Hindsight as a parent can be gut wrenching. There were signs months ago that while our daughter was in the third grade she had been on the receiving end of consistent and persistent bullying by a number of girls and boys in her class. There were classroom emails sent home by the teacher requesting that parents speak to their children about language and kindness as if this was a class wide issue. At the same time our daughter, who had never been clingy, would ask me to walk her to the school door. Between the front steps of the school and the entrance she would give me a huge hug and say “Good Bye Mom” at least twice before she entered the building. At the time I thought her behavior was just a transitional phase that she was going through and didn’t give it a lot of thought. However, when I would pick her up after school she would run to me and hug me as if I was the safe zone in a game of tag.
What I have discovered is that for the last year and a half our daughter has been isolated and picked on by a group of boys and girls and no one said a word. The teachers and administrator looked the other way. I would even go so far as to say that their response to bullying has been willful ignorance. It wasn’t until the parent of a student in her class contacted me to let me know that her son was very upset by the way our daughter was being treated by a number girls in the class and some boys. Later I heard from another parent that their son knew that these girls had been picking on our daughter all last year and even mentioned the ringleader. The adults appeared to all have their heads in the sand and the kids were more than aware of what was going on.
We had no idea it was that bad because our daughter had not said a word to us. I knew she wasn’t happy at school and that she was not a part of the cool group of kids, but she had good friends and I wasn’t too worried about her. Granted, all of her friends were in the other fourth grade classroom, but she saw them at recess and lunch and we figured she would be okay. We had no idea how picked on she had been the previous year nor that it had carried over to this year too. When the issue was pointed out to the administrator and teachers the focus was not on what would be the best move to protect our daughter, but what would be the best move for the teachers and the rest of the students. Throughout the process of getting our daughter assigned to another classroom we have been gobsmacked at how indifferent the school has been towards the welfare of our daughter. For all their talk about kindness and the whole anti-bullying task force? It’s all just talk because when push comes to shove they have just covered everything up with the hope that we will just drop the subject.
It took us over a week to get our daughter reassigned to a different teacher. I had tried to prevent this situation from occurring by asking the principal in August to not place her in a class with these girls. We named names and I let her know that the previous year had been difficult. When the principal placed her in a class with all the girls that we had named we knew that we needed to go over her head and we contacted the district office. We left three messages with the assistant superintendent and the head of education. No one returned our calls. Later that day I received a call from the principal. I explained the situation to her and said we strongly feel our daughter needed to be moved. At first the principal tried to convince us that changing teachers in the middle of the year was just not something that is done. Then I was told that it would be disruptive and that it didn’t solve the bullying problem. Then I was asked what I think should be done to solve the bullying problem and that I needed to think about next year and middle school. When it became obvious that we were not going to budge in our conviction that our daughter needed to be moved the principal became short and curt.
What we were being told is to tell our daughter to turn the other cheek and walk the extra nine months of the school year being marginalized and isolated by her peers because it would be disruptive to move her. During that week our daughter was subjected to more bullying to the point that another student reported the incident to the teacher; however, the teacher never relayed that information to us.
It appears as if neither the principal nor the teacher has contacted the parents of the bullies or have addressed the bigger issue in any way. The principal did tell me that she saw a few of the girls in the hallway and had asked them if they were being kind to everyone and they seemed “sheepish.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Feeling sheepish will not change a person’s behavior. Feeling sheepish is not feeling remorse or guilt. Feeling sheepish is like sharing a wry smile with a co-conspirator. How does sheepish evolve into shame which can evolve into empathy? I don’t want these girls punished, but I would like them to know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of their behavior. By placing the blame for the move on us it only validates their behavior.
The only person that has had to deal with the consequences of these girls’ behavior is our daughter, and to a lesser extent her parents. We held firm and disrupted the apple-cart which made things awkward for the teachers and the principals. It feels like we are the ones being punished because we wouldn’t just go along to get along. We held firm to what we knew was the best move for our daughter and not to what was the best move for the whole fourth grade. Due to my vocation I am a pretty altruistic person, but not when it comes to our child.
In the end we got what we needed for our child and she was moved into the other fourth grade classroom. Granted, this only solves the immediate issue of bullying and doesn’t address the larger issue. Our daughter will be in the same school as these other students for as long as we live in the area; which could be six months or ten years. Some people advocate an eye for an eye approach to the situation, but that only leaves both parties blind and doesn’t evoke any real change. No, in hindsight I think our daughter tried to handle the situation in the right way she tried to turn the other cheek and walk away. Some people think this is a weak way to deal with the issue, but it is the only real way that leads to meaningful change.
Turning the other cheek doesn’t mean that you become the whipping child for bullies. The idea of turning the other cheek is to evoke shame in the aggressor and those witnessing the aggression. When a person or group of people gang up on a weaker person or group their actions when witnessed by others should evoke a response of discomfort and shame; which happened in this case. The boy who spoke up on our daughter’s behalf felt so uncomfortable with the behavior of these bullies that he told his parents. Whether this young man knows it or not he changed our daughter’s life and we are eternally grateful to him. If he had not said anything I believe our daughter would have spent eight more months of school silently suffering. I only wish that the actual bullies would be able to achieve the same sense of empathy and compassion as this young man. By not holding the antagonists accountable the principal and teachers are preventing these young girls from developing empathy and compassion for those that they have hurt.
The anti-bullying task-force and kindness does matter talk is just that –talk, if when situations such as my daughter’s arises and nothing is done. The party line for our child’s move is that it was the best move to help the fourth grade classes. Help the fourth grade classes? How does burying your head in the sand help anyone? How will these students realize the hurt and shame they are causing others if we just pretend their behavior is not an issue? My question is if kindness really matters how is ignoring the issue kind to either the bullies or those being bullied? No one wins with this approach, but it does mean that neither the school nor the parents have to deal with the uncomfortable reality that they have a huge problem.
Personally, I know that for the first time in months our daughter went to school happy today and I am thankful. I am thankful to those who have stuck by her side throughout this time. I am thankful to the parents who have supported us and I am thankful that once again I have a happy child.