FIRST LIGHT ON THE SCOURGE OF BULLYING
There are Answers to this Blight on Childhood Misery
What price a 15-year-old girl’s life?
Less than a year’s probation, it seems.
This is the sentence recently handed down in the United States on five – yes, five – teenage girls, most two or three years older than their victim, who emotionally brutalized their high school friend. They sustained this assault for weeks, even months, prior to her taking the final solution – suicide.
Even the suffering girl’s name, Phoebe Prince, adds a painful laminate to the tragedy; it means “first light”.
Sadly, there was little light in Phoebe’s young life when she was subjected to a relentless and callous campaign of vilification and victimization, much of it via social media.
How lucky one feels, in comparison, to reflect on one’s own teen years as a time, shared with kinder friends and intimates, of fun-loving discovery of the big world. For Phoebe, this “first light” shone only briefly, till, at the hands of her intimidators, a soul-suffocating, and, finally terminal, darkness enveloped her.
Of course lawyers are expected to rigorously defend their clients, especially the vulnerable young, but he of the accused sunk to new depths in an attempt to defend the indefensible. He complained that the girls had been “demonized” by being referred to as “mean girls”. Demonized? Mean?
To what depths of perfidy does one have to descend before being justly described as “mean”?
Though the sentences for the convicted were less than a year’s probation, their ever-diligent advocate described even this stand-in-the-comer penalty as “harsh”, and that his clients had been “overcharged”. What price a girl’s life, indeed?
A commonly held view is that bullying in school, of both children and adolescents, is an intractable problem; one made worse by its extension into thee-sphere. To accept defeat so easily is self-fulfilling.
In fact, many schools in general, and teachers in particular, have indeed created an environment where their young charges are safe, and therefore, all other things being equal, happy.
This is largely due to casting a first light to expose one major problem endemic in Australian society; the traducing of anyone regarded as being a dobber, grass, snitch, tattletale, et alia. This perfidious proscription benefits one person and one person only, the bully.
The perennial lament by schools and teachers who still harbor habitual bullies in their midst is that, “Of course we don’t condone bullying, but we can’t be everywhere.” Yes we can.
Potentially, say in a single class, every child can be deputized as an invigilator of every other child. If the bully knows that among the witnesses of his/her nefarious deeds one or more will almost certainly run to the teacher and tell (or show their iPod text!), s/he will most likely curtail the attack.
Naturally, the subsequent penalty for the guilty party should be based on that wise Gilbert & Sullivan refrain, “let the punishment fit the crime”. Perhaps the miscreant could be required to, hopefully in the spirit of remorse, sharpen all the victim’s colored pencils!
Of course this approach to the problem should be supplemented by a firm school policy which ranks bullying as one of the most heinous behaviors of all; well above stealing or even vandalism.
After all, the bully is both stealing and vandalizing the well-being of their victim. However, in this case the medium is not mere money or the toilet wall, but a fellow human being.
I experienced this successful dobbing principle in my own childhood, in a one-teacher country primary school. On my long walk home from school one day (no mum-cabs then), two toughie classmates roughed me up and threw my hat over a fence. I arrived home disheveled and tear-stained and told my mother. Rightly incensed, she (bless her) bailed up the teacher next day to complain. Naturally I feared the worst, an even more fraught walk home, as Mr. Benson (bless him too) sternly addressed the class.
A man of firm but kindly authority, he merely stated that bullying will not be tolerated, and if it occurs he wants to know about it; and the perpetrators will be punished.
Thankfully there were no repercussions whatever on my walk home, or anywhere else; the two boys even becoming friends, of a kind.
As a consequence of this protection all of my memories of that small school, and that wonderful teacher (with the exception of the above), are happy ones.
So, the message for schools today must be reinforced that it is the non-tell-tale who is not only irresponsible, but an accomplice in the bullying, and is unwittingly a contributor to the fragmentation and dysfunction of the body social. Obviously, one does not want to invite an epidemic of taletelling about every misdemeanor, such as fart jokes and littering, this merely weakens morale. No, the doh-in-a-bully policy is about just that – bullying.
As the grieving mother of Phoebe Prince will attest, the death of a child is probably the greatest tragedy that can befall one. Even worse, however, is if the death of an innocent is by their own hand. “I could have prevented this” – “I should have known!” is the universal cry.
As always, prevention is the best policy. Parents should be ever vigilant regarding not only the physical, but emotional safety of their offspring. They should be prepared to intercede the minute they suspect that their child is suffering harassment from one or more of their peers. The days of, “Let them fight their own battles” are over – the price of defeat is too high.
Finally, they must exert pressure on their schools and teachers, with a zero tolerance on this, vital issue for incompetence and indolence. If parents become proactive in this way, it can indeed be a first light in the dark night of the soul for many tormented, unhappy children.
Important Earthschooling Notes
Copyright Alan Whitehead & Earthschooling: No Part of this book, post, URL, or book excerpt may be shared with anyone who has not paid for these materials.
Alan speaks in a very symbolic and esoteric manner in some parts of his books. Although they can be read anthroposophically, passages speaking of Atlantis, archangels, gods, etc. do not need to be taken literarily to be meaningful. The more you read, the more you will realize he uses many different religions to express ideas in a symbolic manner and not in a religious manner. His writings are not religious. In some places his writings are meant to refer to religious events in a historical way. In some places he is using religious figures (from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Ancient Roman and Greek Religions, etc.) in a symbolic manner. However, at no point is he promoting a specific religion or speaking from a religious point of view.
I have kept the writing as close to one-hundred percent original so you will also find that he speaks of Australia often and some spelling or manners of speaking may be cultural. Any words I have changed are presented like this: <word>.
Also keep in mind that these books are written by a Waldorf teacher with decades of experience who also studied with a Steiner student himself, so he speaks to an audience that is dedicating their lives to the Waldorf method without exception.
Because of this, all of his views are not reflected in the Earthschooling curriculum and not all of them may be ones you want to embrace or are able to use. In all of Alan Whitehead’s writings the opinions are his own and may not align with Earthschooling or Waldorf Books. In some cases, we will be updating some of these chapters in the future with additional and/or updated information.
Ultimately, however, as I read through these passages I find I can distill wisdom from even those paragraphs that do not resonate with me.
We invite you to read with an open mind and heart and with eagerness to learn and discuss.
Alan has presented dialogue in his writings in an expressive form, where he tries to capture the accent of the person he was with to give his writing more authenticity and to allow the reader to “be with him” in his experience. In no place in his writings is he using expressive language to make fun of or demean the speaker. So, as a person with a linguistics and anthropology degree I find this enriching and informative to me as the reader. Thus, we have made the decision to leave all expressive writing in its original form.