It was sad one day this week as I browsed through the Associated Press top stories of the day. First there was the story of another school shooting, this time with four kids dead in Michigan, then the very next story was about a 10-year-old autistic student’s November death by suicide being blamed on bullying at school.
Such news does not cast a good light our school systems. But looking at both topics deeper, they really have little to do with the schools.
Schools have not changed all that much. It’s the kids being sent to school with little to no parental direction that have changed, in my opinion.
Bullying has been around since schools originated. Someone always has to prove they are bigger and badder, or more cute and popular, than others. It’s not much different in the adult world, although I’d like to think some of us outgrow such behavior as we age.
I did not have to worry about school shootings while attending prep school in the 1960s and ’70s. Society had not yet degenerated to that level. Some would you have you believe that often, school shootings happen because the perpetrator has been bullied at school. That could be true. But there was plenty of bullying going on when I was in school, and for some reason no one ever resorted to shooting down their classmates.
My wife says it’s worse these days. Judging from what I tolerated, I’d like to think not. But my wife and I were school classmates in grades K-12, and now she’s a sixth-grade school teacher, so even though I don’t like to admit it, I have to suppose she has a better grasp on this bullying thing than I do.
The thing is, it’s hard to believe it could be worse. I remember in elementary school when young students — because they were poor, didn’t have nice clothes, maybe didn’t have the best hygiene (no fault of their own), or just because they were in any way a little different from most of the rest — were picked on and shunned daily. They had “koodies”, we said.
We were cruel. Very cruel. I’d like to think I did not take part in such behavior, and I know I cringed at times when I saw it happen, but I didn’t stand up for those being ostracized. And I’m certain that from time to time I joined in with the mob mentality, even though my parents taught me better.
I didn’t get much better as we advanced through school. I can only imagine what some went through, because I went through enough.
One kid, a year older than me, liked to pick on me and push me around, begging for some kind reaction, when we got stuck inside during lunchtime in junior high. One day a stocky acquaintance I didn’t know all that well took care of that problem, slapping the kid who was bothering me around a bit and letting him know more of the same would follow if he pestered me again. He never did, at least during my school years.
Another time as a freshman someone stole a T-shirt I really liked at basketball practice. A couple days later the thief had the audacity to wear my shirt to practice, begging me to say something so he could start a fight. It was not the only time he did something like that. But I didn’t have the guts to respond at the time.
Those kind of things happened often, maybe because I was small and skinny, had things going for me the other kids envied, and seemed like an easy target.
One time at track practice, when I was wearing a brand new white sweat suit and our cinder track was wet and nasty, a teammate stuck out his leg and tripped me as I was running by where he was loafing at the edge of the track. When I got up my sweat suit was pretty much ruined, and black cinders coated my hands. The guy was bigger and stronger than me, but by that time I’d had enough. So I looked at my hands, walked up to the guy who tripped me, and wiped my hands down the front of his shiny green windbreaker. He started jumping up and down telling me to hit him. I told him if he wanted to fight, he could throw the first punch, because I wasn’t going anywhere. But after he ran his mouth a little more, he never bothered me again.
Another time I ran into an issue at the Highland County Fair. Some friends and I had been in an attraction for about 10 seconds, when the young attendant that told us we could enter the attraction suddenly told us to get out. An argument ensued about getting our tickets back. The young attendant — much bigger than me — reached out to grab me, and I slapped his hand away. The rumor that went around was that I hit the attendant.
My friends and I were told that if we returned to the fair, there would be trouble. My friends did not return, bit I did — partly because I’d grown tired of being bullied (even though I was actually quite scared) and partly because I’d become a little cocky.
As it turned out, I got jumped at the fair the first time I returned — punched in the throat a couple times and knocked over a midway game’s railing before I had time to react. But I fought back. Later, as I continued to walk around the fairgrounds with a lady friend, I received lots of threats. “We’re gonna get you!” a large group of guys kept saying as they’d walk by a little too close for comfort. But I stood my ground, and nothing else ever happened.
Those were just a few of many similar incidents that pretty much vanished once I started standing up for myself.
These days, too many decide to stand up for themselves by gunning down others at a school. Some of the victims are surely targeted, others completely innocent. It happens at schools because there are a lot of easy targets in a confined area.
It happens, I believe, because too many have no direction from home. They are left to grow up pretty much on their own, with no one to point them down life’s proper paths. They come from broken families, from homes where there is too much drug and alcohol abuse, from homes where domestic violence happens daily, from homes where there is no one that really cares.
It sure does not cast a good light on our society.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com or 937-402-2522.