Bullying: Putting Your Money Where Their Mouth Is

When we say that we want bullying to stop, what we’re in large part saying is that we want bullying to stop happening in our children’s schools. Which means we want teachers to put a stop to bullying.

While teachers are obliged to stop bullying in their individual classrooms, stopping it beyond that—in the hallways, the cafeteria, during recess, after school—isn’t part of their job. Teachers aren’t paid to get involved in the personal lives of their students. To do so is to invite trouble—literally. For one, the parents of bullies tend to be bullies. The teacher who attempts to control or censure a bully outside the classroom knows how likely it is that shorty thereafter that kid’s parents will be in their face, hollering—and usually doing so in the principal’s office. And principals just love it when their teachers bring down upon them the wrath of a kid’s parents.

Also, a junior-high or high school bully can be a terribly frightening person. These can be big, mean kids—who are usually perfectly aware of which teachers, for instance, drive which cars. It’s safe to include teachers in the ranks of those who are not eager to become the focus of the anger of a hormonal teenage psychopath.

Teachers are teachers, not life coaches. That’s what parents are for.

But bullying at schools must stop; that’s where most of it happens. If we don’t stop bullying in our schools, then we don’t stop tragedies such as Jamey Rodemeyer.

So what to do?

Like all problems, solving this one takes, first and foremost, resolve. We must determine that, come hell or high water, we will stop bullying in our schools. That we will do what it takes. That we will spend the money necessary to identify, create, initiate and see through whatever programs we must to stop this seemingly intractable problem.

Whoops. Money.

End of resolve.

Schools don’t have money. And they sure don’t have it to spend on teaching kids how to properly socialize. Schools need things like classroom supplies and roof repair.

The Jamey Rodemeyers of the world are on their own.

They are, that is, unless we redefine the problem of school bullying. What if it were true that it cost ten times the money not to stop school bullying than it would to stop it? What if we understood that we literally cannot afford not to stop bullying in our schools?

Well, guess what? It does cost ten time more money not to stop bullying in schools than it would to prevent it.

Consider my home state of California. In California, it costs $47,000 a year to keep a prisoner. California state prisons hold 144,000 inmates. So the state of California is spending $6,768,000,000 per year on prisoners.

The kinds of people who grow up to become criminals are the kinds of people who as kids were bullies. Not every prisoner was a childhood bully, of course. But let’s say that twenty percent of them were. I think it’s reasonable to say that one out of five prison inmates were, as kids, known by their teachers and other kids to be recalcitrant bullies.

Twenty percent of $6,768,000,000 is $1,353,600,000.

$1,353,600,000 is how much it’s costing California per year to care for prisoners who wouldn’t be in prison if, when they were kids, they had received the kind of attention bullies need in order to be cured of their desire to cause suffering in others.

Ten percent of $1,353,600,000 is $135,360,000.

If the state of California spent $135,360,000 per year to stop bullying in its schools, it would save ten times that in costs spent caring for people who will end up in its prison system because it was too shortsighted to spend that money.

There are 1,341 middle schools in California. Middle schools are the ideal place to implement programs designed to address and solve the problem of kids bullying other kids.

$135,360,000 divided amongst 1,341 middle schools means each school would get $100,940 per year to spend on the prevention of bullying.

For that amount you could train all your teachers and staff on how to identify and prevent bullying, implement solid anti-bullying programs and teaching models, and have on staff at least one full-time person whose job it is to handle All Things Bullying, including community outreach, and the training of adult volunteers to patrol all over the school making sure no student is ever being bullied or picked upon.

Imagine the money and resources that would be saved if kids who were bullies learned to stop being bullies before they grew up, went out into the world, and continued their anti-social behavior. Adult criminals—muggers, thugs, perpetrators of assault and battery, wife abusers—don’t just wake up one morning and decide they get off hurting others. They’ve always hurt others. As kids they tortured animals, and stole things, and picked on weaker kids: they were the bullies. And they got away with being bullies, because no adults at their school had the training or motivation to help them unlearn the terrible things they learned somewhere along the line of their young lives.

Well, now the adults at their school—now all we adults—have the motivation to stop bullying in schools: money. Once you make the simple connection between the kinds of kids who bully and the kinds of adults who end up in prison, you realize that not investing in programs that prevent bullying in schools isn’t just a moral failure. It’s a financial failure.

Tomorrow society will easily save ten times what it spends today on the prevention of bullying in schools. There’s simply no excuse not to do it.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • A’isha

    Excellent points, John. It’s sad though that people will only do the right thing when it’s financially beneficial. Why can’t we all do the right thing because that’s what it is–the right thing to do?

    Last year when my kids were in elementary school they implemented a program, Bully Busters, that seemed to be pretty good. My kids were asked to participate because they always stand up for other kids. (Proud mom moment!!) The thing is it really doesn’t take much to start a group like that. They met weekly with the school counselor for lunch and learned techniques on how to deal with bullying–if they’re bullied or if they witness it. The Trevor Project offers school packs that, IIRC, aren’t very expensive. As a parent of now middle school kids (how’d that happen??) I know I’d be willing to volunteer time to help prevent bullying. I know lots of other parents who would also. We just need to mobilize. My kids’ school district is actually pretty good regarding zero tolerance of bullying. That’s one of the reasons I transferred my kids out of district and committed to driving them to the next town for school, even though that means they go to the “rival school” of my alma mater. (Yes, we live in an area where it really matters if you’re a Bulldog or a Pioneer and high school football really is that important!)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Yes, as you say, A’isha; it should be done simply because it’s the right thing to do. But I wrote this meaning to provide financial incentive to those for whom the moral incentive just isn’t enough.

    • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      Your kids sound awesome.

      For some of us “Just because it’s right.” For others, you have to logic it out. When it comes to saving the world, there’s too much incentive to just fall into despair because we face the facts that no matter what we do, it won’t save everyone. For some folks, that’s an excuse not to try to save anyone.

      Or to victim-blame. I’m still a little mad over that news thread I was on last week about saving starving people in Africa – seeing how many people in the comments not only were quick to logic out not only why they shouldn’t care, but why they thought *no one* should (actually, there were some legitimate points made, regarding pure cold logic, US foreign policy and the economic crisis – I understood that), but I was *appalled* at how many people were quick to just say “They deserve it because they’re breeding!” and shouts of “DARWIN!” It made me wonder if the people saying that knew they were talking about human beings and not mosquitos or rats or a virus or something, because they sure seemed quick to treat people as disease.

      So, yeah, I do think that money is the bottom line with people – because some of us humans just will never understand or even try to sympathize with a particular kind of pain until a particular kind of pain happens to us. Preventing suicides? More than enough for some of us to want to takle this problem. For others, preventing expensive, system-draining criminals might be a better motivator.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tim.conard Tim Conard via Facebook

    sadly our nation would rather go broke keeping someone in jail than save money by providing support and education to keep people out of jail…

    • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

      That’s because prisons are profitable.

  • Christopher J. Erwin

    My girlfriend and I were walking past an elementary school playground and we saw 5 boys kicking and punching a single boy who was on his hands and knees trying to crawl away. When we went over to put a stop to it, 4 of them ran away, but one had the gall to stand there and cuss at us. I picked him up by his shirt and dragged him to the office, where the principle had the nerve to tell me I “shouldn’t get involved in kids’ business”. What the hell is wrong with people?

    • Diana A.

      Wow. That principal is all integrity. I’m glad you intervened.

    • Shaun Conde

      You did the right thing Chris. Unfortunately if anything happens to the kids under a teacher or principal’s care, it is automatically their fault, no matter how absurd. Our hands are so bound we can barely do anything now but teach like robots because of all the scrutiny.

      Like recently a girl was sleeping in my class. I underhand threw a paper clip so it would tap her on the back to wake her up instead of using my finger. And despite scientifically knowing a paperclip’s force is much less than a finger, or the fact this girl’s grandmother called me a liar, threatened and cursed at me…who’s fault was it? Me.

      I was literally told this by my supervisor (because I had called the grandmother to clear the air–pre her flipping out):

      “You did the right thing but you shouldn’t have done it.”

      I’m not excusing the Principal but it’s his job on the line because you (an outsider) touched him. It makes no sense but the blame can usually be brought back to horrible parents and parenting.

      The horror stories I have.

      *shakes head*

    • http://thesewingexperiment.wordpress.com/ Sensible Seamstress

      Thank you so much for getting involved.

  • Kathy Rhymes Robbins via Facebook

    There you go again, John, making sense. Of course, in the long tradition of the Tea Party, that is precisely why this advice will probably never be taken seriously. :-D

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Debbie-Ward/1057657641 Debbie Ward via Facebook

    If bully children have bully parents then how can the school educate the parents? Bullying doesn’t just happen at school. It began at home long before the kid got to school. Maybe we could ask how much money it costs each time we fail to love our neighbor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Debbie-Ward/1057657641 Debbie Ward via Facebook

    Humans should stop having kids until everyone else’s gets their shit together.

    • L.SS.

      we’re not having any until *i* get my shit together … which, seeing as how i don’t believe in reincarnation, may be never.

  • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

    I would think the best approach is not to attempt through intimidation to force bullies to stop bullying but rather use peer pressure & shame the way anti-tobacco campaigns convinced people it was not an inherent right to stick up public spaces with smoke, or that public drunkeness is now viewed as something for teens and college students to indulge in as a growing phase, not acceptable behavior for adults.

    It is never possible to stop all manifestations of bad behavior, but it can be made unwelcome & shameful & minimized.

  • Lyonside

    I think it’s also possible that some of those criminals are those who were bullied – the teenager who gets kicked out of school because they brought a weapon to school, to either intimidate or get vengeance on those who were harassing or threatening them; the young kid who starts avoiding school either through truancy or skipping classes to avoid bullies; the kid who starts taking drugs/abusing alcohol as a way to escape (since far too many of our prisoners are non-violent drug offenders), or the dropout who may turn to dealing drugs for income or just had too much on them at the time of the bust and was charged with intent to distribute.

    The kids who are likely to be bullied and who don’t have the support to develop coping mechanisms are also those from low-income and/or dysfunctional families, which exacerbate the chances of imprisonment (especially due to not having a family who can and will get a good lawyer).

    • L.SS.

      really good point, and you can add in the kids with neurological and developmental differences (most of whom aren’t from wealthy families either).

  • wolfanddragon

    Of course then there’s always going to school, barging in on the principals office with your child and the offenders in tow. Which is what my daughter did. End of problem.

    • cat rennolds

      it’s nice when that works. too many times in my life, my kids’ lives, other people’s lives, the principal shrugs it off or tries to blame the bullied child.

      General scenarios here:

      1. Bullies who are so obviously traumatized at home that they act out what they learn. The big scary guys. The ones who don’t CARE if they get caught and punished because that’s what they expect from life anyway, and parents either are absent or just make it worse by using the bullying as another excuse to abuse the kid.

      2. Bullies who are so lacking in self-confidence and/or empathy that they make themselves feel big by making others small. This behavior can start in any kid, any background, especially if they’ve seen somebody else do it. My daughter did it to my son….once….after she’d heard some girls at school do it. And I used to teach preschool, so I’ve seen a lot of it. But it only PERSISTS when it works…i.e., the child doing the bullying only sees positive consequences to their behaviors. Or repeatedly gets rescued from the negative ones. “Oh, my little Jenny couldn’t possibly act like that, the other child must be lying.”

  • Tarry

    I wish this would do it — but we already have these people –they are called social workers. And many, if not most schools have them. Maybe we need more of them, or maybe they need other support. Let’s ask them.

    It is true they deal with other problems than bullying. They deal with kids who are homeless, kids who are managing two homes, kids who struggle with academics. But the truth is, bullying is often one symptom of dysfunction among many. Sadly, we probably can’t treat bullying without treating mental health, home environment, etc.

  • http://www.blogspot.notreadyforfacebook.com Robin Wallace

    Thanks for writing this, John. At the suggestion of the folks at “The Christian Left,” I’m sharing this blog entry I wrote last year for Facebook and reposted last summer. This is still an issue that defines me at the very depth of my soul. As a survivor of bullying, I can assure you that the consequences of bullying also cost tens of thousands of dollars in treatment for depression and other psychological issues that can haunt former victims for the rest of their lives – and that doesn’t even include the vast cost in lost productivity while those issues fester. Bullying is truly a plague upon the fabric of our society, whose effects are tragic and incalculable.

    http://notreadyforfacebook.blogspot.com/2011/08/golden-oldies-in-memory-of-tyler.html

  • Andrew Raymond via Facebook

    I like your logic here, but the one problem I see is that much of the problem comes from teachers and/or parents who are or were bullies themselves. The worst bully I experienced during my parochial education was our (lay) vice principal / eighth grade teacher.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jill-King-Sherman/610196521 Jill King Sherman via Facebook

    Very interesting. But what to do about the popular kids who bully? Apparently much of this are done by kids who are well liked by other kids and adults. They can be the meanest of all…

    • Erin D.

      I’ve seen it firsthand—the meanest girl in our school’s voice would go up about three octaves and her snarly face would look sweet and cherubic whenever she was talking to an adult. All the adults liked her because she was funny. She did it to my mom while my mom was driving us to a church retreat once—I almost burst into tears. I wanted to scream to my mom how that girl who was being so polite made fun of the shoes she bought me, the pencil case she bought me, and how she was probably going to tell all her friends how lame my mom was as soon as we got to the retreat. I don’t know why I never told my parents what was going on. I hope I can encourage my kids to be more forthcoming.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Annette-Rzepa-Reed/1290520366 Annette Rzepa Reed via Facebook

    Good article, but I would like to add something. All of the teachers at my school (I teach Kindergarten) feel a responsibility for every child on campus and we take bullying very seriously. We would never turn a blind eye to any kind of bullying. On a side note, my 19 year old son, who came out to us when he was 16 told us he never experienced any kind of bullying or torment in high school (same district where I teach). I’m sure this is not the case everywhere, but here in Claremont, CA it is. Just my two cents!

    • Melody

      So glad your school is doing its part, Annette. This is very encouraging. Thank you.

  • Molly by Golly

    The holistic argument is lost in a society whose infrastructure was built along the compartmentalized lines of modernity. A better solution may be to sidestep this infrastructure entirely. Make parent-teacher-society blame games irrelevant. Let us encourage teacher action on this matter by giving instructors the respect, autonomy, trust and pay scale granted practitioners of our most valued professions. (see also: Finland) Alternately, we can all home school or set out children free to work in the service industry. These actions also “solve” the problem of broken institutions.

  • Allie

    I think your heart is in the right place, and these are the sorts of questions we need to be asking in order to find a solution. I’m just not sure what the solution is.

    Let me give you a few examples of bullying from my own life. And also, since you connected it, crime as committed by children. And by way of full disclosure, I’ve spent years working with abused children, so my personal perspective tends to be a child’s eye one.

    First, the crime. This is going to be long and disjointed since there’s a lot of information and I haven’t really organized it mentally, but please bear with me, because I have a point at the end.

    Some years ago, my beloved teacher and family friend, who was on her way to my birthday party when she stopped for a hamburger, was carjacked and murdered by three teenagers. They were convicted; two are now in Federal prison for life without hope of parole and the youngest received life with parole possible when he’s 65. This ended up being a Federal crime because they brought her across state lines, and since they gave their reason for killing her as being that they didn’t want her to identify them, they were charged with murder of a Federal witness.

    During the course of the trial we became very familiar with the history of the three killers. They were high school students belonging to the Crips. All three had previously committed multiple felonies. They were stealing her car, in fact, because one needed to return to Chicago to meet a court date for a car theft and had no means of transportation. Two of them were brothers and one was a cousin.

    During the leadup to the trial, local TV interviewed their mother, who stood in her filthy sandbox of a yard wearing filthy clothes (she lives, we found out, just down the street from my parents – that’s the country for you, sharecropper shacks, farms, and starter castles, all on the same strip of road) and said in a bored voice, “I should never have had children.” Duh, I thought, watching her. Couldn’t you have figured that out before you have twelve?

    A friend of mine got me photocopies of the psych reports on the oldest brother. He had been in foster care for years with a family who tried their best with him, getting him weekly therapy, but finally asked that he be removed from their home after he threatened the life of their son. Before that, he had been the victim of horrific abuse within his birth family. He and his brother were two of 12 children. Their older brother was already in prison for carjacking and murder at the time they murdered my friend. Their younger siblings lied to police about the whereabouts of my friend while they were murdering her in their back yard. I have friends in law enforcement who keep me up to date on their family – one of the younger siblings who lied is now in prison for raping his high school teacher, and another is awaiting trial for arson.

    The oldest brother, when he was five years old, had been treated at the ER after his father poured lighter fluid over him and set him on fire. When questioned by police, the father said that the child was “backtalking” and that he did not believe he had done anything wrong. The father was not arrested and the child was released into his care. There were other instances of hospital care for abuse, but the father was never charged with anything. The boy was eventually put into foster care not because of the abuse but because he had committed several crimes.

    (The father, incidentally, worked as a shift manager at a factory. My father was friends with his employer who said he was ‘a good worker’ and ‘a good person.’ My feeling was that if lighting a five year old on fire makes you a good person, what could possibly make you a bad one? To which my father replied, Maybe the father could see what kind of kid he was and felt he deserved it. That this conversation took place, and the attitudes behind it, might help some of you understand why the father was never charged. Many people in Tennessee, including my father, believe that beating a child with a belt is appropriate punishment for small infractions, and nearly killing a child is sometimes necessary for large ones.)

    According to the psych report, the boy had a measured IQ of 70, which is borderline retarded. However, the examiner reported that it was nearly impossible to measure his IQ because the boy was unable to focus on the test, to answer questions put to him in complete sentences, or to sit still during a conversation.

    During the trial, this boy grinned widely and bopped around waving to people. He told almost with glee about my friend’s last words – she had her dog with her, and begged them to spare the life of her dog – and smiled while medical photos of her body were presented as evidence that the manner of her death qualified as torture and should thus be considered as a factor in whether or not this was first degree murder. I will tell you that sitting next to her husband and children while they were forced to view those photos and watching his reaction was not good for me – I wanted him to be put down like a rabid dog. I felt that it wasn’t right or just for him to breathe the same air as other people.

    During the sentencing phase of the trial his mother was called to give evidence of the hardships he had suffered during his childhood.

    She didn’t show up.

    Watching him turn hopefully towards the door, then watching his face fall, I almost felt sorry for him. It would be years before my soul healed enough to feel pity towards him. But even at that time, watching him realize that not even his own mother cared enough to speak up on his behalf, I thought no one should have to live through that.

    It’s been a decade since this happened. Her husband is remarried, she has grandchildren whom she never got to see, her children are doing well. Everything is as right as it can be after such an event.

    And I’m as right as anyone can be after such an event. Murder changes you, it makes you think differently about life and other people. But at this distance I can see these kids never had a chance. They were raised by what might as well have been demons in human form, who were probably raised by demons themselves. It’s a fairly simple equation: set a kid on fire at the age of five, and he’s not going to turn out well.

    So, I ask myself, what could have prevented this? Money? There was tons of money thrown at this kid – he went twice weekly to an expensive program, he was on medication, his foster family tried their best for years.

    A better police response, it seems to me, could have helped. It really should not be shrugged off when someone sets small children on fire. Some sort of community support before their useless turd of a mother became a mother of twelve. If her lovely “good worker” husband set his kids on fire, I’m guessing he didn’t treat his wife well either. My father at one point suggested going down there with a flamethrower and clearing the whole family out like a nest of caterpillars. He sounded serious, and I pointed out that he would be caught. I’m an old man, he said. It would be worth it. And… frankly… although I know it would have been wrong… if he had done it, the younger boy’s high school teacher would not have been raped.

    It’s obvious enough that abuse leads to abuse. But how do you short-circuit abuse? People are trying. *I* am trying – I’ve spent much of my life in court trying to advocate for abused children. I have fostered kids. But abused children aren’t easy – I’ve been stolen from, propositioned, and physically assaulted by foster kids. It would be nice to help kids before they were messed up instead of trying to help them afterwards.

    Okay, that’s part one – and my point, I guess, really, is that many child criminals are abused and the crimes can’t be prevented without addressing the abuse.

  • Allie

    Okay, part two: bullies I have known, and bullies my husband has known.

    When I was a child, our neighborhood bully (who did not go to school with me) was a boy three years older than me and my best friend. We had a love-hate relationship with him. He once saved me when I was climbing a tree and a limb broke, leaving me dangling, by letting me drop from a 20-foot height onto his shoulders. He was hurt by the impact. I was fine. At other times, he would chase us, beat us, pull our hair, and hit us with sticks. We lived in fear of him and wouldn’t cross his yard. I have a copy of a play I wrote as a child about him, titled simply, “The enemy.” The breaking point was when he tied me by my ankles to his dirt bike and rode over a gravel road with me. My shoulders are still scarred. My father went over to his house to have a talk with his father.

    My dad returned hours later. All he said was, “His parents weren’t home.” I found out from him years later that this wasn’t the exact truth. The bully’s dad wasn’t home – he was out on a bender. The bully’s mom was passed out on the couch from a combo of prescription drugs and alcohol. The bully answered the door and tried hard to keep my father from seeing his mom because he was ashamed. My father, who grew up with family problems of his own, sat with him for hours and talked with him. He never hit me or my friend again, although as a teenager he was wild and drank a lot. I lost track of him when we moved, but recently he entered our circle as a farrier – he’s married now, beloved in his community, and has two beautiful children. As far as I know he is a responsible and healthy, sober, person. His dad is still a drunk. But somehow, due to a combination of random doses of love from outside his family, and his own personal strength, he turned out okay.

    My husband has a similar story about his neighborhood bully. This boy used to chase smaller children home from school every day, including my husband. But it wasn’t until he pelted my husband’s mother with rocks that my husband’s father got involved. Like my dad, his father went to the bully’s house and demanded to talk with his parents.

    No one was there. In addition, there was no furniture, just the shell of a house. The bully and his younger brother were living there alone. Dad was in jail and mom was missing. My husband says his father cried when he told his mother this story. Well, he cried… but he didn’t do anything. It simply wasn’t done in their rural community in Indiana to interfere with other people’s families. The two kids remained in the house alone and they remained bullies.

    Today one is a policeman – and according to my husband’s cousin who still lives there, still a bully. You don’t want to be arrested by him.

    That’s part two. I’m thinking through this as I write. But I guess the point here, if there is one, is that even a little help, at the right time, with the right kid, can make a difference.

  • Allie

    Part three: bullies whose asses I have kicked.

    Sorry in advance, because I know Jesus never said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, kick his ass.” But I grew up taller and stronger than other kids, had a dad who taught me to fight at an early age, and that was my default solution to bullying in school. And the funny thing is, more often than not, it worked wonders.

    I went to a grade school which was also an experimental teaching lab for the local university. Half of the kids were the children of college professors, and the other half were children from the poor neighborhood the college sat in. There were some sociological differences between the two groups which led to conflicts. Which is probably why the legendary bully from the “not smart” classes (even at the age of 10 we knew there were two sets of classes and we knew which we were in) whom I had never talked to before came up to me and said, “I want to fight you.” He picked me in particular because when we played wargames in the trees at recess, I was the leader of our group.

    We went under the juniper bushes, which effectively hid everyone from the teachers anyway, and some kids formed a sight barrier to keep teachers out, kids were posted to sound the alarm if a teacher came down there, and the fight was on.

    The legendary bully was about half my size – at the age of 10 I was about 5’9″ and weighed my full adult weight. I should mention since this is the internet that I’m female. We set rules – kicking and hitting okay, no pulling hair – and fought. Basically my theory was that he came in towards me, I tagged him as soon as he got within range, and he backed off. I outranged him to the point that he couldn’t touch me. We kept this up for a while until recess ended. I offered to shake his hand and he ran off crying.

    I don’t know whether he bullied other kids, but he never bullied anyone in our group after that. And I do know that he lost serious face by being beaten by a girl, and by being beating by someone from “the smart classes.” Which were also pretty much thought of as the wimp classes.

    Skip to junior high school. During junior high, my mom was working, so she dropped me off at the school early, when no one was there but the janitor. (No buses at rural schools.) There was a group of four of us earlybirds, and we had to sit unsupervised in our classroom for about an hour every morning. Me, another girl, a scrawny boy, and a giant kid nicknamed Moose who had been held back. Every morning Moose beat up the scrawny kid, whose defense was to smile and giggle helplessly in some sort of puppylike plea for mercy while his blood was drawn. We couldn’t tell anyone, because if we ever admitted to wrongdoing, we would be forbidden to enter the school building at all and have to stand outside in the cold rain. One day the other girl and I decided to take matters into our own hands. When Moose attacked the scrawny kid, we laid into Moose.

    Our best attacks did nothing. Moose was simply too large and too fat for anything we could do to hurt him. He just sort of shrugged us off and waded into the scrawny kid anyway. I got a plastic clipboard and started pounding him on the head with it. His genitals were impervious because they were buried in his fat thighs. Eventually we just gave up.

    I have no idea what happened to Moose or the other girl, but I’m pleased to report that I went to my class reunion a couple years ago, and the scrawny kid is now head of neurology at a local hospital. He is also not scrawny anymore. He’s GORGEOUS. Tall and muscular. So, if you’re bullied and reading this, yes, it does get better.

    So. High school. Once again I was forced to sit unsupervised with other early kids. One was a girl who I vaguely knew as a jock who had to take remedial classes. One morning she said, “I bet you think you’re smarter than me.” That was probably true, but I answered truthfully, “I haven’t really thought about it.” Then she said, “I bet you also think you’re prettier than me.” To which I replied, “That’s not true, I think you’re pretty!” Which received the response, “You may be smarter than me and prettier than me, but I can beat you up. I’m going to wait outside the school door and beat you with a bicycle chain.” End of conversation.

    On the off chance that she meant what she said, I stashed two hickory sticks in the bush beside the front door. And sure enough, later that week, there she came with her chain. So I fetched my sticks, and I took her chains away from her using the sticks, and then I popped her repeatedly in the ankles until she stopped getting up.

    This one makes me sad, thinking about it as an adult. Can you imagine the dark place she had to have been in, how low her self-esteem must have been, to pick a fight like that? But the denouement is interesting. After that she became my friend – or at least, she followed me around and was friendly. Apparently I had won some sort of dominance contest.

    Then there was the kid who actually made my best friend leave school by spreading vile rumors about her. He was a nasty piece of work who even made a teacher quit. At one point I considered committing suicide so as not to have to attend classes with him. Because it was a private school and his parents were very wealthy supporters, he couldn’t be punished for his behavior. That’s the only instance in this string of stories where I picked the fight – basically I told him that if he didn’t shut his mouth, I was going to shut it for him. So he challenged me to a “duel.” The rules for dueling in high school were honestly not all that different from duels in grade school. There was a crowd, an early-warning system for teachers, a set meeting place and time, which in this case was by the juniors’ cars behind the school, technically off school property, right after school. He was a boy and I was a girl, but I wasn’t seriously worried because he was small and had no idea how to fight – the category of bully who is mean because he has nothing else going for him.

    So there we were, standing in the street behind the school, surrounded by the football team who were forming a circle for us to be in. And he reaches down, picks up a beer bottle, and smashes it against the curb.

    Well, a lot of things happened quickly. The *second* was that the entire football team erupted like a nest of fire ants. Many of them felt already that he was an idiot without honor for fighting a girl, and by threatening me with a bottle, he had stepped out of line. But the first thing was that I kicked the bottle out of his hand, jumped on him and knocked him to the pavement, and started pounding his head against the curb. I was literally seeing red and had to be pulled off him. He went home with his ears bleeding.

    Did he learn a lesson? No, he did not. He continued to run his very nasty mouth, making every day of my life hell. But again there is a denouement. A few years ago he wrote me online to apologize for being a jerk in school. We’ve met since then. He’s a genuinely nice guy. Does he have an explanation for his behavior? Sort of – he says he didn’t take anything seriously, and didn’t realize how hurtful his behavior was.

    So… that’s the end of my personal encounters with bullies. And the moral of this one, I’m afraid to say, is that speaking to bullies in their own language is strikingly effective. They don’t want to lose. Many of them think in primitive animalistic ways, and they kowtow to the dominant animal.

    It’s a little frightening to me that if I were in school today, various no-tolerance rules designed to protect people FROM bullies would protect the bullies and prevent me from taking any action against them. It’s also shocking to me as I recall this, how effectively adults in my school life insulated themselves from being sources of help. They either weren’t there at all, or could be counted on to do exactly the wrong thing, punishing the wrong party, if they got involved. Like making us stand out in the snow if we admitted we were getting bullied in school.

  • Usually Not Anonymous

    About 2 years ago I met someone who is full of grace and love. He nannies for one of my family members. I immediately fell in love with his spirit and adopted him as “family”. The man I described also happens to be gay and at the time was engaged to his fiance of 3 years. They were the first gay couple that I was ever close too and they put up with all of my naivity on the gay subject with tact, forgiveness, and grace. Sometimes they simply laughed at the naive stereotypes I had of them. During that time I was meeting with several ‘conservative Christian’ women (for a playgroup) who considered themselves progressive because they drink wine, have tattoos, and have other piercings… Because my new found friend took care of children by day, I decided to invite both he and his kids to our playgroup. Although I do admit to a severe shift in my thought process having once been staunch conservative (I now lean left while standing on one foot) I was shocked by the way my friend was treated. SHOCKED. Mostly, he received the silent treatment. He would attempt to engage in conversation with the women and for the most part, they looked at him as if he were a dinosaur or some other extinct species. I began to hear rumors of distain towards my friend. Suddenly the entire scenerio came to a screaching hault when the husband of one of the women confronted my husband with all kinds of hate-filled talk about me and my friend. When my husband responded with empathy towards my friend, the man responded with ” He’s an F*ING F****OTT. What more do I need to say”. This from the mouth of a professed Christian who takes his family to church every Sunday. A man with 4 children. THIS IS WHERE BULLYING BEGINS. At the head of the Christian household. BOTH he and his wife have spread much hatred about me because of my new found friendships within the gay community (amongst other things). THIS is called Harrassment. Slander. BULLYING. As a FORMER right winged conservative Christian, I vow to raise my children to love and accept EVERYONE exactly as they are. I vow to stand up for the oppressed. I will not be silent. I will stand as a straight ally in the gay community. As Christians, we must not remain silent, we must march alongside, we must speak up for our gay brothers and sisters. Our children are listening to our talk and watching our actions. As I said before, bullying is learned from the head of the household. It is stopped by the head of our households. It’s time us former conservative Christians break the mold that has been passed down from generation to generation… Today, the mold has been broken in my house…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      WOW! What an amazing letter! Thank you for sharing this!

      Yowzer, man. Tough crowd, those guys!

    • mike moore

      I’m with John … WOW.

      I believe it is your determination to not remain silent that will change this world. Shine a big bright spotlight on this man and woman, and I suspect they will run from the light.

    • Mindy

      You are a HERO. Do you know that? I hope so. Anyone who takes it upon herself to BREAK THE CYCLE and to stand up to those who profess to bully in the name of God – well, you deserve some serious kudos and perhaps even a standing ovation.

      Thank you for this – you are amazing.

      • jodi

        and you are my new best friend! you speak a language i understand. you come from a place i understand. you are doing what i try to do on a daily basis. keep up the good work!

    • jodi

      I just posted a comment meant for you and it somehow ended up as a reply under Mindy’s reply. Sorry about that.

    • Usually Not Anonymous

      Thank you John, Mike, Mindy and Jodi: I appreciate your comments- btw John- I’ve read some of the (awesome) ahem. Comments/Verses that have been spewed your way from the religious right… BUT I (da da da daaa!!!) can top all of them… THIS is the most recent verse quoted my way:

      Let death seize my enemies by surprise; let the grave swallow them alive, for evil makes its home within them. Psalm 55:15 (NLT)

      Gotta laugh…

      Love to you all. Yes, even you, who wish the ground would swallow me alive… Love to you too… <3

  • NS

    Interesting and compelling.

    It seems to me that most schools today have fairly tolerable ways of handling individual bullies. You know, the types that everyone is afraid of, that picks on younger/weaker kids, etc. What we don’t have a solution for is the ostracized kids. The ones who are bullied by everyone else. It is these ostracized individuals who sometimes commit suicide. Many of us have been bullied by individuals, or even by small groups. It is astronomically more devastating to be bullied by everyone, with no solid rock of friendship to stand on.

    I would like to see some of this hypothetical money go towards teaching all kids how to deal kindly with, and eventually include, the ostracized.

  • Mindy Brown Carney via Facebook

    I am soooo for this, John. As kids get into middle and high school, the bullies develop enough finesse to avoid being caught in the act of tormenting. So while most teachers will not tolerate or turn a blind eye, most teachers don’t see it. Kids this age have a hard time understanding long-term consequences of impulsive actions and words, and they need to be taught.


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