Bullying the Bullies

Bullying is no laughing matter, unless it occurs during a fraternity acceptance ritual. Then, some might say bullying is hilarious.

New Hampshire takes it serious, thought, and so does Rundlett Middle School principal, Tom Sica. According to a May 14 Concord Monitor article, a student wrote on her Facebook account that she wished Osama bin Laden had killed her math teacher instead of the people in the Twin Towers. She received a five day suspension.

In his decision, Sica cited New Hampshire’s legislature regarding bullying, which defines it as “a single incident or a pattern of incidents involving a written, verbal, or electronic communication — directed at another pupil,” and causes a pupil ” — emotional distress…”

This means, in an odd twist, that Sica might actually be bullying the student himself. After all, this suspension will probably cause her some emotional distress. The math teacher probably caused some, too.

Still, no one even knew about the incident until another parent saw the post and reported it, probably to ensure that no tragic endings occurred in math class, or because the parent stalks through Facebook.

After notification, school authorities then required the student to show them the post on her Facebook account. The student’s mother argues that the Facebook post is an issue of free speech.

And she’s right, in that this will raise issues regarding free speech.

Yet, imagine for a moment that the math teacher posted a Facebook message reading, “I wish bin Laden had killed the students in my class instead of the people in the Twin Towers.” Would the mother claim that was the teacher’s right to free speech?

The girl threatened another person’s life, whether literally or figuratively, and people have a moral obligation to report potential issues. Few will forget Columbine, Virginia Tech, or other school shootings, and rightfully so. There is a fear of what could happen and there is legitimacy in preventing it.

How do schools prevent potential threats? Deeper in this school suspension is the conflict of how to solve these problems. Instead of finding consequences that fit the means, the US suffers from punishment hypochondria. People over diagnose and over punish. Other examples of controversial school suspensions and handlings include suspension for having long hair, having red hair, hugging an aide, and strip searching a 13-year-old girl without parental consent.

Now, the student did post a potential physical threat toward another person using a legally searchable medium. Nevertheless, what would have happened if she had made other statements, such as, “I wish the world would implode,” or, “I wish a meteorite would crash through the school,” or, “I’d kill for no more math homework.”

It depends on how other interpret its context, and in this context the student probably meant it as a figurative part of speech, not literal. Now, Sica did eventually reduce the suspension, allowing the student to return on Monday. However, the incident remains on her record.

But does the consequence fit the crime? Is what she said even a crime? Is that even the most important part of this issue?

Whatever the context, here is a student that presumably struggles with math or has issues with the math teacher, and that is a problem. Maybe she struggles with the subject, maybe the assignment overwhelmed her, or maybe the teacher made a comment that made her feel incompetent, whether intentionally or unintentionally?

Whatever the reason, she felt angry and made comments. Although certain details of the incident were not published, such as the discussions that occurred between the student and authorities regarding the situation, they are the issues that matter most.

Accountability is an important step in any process. People need to learn. But what does this reaction teach? Does a multiple day suspension teach a lesson or does it tell her just to make sure she never posts anything like this in public?

Maybe it would be better off if she kept her thoughts secret and in a personal notebook hidden from the world, you know, so no one knew or could help?

That would be sad though because help might be the easiest fix. Perhaps after school tutoring, if schedules and personal factors permitted, or just asking the student why she made that comment would be a good first step?

This is not to avoid the issue or consequences. This is about how people should interact effectively.

This situation shows what is happening more in the US. People give consequences based on the past and in fear of the potential future. A nation scared of lawsuits and pointed fingers has everyone determining that C.Y.A. is the best policy. To an extent, the media perpetuates it through how it reports and what it can report.

Instead of lessening and weakening bullying, though, the consequences worsen it. One side enforces a punishment and the other side defends. No one learns how to express emotions and feelings, or develop appropriate reactions.

Instead, the real issue is lost to the new issue that develops. Verbal and physical warfare begin. A power struggle develops. And, when two sides push at each other without working toward a compromise or mutual understanding?

Well, that’s bullying.