Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Cheerleader, A Team, And Responsibility

I think, by now, we've all read the stories or seen the news clips of a young woman with Down Syndrome who, while cheer leading at a game in her school, was being bullied. Some players on the sports team, young men, walked off the court and confronted the bully.

I do not want to take anything away from the actions of those young men. What they did was wonderful and supportive and full of angry compassion. They took action. We all know how to stop bullying - by simply not allowing it - but few actually take the action necessary. They did. Good kids. Good parents. They deserve the attention they are now getting.

When this story appeared I read nearly all the reports I could find and watched three or four news clips. I find that stories like these are told, very much, through the lens of the reporter. They all get the main points of the story but each reporter adds in or leaves out other bits of information. Most of the stories went for a 'feel good' story about the action of the boys. Understandable. Others, added in little bits of information.

Let's look at two bits of information that were contained in two differing stories:

One reporter added in that the boys spoke to the sports director first. Then, they took action. While it wasn't stated, it was implied that they took action because the school official did not.

Another reporter added that the young woman was now being walked to class by the boys from the team. Again not stated but implied, they were doing this to protect her from further bullying.

I'd like to comment on those two facts alone, emphasizing that I think the boys did an amazing act. Let's remember it was the sports team that stood up for her, NOT the cheer leading squad to which she belonged. They would not have had the relationship with her that her peers did, and even so, they saw the bullying, knew it was wrong, reported it, in the face of inaction - took action.

Again: they reported it.

Again: in the face of inaction they took action.

One of the reasons that schools are notorious for bullying is precisely the fact demonstrated here. A school official did nothing to intervene, they knew it was happening (they were there, they saw the same things the boys saw, they were told specifically about it) and they did nothing. N.O.T.H.I.N.G.

I was teased fairly regularly growing up, I was also bullied and occasionally really physically hurt simply for being fat, being a bit different. My most potent memory, which I've written about before, was when a fellow student. A tough guy from Ymir, saw me being beaten up in the gym, while the gym teacher watched, and he tore over and pulled the guy off of me and told him to never, ever touch me again. He turned to the teacher and told him to do his job. Then he stormed out of the gym. I wasn't in his social class in school, he never let me properly thank him. I realize now he didn't do it for me, personally, he did it because his sense of justice and fair play had been disturbed and he had to take action. Nonetheless, I'm grateful.

But the teacher, witnessing what was happening, watched.

I should not be made safe because of the random act of a student with both conscience and courage. I should be made safe by a school employee who's job it is to create safe spaces for learning.

The same is true here.

Good for the boys.

Now what the hell is wrong with the adults who were there?

The second fact that the boys were now walking her to class. One of the photos showed her holding the hands of two boys, while another walked alongside, as she went from one class to another. So, are they saying that the hallways in this school are so dangerous that she needs bodyguards? Let's leave that for now as I've already written about the inaction of officials. I'm pleased, again, that the young men are taking action.

But one day they won't.

But one day they will tire of this.

And even if they don't, she will leave the school and the sphere of their influence. Leaving her dependent on the good will of others for safety is a huge mistake. Let's acknowledge what every study about bullying and teasing has shown. It is a fact of life for people with intellectual disabilities. It is simply a fact of life. That being the case, she needs to learn how to protect herself, physically and emotionally from the actions of bullies and rude passers-by. There are strategies that can help. There are ways of thinking about bullying that protect and enhance self esteem. I'd rather have seen a picture of her walking proudly, alone and independently, having learned she isn't alone and there are those who care and that she has a right to expect safety and that she is a person of value and that she knows how to keep herself safe and knows what to do if others are mean or cruel. That's the picture I would have liked to see.

But until that happens, and for now, she has some wonderful young men who are walking with her.

Good on them.

May she one day life in a world where she doesn't need them.

Because those who are in positions of power use that power to work actively to create safe places.

No, I'm not dreaming. I'm hoping.

Really hoping.

Deeply praying.

That one of those boys becomes a school principal, and another becomes a sports director in a school, and another becomes a teacher ... and then they can make the difference that changes the game entirely.


Colleen said...

Dear Dave:
Amen to that! I hope too. But I'm pretty cynical.

Anonymous said...

I guess you haven't figured it out - many teachers are the worst of bullies . . . and wouldn't recognize injustice if it were staring them in the face because that is something they embrace in themselves and don't see anything wrong with themselves!

Thank you for pointing that out, however, uncovering that behaviour for what it is - inadequacy for them to do what is their professional responsibility - will help others to be aware of those deficiencies in professionals (not only teachers!)

Robin said...

Suggesting a diferent interpretation of what the school official did or didn't do: perhaps the boys pointed the bullying out to the teacher, coach, or whoever it was, and asked permission to leave the field to intervene. Sports activities are so tightly regulated that I wouldn't be surprised if students get crapped on if they walk away without talking to the coach first. perhaps the coach, teacher, or whoever it was saw the possibility for more lasting change, since people tend to listen to and respond to their peers more than to authority figures. just a thought.

Kristine said...

Not under this teacher's watch... For the cynics in the crowd, I promise you there are many incidents every day where teachers do intervene in bullying situations. Those moments don't make news stories, because that's the whole point, to stop it before it becomes a big thing.

But, unfortunately, I can't argue how much happens right under teachers' noses. I've had many students scoff at the idea of "telling an adult" when somebody is teasing them, because "teachers don't do anything about it." I work very hard at earning my kids' trust and creating safe spaces. I'm far from perfect at it. But I really try to catch the small comments--the ones where kids think they're joking, not bullying--and make it a teaching moment. I try to teach my students to use their voices, and I try to always take the time to listen to what they're saying.

I consider it a win every time a student comes to me, trusting that I'll listen and take their problem seriously. Huge win when we can work through the problem and diffuse the situation, before somebody punches somebody else!

Two thumbs up to the boys that took action! Way to use their social status and power in a positive way!