Chapter Six: Get Out of My Swing!

The public schools tell us that they are against bullying. They prove it by the amount of time and money put into anti-bullying campaigns. The whole truth is that while the Public School publically denounces bullying, it provides the perfect environment for it to occur.

Oh sure, there might be a little pestering going on in class. There might be a little scuffle now and then on the playground. Little do the teachers know that what they see are just trailers for the full-scale, big-budget blockbuster about hate, greed, envy, domination, humiliation, extortion, blackmail, betrayal and abuse.

  Have you ever thought of a bully teacher, bully secretary, bully librarian? Do we dare mention the bully janitor or bully principal? Let’s look at some of the methods the playground bully uses with the tactics many public school staff members use. I’m afraid you’ll be sadly surprised at the similarities.

The talented bully has any number of methods he can use to get the swing he wants. The first is the direct method. Push the kid off the swing. It’s beautifully simple and effective, but not without risk. The gifted bully has a honed sense of risk. The risk with this first method is that the kid might get a bloody nose. A bloody nose cannot be easily hidden even if the whiny nose-bleeder promises not to tell how it happened.

When a teacher uses this method she might push your little one down into his seat. She might tip over his desk and hover over him while he picks everything up. The beauty of the direct method is instant results. If the bully is more advanced, he might use the related tactic of just threatening to push the kid off the swing.

This method has its benefits and risks too. The most obvious benefit is that the risk of the bloody nose is eliminated. Most of what the whiny swing loser says can be denied. Again, there is beauty in simplicity. All the bully has to do is walk up to the swing and tell the occupant to leave, or he’ll knock her out of the swing. The limitation to this method can be size. The victim must either be smaller in body or weaker in mind.

Just menacing is a useful tool of control

For the primary school teacher, size isn’t necessary to consider. So this second method fits wonderfully. Some accomplished bully teachers can use this method without even speaking. The school district I worked for had me take an actual course on how to do this effectively. The teacher just stares down the intended victim. If that doesn’t work, she can move in closer. If that doesn’t have its effect, she can move right in next to her. Menacing some action can be as effective as actually doing it in many cases. No threats need to be spoken, only implied.

The more refined the skills, the less chance the bully has of detection. An exceptionally good bully can make it look like “just good fun”. A bully with these gifts doesn’t need to be bigger than the object of his attention. He might pleasantly greet the occupant of the swing he wants and then tell her how she looks like a dog. When he tells her how stupid her mother’s hair looks, she will get out of the swing on her own and run away. If she comes back with a playground sentinel, the bully will say that he didn’t mean to hurt her feelings. He might even give the swing up as a gesture of goodwill.

If the bully is experienced, he will follow up at the next recess. He will sit in the swing next to the one he wants. He will bring a few like-minded kids to play with him. The occupant of the swing will be given a short volley of well-aimed insults causing the little crybaby to go running to the sentinel again. Now the bully can say, “We were all playing together”. She gets back in her swing but the others remain. The sentinel is now watching closely. The bully only has to whisper the insult and the whiner goes running. At last the crybaby is thoroughly discredited with the sentinel, who turns away leaving the bully to his work. Next recess, she who held the swing has moved to the teeter-totters. Will the bully stay at the swings?

At the teachers’ lounge the sentinel will inform the other sentinels to watch for the little false accuser that is trying to get people in trouble to get attention.

The bully that is able to include others in his or her work has great power. The group will always laugh and agree. Maybe they will even join in. Those in the group may be bullies themselves. More likely, they are just nice little people, wisely going along, so they won’t become the target. How sad it would be for your little one to get caught up in it.

       A bully teacher will also get others to help her get what she wants. If she wants to change a behavior, she might say, “You will all write sentences because Suzy spoke out of turn.” Being the ultimate authority figure, she has added advantages that the playground bully can only dream of.

  Coercion is a bully teacher’s most useful tool. Recess time is a useful tool of coercion. If a little person doesn’t behave in the prescribed manner, or needs to go to the restroom during class, she will have to give up minutes of recess time. The teacher has complete control of these precious minutes when the little inmates are allowed to run free. This gives immense power to coerce nearly any behavior wanted from the little people. Don’t underestimate the desire to be free! The little people will trade nearly anything for a few minutes of freedom. There is the threat of whole days and weeks of lost freedom. The bully teacher will hold a little person’s few moments of freedom as ransom to get whatever she wants. This type of bullying is hard to spot because it often produces good behavior! But the cost will be great.

Any good bully knows that ignoring is also an effective way to inflict pain or get what is wanted. A bully teacher can use this tool effectively because she is the most powerful and important person in little people’s lives (sorry, parents). Most little people, because of their internment, are starved for attention. Many desire it above all else. After being deprived of so many elements of being human, like the opportunity to discover and create, after being confined for hour after hour as in a coop, the need for attention from a human (not a chicken) is powerful. Withholding attention, or the threat of it is a very effective way to coerce.

Fred and George

In band class one of my students, Fred, known by the staff as a sweet kid, was a bully of remarkable skill. It took some time for me to notice what he was doing to George. George was obnoxious! He was difficult for me to deal with. He whined about everything. He was upset all the time. I told him more than once to be calm. He mentioned Fred’s name a time or two so I started to pay attention.

Fred would sit next to George and whisper insults to him while they were playing a song. I didn’t realize what was going on. One day Fred slipped. He hurled an almost silent barb at George just as the music stopped. I heard it. I can’t tell you the regret I felt as I saw George through my new eyes.  What I saw before was a needy pain in the neck, I now saw that he was completely alone. There were many other kids involved. Maybe he acted the way he did as a result of how he was being treated. If this had been happening from his formative years, it was no wonder he behaved as he did.

Thinking of what his life must be like during the rest of the day made me sick.

There was nowhere to hide

I could imagine that he had to endure more than just whispered insults. George had nowhere to turn. He couldn’t leave the room. He couldn’t go find somewhere safe. As an adult, you have the freedom to get up and leave if you don’t like the way you’re being treated.

When I saw George in the halls, he was usually alone, head bent down. Everyone was a potential threat. He didn’t want to catch anyone’s attention and risk the rest of the chickens coming after his feathers. How many years had this been going on?

I kept Fred, the bully, after class. “I know what you’re doing to George. It stops now.” He stared at the floor. “You need to look at me. I want you to see how serious I am. I know you get others to do it too. No, don’t look down. I don’t understand why a great kid like you would want to destroy another person like that. But it stops here. Do you understand?”

At the end of the year, George was still a pain in the neck. But for years, he had been compelled to be cooped up with other creatures that were picking him to death. Could I expect the results of that would just go away? Could I expect that just because band was safe, the bullying wasn’t happening everywhere else?

When I approached one of his teachers to see if we could work together to help George, the response was, “He’s from a broken home. He brings most of it on himself.” End of discussion. I guess that meant that the school bore no responsibility for George’s behavior. There was nothing to be done about the bullying. His home life must be the reason he was a pain. It couldn’t have been the seven hours of hell he was forced to endure every day!

I told George that I was sorry for not taking him seriously when he mentioned the bully. “Oh, it’s OK, Mr. Fridal, nobody believes me.”

Fred, the “sweet kid”, was maliciously and constantly tearing George (and others) apart. Yet I pity him. How would he behave if he had not been subjected to incessant, unnecessary competition? What if he had not been deprived of the opportunity to discover and create? Down in there somewhere, there is a sweet kid.

Do you really believe that your little one would escape the bullying that happens in the Public School? The environment causing it is constant. Teachers may intervene, parents may complain, but it continues without interruption. I’ve heard many parents say “that’s just how it is”. They couldn’t be more right.

Who gets insulted, threatened and belittled, kicked, pinched and punched? Anyone that is “different” or doesn’t behave the way the bully wants them to. They might include:

  1. Someone slower than the rest
  2. Someone smarter than the rest
  3. Someone taller than the rest
  4. Someone shorter than the rest
  5. Someone with a noticeable physical feature
  6. Someone that speaks differently than the rest
  7. Someone with different interests than the rest
  8. Someone whose family is different from the rest

The list could go on. Will your little one be on the list? It is the people that cannot or will not stand up for themselves that are the target. In the classroom, no one can stand up for themselves. They will be taught by experience day after day that they can’t stand up for themselves and that no one else will. The students that could stand up don’t dare.

       It is physically impossible for a teacher to dedicate the time it would take to see what is really happening. The bullying stops when the teacher comes near anyway. The teachers’ own children are not treated as the other children are. I saw that difference first hand. So it is nearly impossible, even for the dedicated teacher to know how prevalent and devastating it is. Often the victims have been victims for so long that the staff takes their complaints with a grain of salt. They have a persecution complex.

      For too many, school is an inescapable hell where they are insulted, demeaned, teased, threatened and even physically hurt. Some, like the little chicken in the coop, resign themselves to their fate. They come to believe what the bullies tell them. Others are constantly on alert, constantly on the defensive, always ready to fight back. In that environment for all the hours they are there, how could they not be deeply affected?

To think, that it is all happening where you would send your little one to learn!