that our knee jerk reaction would likely be to shame the boys (I think they were all boys) with almost as horrific threats and punishments as they gave to their bus monitor. That’s what we do in reaction mode. And look where it’s gotten us.
The school district’s assistant superintendent for student services said, “Certainly the behavior of the students on the video is a clear violation of our district’s code of conduct and will not be tolerated. Disciplinary action to the fullest extent appropriate under New York education law will be taken against all involved.” I’m sure it will. But what will that disciplinary action be, and will it be effective? My guess is not at all.
How we handle bullying in our school systems certainly hasn’t helped yet. What can we learn from this incident? What can the bullies learn? What can schools learn—and will they?
As it turns out, one of the weapons used in the incident has become its best teacher—the cellphone used to capture the event. Upon seeing and hearing their own behavior apart from the pack mentality, the boys were able to experience the true natural consequences—how their behavior effected their victim, what they sounded like and what they did.
“I feel really bad about what I did,” one boy said. “I wish I had never done those things. If that had happened to someone in my family, like my mother or grandmother, I would be really mad at the people who did that to them.” A statement from another boy was, “I am so sorry for the way I treated you. When I saw the video, I was disgusted and could not believe I did that. I am sorry for being so mean and I will never treat anyone this way again.”
I hope that their learning will not be destroyed by the usual ineffective punishments doled out that could easily send them right back into the mindset that started it all.
Here’s what I would do:
1) Insure that each child spend fifteen minutes to a half hour alone with Mrs. Klein listening to what her experience was like and responding to her with his own thoughts and experience, 2) bring the boys together under the direction of a school
social worker to talk about their experience, why it happened and how they feel about it in hindsight, 3) write a paper about the experience and what they learned, and 4) assign them the job of partnering and designing a year long program in which they would talk to and teach their peers about the consequences of bullying using their experience.
Instead they will probably be suspended or given detention—much easier. Although with summer upon us, who knows if anything will happen until the event is history. I can only imagine what kind of treatment they will be given in their homes and neighborhoods. After all these are the homes in which they have learned how others should be treated.
The boys have received enormous amounts of hate emails and threats. Is this how we want to correct abhorrent behavior? Look at our society. As New York Times columnist Charles Bow says, “This kind of behavior is not isolated to children and school buses and suburban communities. It stretches to the upper reaches of society — our politics and our pulpits and our public squares.”
Our children are subject to the slandering, the lies, and the bullying now normalized by those we are supposed to look up to. How can we expect our children to do what we say and not what we do? When are we going to start taking responsibility for ourselves as parents, politicians, teachers, administrators and stop putting all the blame on our children who are doing what they do best—learning from modeling.