Bullying threatens lives

October 30, 2013 

Bullied at school and dead at 12 years old, Rebecca Ann Sedwick is her name: Remember it. She lived in Florida, and she died as a result of a suicidal leap at an abandoned cement plant near her central Florida home.

Schools act “en loco parentis” by law — that is, in place of a child’s parent, whose duty we know is to make children safe. Let’s add to that the need for them to be safe mentally and physically. I’d like to charge that schools are not able to maintain the safety of our children, by virtue of the number of souls they house.

I’m 62, and bullying has been around since I was young. At 16, bullying sent me to the hospital with a life-threatening illness. Bullying is, as we see in Florida, a life-threatening act. How can schools stop bullying?

Class size is not their only problem; schools organize children by virtue of their values — As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Fs. That arbitrary organization is a problem for young people just learning their worth in a competitive society. Schools order their charges in a kind of pecking order starting with the teachers at the top, moving down to the “least likely to succeed.”

My heart goes out to Rebecca’s family. Her mom tried to help, but who knows what kind of help would have caught Rebecca in her fall? I have known parents who have actually quit their jobs and moved to other states to get out from under the cruelty of bullying, but that is not practical for everyone.

Adults can be mean, and children can be vicious. The sheer number of students crammed together in any given school makes it impossible to oversee what is really going on. The sensitivity of a 12-year-old verging on puberty is at a high pitch and oh so vulnerable to criticism.

Then we face cyberbullying, an even easier way to push a button for a thrill to be cruel. I contend that as long as the culture of schools is based on high volumes of children stuck with each other for a year, without proper protection, coupled with our new technologies, we are going to see more, not less, of the damaging effects and “Lord of the Flies” behavior in the years to come.

Barb Alward is a resident of Cambria.

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