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Practical solutions to Bullying

This thing of bullying has become something of a “hot-button” topic in recent months and I’ve been giving it a lot of thought–both as a victim and practictioner of bullying during my formative years.

I will submit (and have submitted in the past) that nearly everyone can lay claim to having been bullied, and having taken part in bullying during their lives.  So let’s begin by admitting that none of us is without sin in this respect.

Having said that, I think that if this nation really wants to do something about the phenomenon of bullying in the public schools a lot could be done by firing around 90% of the coaches, physical ed teachers, guidance counselors, and a fair number of administrators to boot.

I know that may sound harsh.  I am not completely against the idea of physical education.  During my time in public schools I can recall one coach in particular who was a fine man.  He engaged the interest of our entire 6th grade class with his easy-going manner, and made us think that perhaps we could truly train our bodies and build a higher level of health for ourselves by applying what he taught us.  To you, Coach Mann, my hat is off–you made us look forward to our middle school years of formal “P.E.”

The reality of the following years was somewhat different.

My next half-dozen coaches appeared to be bitter men with little respect for anyone else, and rather than foster cooperation through team sports seemed to want to ridicule anyone except a few chosen kids who they felt worthy of their precious time.

They didn’t discourage bullying, they were–in fact–the ring-leaders.  They set up little pyramids of sports-related hierarchy, wherein only the most morally sound among the athletic students resisted the call to abuse all the academic and artistically-minded students.

I can recall several athletes who didn’t bow to this and continued to treat me and others like me with respect.  Interestingly, they were also the very folks that excelled on the sports field–apparently in spite of the training they were doubtless being subjected to by the bitter coaches.

But such friends were too few and far between.  I am thankful for those who resisted, but I still got pushed around a lot by the others.

The coaches themselves are probably not entirely to blame for this phenomenon, and perhaps living where I did (and still do) has something to do with the problem.  You see, in the mountains of western North Carolina there are two institutions that affect the school systems directly–one is Football, the other is Western Carolina University.

Now, I’m not against people liking Football or WCU.  If you like that sort of thing, or you went there–no problem.  Both have done a lot for the community.  But let’s face it, many boys have grown up wanting to play football professionally, and have spent their youth in pursuit of that.  Fine.  Assuming they made it through high school without getting permanently side-lined by some injury, they tried to get a college scholarship on the basis of Football (other team sports will likely work in this equation too, Football is just the model I’m most familiar with).

But the big name schools take only the top individuals.  And WCU is not a big name school.  It runs the roost in this little corner of NC, but it’s not anything to compare to NC State, or UNC, Furman, Clemson, or on and on.  (See, I don’t even like the sport, but it’s so pervasive around here that even I know who’s the bigger fish in the pond).

So a when would-be professional player gets picked up on a Football scholarship by WCU his chances of getting picked for the pro draft by the time he’s done with his Bachelors is already pretty slim.  He may get a partial “free-ride” but the chances of going pro are already significantly diminished before his first game is played.

Now we need to back up a little in history.  WCU started out as Western Carolina Teachers College.  It was designed to train teachers for the public school system, and in many ways it continues in that legacy.  WCU creates teachers.

This mindset is actually part of the problem.

Let’s follow that student who has gotten a Football scholarship to study at WCU.  Unless something truly unusual happens that makes said student/football player stand out from the crowd (he grows rockets in his feet, angels dance on his head after a touchdown, that sort of thing) he will upon receiving his Bachelors be employable almost nowhere except the public schools.

He’s studied Physical Education for four years while trying to win Football games in the fall and winter months.  Even when he graduates from WCU he’s still not employable by the public schools because he hasn’t got a teaching certificate.

Hey, no problem!  WCU has a fast track program for that in the summer for all those students who weren’t planning to teach but now find it’s the only career option open to them that doesn’t involve spatulas and paper hats.  Six weeks and they too can join the growing ranks of student teachers helping out in area public schools.

So what should we expect from a bunch of guys who have had their dreams of being professional Football players squashed, and who now find themselves employed as P.E. coaches to a lot of whiney school kids?  If he makes it through that (teaching the occasional class in some other subject that he has to remain justified in his role as assistant coach) he might get moved up to head coach, or into a job as guidance counselor, or pushing documents around in administration.

All of which seem the perfect environment for resentment and frustration–you know the Petri dish that breeds bullying?

Of course we don’t call it “bullying” when it’s a coach doing it.  It’s “building character”.  It’s teaching boys to “be tough”.

This is not to say that I’m against strength of character.  But what I mostly got from my coaches was derision.

And when guidance counselors do it we call it “being steadfast”–not trying to push kids into the track you think they should follow (or living out one’s own shattered dreams vicariously).

Am I bitter about this?  Sure.  Not as much as I used to be–but still reasonably bitter.

My point, however, is valid in spite of any rage on my own part.

Before we go trying to deny people of Religious faith their right to dissent (as guaranteed by the First Amendment) and then blaming them as a group for supposed bullying, we ought to look at some of the groups that aren’t constitutionally protected as such yet seem to gather themselves into large numbers with an inordinate amount of influence.

You know, bureaucrats–defined as public officials and employees of the state with personal axes to grind.  (Not ALL public officials, nor ALL state employees–just some).

I’m saying that we ought to hold those folks to a higher standard because of their great influence.  An influence that can cut in two directions.  It can build up or it can tear down.

We need to encourage the building–not of governmental institutions–but of individuals in general.  And if that means we need to do more to review the effectiveness of some state employees, then we really need to consider it before we go denying the right of dissent by individuals.

(A couple of points: 1) Actually, we should never deny that right of a sound and reasoned dissent. 2) I’m not suggesting that we throw more money at the problem.)

Well, I have more to say on this subject, but this probably ought to get enough people angry at me as it is.

I’ll come back to this later after I’ve cooled down.

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