Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Why Words Are Never Just Words

On Thursday my friend's daughter (a beautiful, fourth grade girl with autism) opened her desk and found this note from a classmate: "Just Kill Yourself Now!!"

Fourth grade.  Nine years old.  Let that sink in.  The school is currently investigating, but what will be done?  Will it be enough?  Will it stop the bullying?

In September, 9-year-old Jackson Grubb of West Virginia killed himself after enduring months of bullying.  Just one month earlier 13-year-old Daniel Fitzpatrick killed himself after documenting all of the instances of bullying in a letter one month prior.  In October, 11-year-old Bethany Thompson killed herself after being bullied for her curly hair and crooked smile.  She survived cancer, but could not survive the bullying she endured daily.
These are just a few cases from the last few months of lives lost to bullying.  A quick internet search reiterates that the number of names and faces and lives and families goes on and on.  In all of the above cases the parents knew.  And in all of these cases they informed the school of the problem, with some having multiple meetings with principals and teachers to advocate for their children.  But it wasn't enough.  And things didn't change.  Ultimately, these parents could not protect their children from the hate, ridicule and the verbal and physical assaults that they faced daily.

Don't tell me bullying is unheard of in our schools today.  Don't tell me it's getting better.  Don't tell me our kids just need to toughen up.  Don't tell me it's not your problem.  Don't tell me that schools are doing everything they can.  It takes more than an assembly.  It takes more than a poster.  It will take proactive teachers and caring administrators to stop an epidemic that is killing our kids.

But the blame does not all fall on the school.  This debasement is not "just kids being kids".  This cruelty and attitude are learned and emulated.  And they are learning it from us.  No child learns to hate or mock differences in a vacuum.  They learn it from their parents.  They learn it from their teachers.  They learn it from our leaders.  They learn it from a society that tells them different is a bad thing and being different makes someone a target.    

It's evident that many kids still think bullying is okay.  The deaths of those who couldn't take it any longer are on our hands.  Collectively, we have to take the blame.  It's on you.  It's on me.  Because the culture of intolerance and exclusion starts at home.  And it has to stop.

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