Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
New York bus monitor Karen Klein made national headlines last week when the video of middle-school boys bullying her went viral. I have abstained from watching the video itself, because the coverage of the incident depicts the vulgar and graphic cruelty sufficiently enough that I don’t think I can stomach witnessing it firsthand. Since the video became fodder for national news, at least two of the perpetrators have apologized and strangers have established a vacation fund (now at half a million dollars) for Klein. Questions abound in the aftermath, ranging from Klein’s fitness for her position of authority aboard the bus to the adequacy of the boys’ punishments and apologies to the quality of the boys’ parents. The whole story conveys a Lord of the Flies-esque feel for me: the school bus, often dominated by children, illustrates the monstrous nature of humanity that exists within us all, though we hope to socialize it out of children.
Juxtapose that story with another story from last week: the conviction of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky on 45 charges related to child molestation. Sandusky started a charity for children and seemingly used it as a supply-line for his victims. Many of those victims testified against the ex-coach in court, detailing the painful incidents of abuse that occurred when they were at their most vulnerable — as children with little social support or power. Whereas the children in Klein’s case voiced their inner demons, the children from Sandusky’s past held their silence until just recently. One story manifests the evil inherent in humanity, even in children, while the other invokes our horror and repulsion at a powerful adult preying on the weak. Both of these stories raise questions about who needs protection from whom and challenges positions of authority as adults and children alike take on the roles of victim and perpetrator.
In each episode as well, the issue of reparations arises. Amidst calls to return her salary (for failing to monitor the bus, though it’s unclear what her official job description entails) and fundraising efforts to reward her for suffering gracefully, Klein expressed uncertainty about the sincerity of the boys’ apologies and her willingness to forgive them. Sandusky is reportedly on suicide watch, and is likely to spend the remainder of his life in prison, though many commentators doubt that he can be punished enough for his crimes. Indeed, justice in either scenario seems insufficient because no amount of money or time can undo what has been done; no words or deeds can erase the trauma. Reparations attempt to compensate for a wrong, to evaluate the damage inflicted and respond to it with an equal settlement. Yet for many injustices, there is simply no way to right those wrongs.
For me, that is where the virtue of hope enters into humanity. Hope brings with it the possibility of redemption, which goes beyond reparation and alters history, making the bad into good, making misery meaningful in a way that dollars and jail time never can. With redemption, there is potential for Sandusky and those boys on the bus to repent; there is a chance for Klein and Sandusky’s victims to heal. Where reparations assess brokenness, redemption heals. I don’t know what kind of redemption is possible for any of the players in these stories here and now, but I hold on to the hope that there is something more, something better, beyond the traumas of today. In a world where children, those singled out as our greatest asset for the future, are both predators and prey, redemption offers a light that leads beyond these dark days.