I’m going to tell a story; see if you can finish it before I do.
A kid goes to school. A bully picks on him. The bully hits him. The kid comes home crying. His father pulls him close and says, “Son, I’m gonna teach you something. If someone hits you . . . “
OK. Finish it.
How you finish it will likely depend on how old you are. If, like me, you are old enough to know that Paul McCartney was in the Beatles before he was in Wings, then this is how you finish that story:
“If someone hits you,” the father says, “you hit him back.”
It was a code we boys were taught. The thinking was, you didn’t start fights, but you didn’t stand there and let yourself be a punching bag, either.
Today, it’s not so clear. According to one school superintendent in Georgia, “Students cannot fight back. There are other means they can use.”
Try telling that to Daryl Gray, a 13-year-old student in that superintendent’s district. For more than two years, Gray, a sad-eyed, bespectacled African-American student, had reportedly been picked on by classmates. They teased him. Harassed him. Called him gay. One student urinated on his shoe.
Victims often swallow abuse
Despite repeated complaints by Gray and his mother, the bullying continued. This is not a new story. After all, most bullying occurs away from a teacher’s view — in hallways, in bathrooms, in schoolyards. By the time a complaint is registered, the act is done, and it becomes a he said/he said deal. Many bullying victims, already feeling persecuted, don’t want any more attention drawn to them, so they swallow their abuse.
Until they can’t anymore.
Which is what happened with Gray. By his account, a few months ago, a kid behind him in math class hit him on the head. And for whatever reason — perhaps nothing more than a teen reaching his tipping point — this time, Daryl swung back.
Unfortunately, he had a pencil in his hand. The pencil struck the kid in the face, causing a serious injury and leaving a scar.
And even though Daryl Gray had never been in trouble before, even though he was a Jehovah’s Witness, even though he was all of 12 years old at the time, he was put on trial for aggravated battery.
And was found guilty.
And was facing five years in jail.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Two students are left scarred
“I agree that it never should have gotten this far,” said Judge Leslie Gresham, who last week gave Gray 90 days of probation and a $332 fine. “But I can’t forget that we do have a child that’s injured and has a permanent scar.”
The truth is, we have two. Gray’s scar might not be a mark on his face, but it’s a scar nonetheless. This is what bullying does. And for the life of me, I don’t understand why the little tortures kids pour on one another are allowed to go on unabated, but the minute a kid brings a pair of scissors through a school door, he’s treated like a terrorist.
This is the end game of zero tolerance, a policy designed to protect schools from lawsuits as much as anything else. If you can zero-tolerate an act of violence, zero-tolerate a weapon, zero-tolerate a sharp instrument, then why won’t schools zero-tolerate bullying?
Because they can’t. Or it’s too difficult. Or because without hard proof, they run into parents who think their child is the first ever to emerge from a womb, and refuse to accept that the kid could be a stinker to others.
Did you know that two-thirds of school shootings in the last 30 years were committed by bullying victims? Two-thirds? We might want to think about that before allowing verbal and physical abuse to reach the boiling point.
After all, our fathers may have taught us “if someone hits you, you hit back.” But Gray, by swinging, was a bit of a throwback. Today, more and more, when they hit back, they get a gun.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org