Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bullies, Parents, Teachers, Self-Defense

Cynthia Ambrose was convicted of "official oppression" in a bizarre bullying/anti-bullying case. Judge Sid Harle sentenced Ambrose to two years' probation plus 30 days incarceration. According to a report by the San Antonio Express's Guillermo Contreras, Ambrose will serve her sentence on weekends at the Bexar County Jail. In addition, the Texas Education Administration (TEA) suspended Ambrose for one year.

Ms. Ambrose's crime was to become frustrated and fed up with a classroom bully. After having seen too much of it and having perceived a lack of effectiveness in corrective or punitive action, she tried something different. She decided to have the bullied students teach the bully by reversing the roles. She lined the students up and ordered them to put the bully through a gauntlet. Her intent was to let the bully "know how it feels".

The incident took place in Salinas Elementary School. SES is part of the Judson Independent School District that covers part of San Antonio and neighboring East and Northeast Suburbs in Bexar County, TX. The same school district saw other disturbing behavior by educators at the Woodlake Elementary School at the end of the 2012-13 school year.

In the Woodlake incident, a "discipline student" was tied down to a chair. The student was in a special classroom reserved for chronically misbehaving students who were segregated from regular classes. The special "discipline classrooms" are staffed with teachers with backgrounds in special education. The incident shocked the school principal and the rest of the faculty and staff. The teachers involved were dealt with swiftly and removed from the classrooms. 

Ambrose's sentence sparked a short, candid conversation with a young elementary school student from the same district. The student stated that Ambrose was wrong because "two wrongs don't make a right". When asked to explain how Ambrose was wrong, the student stated "because the bully was bullied and the teacher didn't let him defend himself". That sums up the issue up rather succinctly. When it is that obvious to an eight year old, it should have been obvious to Ambrose.

Bullies have been around since the dawn of time. There is always somebody who feels the only way they can feel good about their own existence is by making others feel inferior. Usually, the bullies are victims to begin with. So, they believe the way to regain their self-image is to do onto others what was done onto them, by somebody else.

That is not all bullies, though. There are others who believe that the only way they can succeed or achieve or gain something is to take it, by force, from one who earned it, made it, lawfully acquired it. Sometimes they believe they are denied good grades because of race or skin color. They don't believe it has anything to do with the other kid spending 3 hours a day, after school, doing homework, practicing math, and reading. With others, it is because their parents told them that was the way it is. Regardless of where the idea came from, it is invalid and incorrect. Also regardless of the origin of the false belief, they believe it and act on it.

Also, regardless of the origin of the bullies' desire to bully, bullying is wrong. It is assault.

#WeTheParents place our children into the hands of educators and school administrators with an understanding that they will do their best to protect our kids. We hope that the educators will support the morals that we instill in our children. However, some parents go too far and expect the teachers to do that job for them.

Teachers are expected to keep the peace and enforce the rules of the schools. They are expected to maintain order during recess on the playgrounds. That is part of their job, yes. But they can only work with the resources and raw materials they are given.

Those raw materials are the kids and their moral codes. From where do kids acquire their moral codes and ethics? From their parents, primarily.

Let's get a little personal.

I was bullied several times as a kid. I was small. I was born premature and was a bit of a "late bloomer" physically. I sucked at baseball. I did well in wrestling because I wrestled my weight class, not my age. I also did well in soccer. Throughout grade school and junior high, I was among the shorter and smaller kids. I did well academically and tended to be not afraid to open my yap, though. I was quick witted and didn't hesitate to "burn" somebody when they said something "dumb".

In first or second grade, one of my bullies, Lyle, decided to accost me just off school property. I had a brand new button down shirt that I liked a lot. Lyle pushed me down, ripping all of the buttons off of my shirt. His intent was to ridicule me and embarrass me in front of other classmates. They laughed when I fell. They laughed harder when I stood up and landed a nice jab to the bridge of Lyle's nose. Yes, I broke his nose. Worse, I broke his rather expensive prescription glasses. Their frame cracked. They fell from his face. The lenses hit the sidewalk and got quite scratched up.

Our parents went to war over this for what seemed like years. It was probably only a week or two. Looking back, it could not have been too long. Lyle's father was a fireman. He also performed in local theater and sang the tenor solo parts in Handel's Messiah each winter. We always managed to get tickets, even when they were scarce. They were compliments of Lyle's father.

However, though our parents fought over who was going to pay what portion of what bills from our little fight, Lyle and I went from being bully and victim to friends. Though other bullies came around, most of them backed away when Lyle stood next to me, sort of imitating Adam Baldwin's character from "My Bodyguard". The real irony was whenever somebody said "aw, you need him to fight your battles for you?" Lyle returned with "Nope, I'm here to make sure it's one on one when Paul kicks his butt".

See, despite having a big mouth, I was rather tolerant. I put up with being bullied or picked on, most of the time. It took actually being hurt for me to fight back. When I fought back, I didn't do so to teach a lesson. I didn't do so to embarrass. I didn't do it for revenge.  I fought for my life. I defended myself with everything I had until the bully stopped. So, until it warranted such an action, I largely tolerated or ignored bullying attempts.

One of the main reasons was that I did know how to fight. My father, however, taught me to do so only when I had no other option. So, I didn't. I reserved my physical fighting to some intense sparring matches with my brother. Those of you with two (or more) sons know exactly what that sparring looks like. It is wrestling, and slapping, and wet-willies, and pink bellies, and over-the-couch flying ambushes. It sounds like World War III. Conversely, my brother was not bullied anywhere near as much as I was. Probably because he was more willing to deck the potential bully outright rather than put up with it. 

The morals of that story are well interlaced. First, bullies don't stick to just the school grounds. Most will actually wait until they are off school property and can get away with it. So, you cannot expect school officials to do anything about it. It is outside of their jurisdiction many times.

Teachers need to be firm and objective. They need to discipline and perform corrective action in accordance with the law. If the infraction requires law enforcement involvement, then so be it. However, the parents NEED to be included.

The punishments and corrective actions should not stop at school. In fact, parents need to take their own actions on top of the school's. Grounding works if the parent is home to enforce it. The list goes on. Corporal punishment is usually not the best choice and should not be the first. However, it is sometimes an unfortunate necessity. But it is a last resort. Still, the parents need to set the lines on what it acceptable and what is not.

Bullying is not to be tolerated. But it will still happen. That is a fact of life.

Prevention can go only so far. Murder is against the law. People still murder. Theft is against the law. People still steal. Rape is against the law. Rapists still rape. The best way to avoid being a victim is to be prepared to fight for your life, liberty and property. Most of the criminals who commit these acts look for "soft targets", ones that appear to have little to no means of defense. A lady in an open-carry state walking around with a Glock on her hip is far less likely to be targeted by a rapist than a college student wearing a "ban guns" T-shirt.

Parents need to be role-models. They need to tell their kids to not pick on others or tolerate it. They need to be taught non-violent means of dealing with bullies, and to try those if possible. Those are the best solutions. They need to know they can talk to a teacher, a principal, a school counselor. Most importantly, they need to know that they should tell their parents. Parents need to listen, observe, question, be involved.

Parents also need to teach their children self-defense.

Self-defense isn't just fighting. It involves resilience. It involves an indomitable spirit. It involves a positive self-image.

Indomitable spirit is the one that does not accept failure as defeat. It takes failure, or a failed attempt, as a learning experience. It makes it positive. It motivates to try harder and not give up. It is the catalyst for achievement and prosperity. Look, very few people start martial arts being able to break a board. Practice leads to the success. That success leads to trying to break two until successful. The same with a proper block, a math problem, reading, or standing up for yourself against a bully. It does not eliminate fear. It changes fear into opportunity.

Resilience is better than tolerance. Tolerance is just plain accepting and allowing bad things to go on. Resilience is being able to succeed despite them. It goes beyond the limits of tolerance. It allows the kid to know how much they can take, and where they need to stop taking it. There does come a point where it is not only understandable to fight back, but necessary. Nobody has a right to harm you unless you are trying to harm them. However, there is still a lot to be said of the old adage "sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me". The names only hurt you if your let them. Resilience keeps them from hurting you.

That plays to self-image. Honesty goes a long way. If your child has problems with math, or a speech impediment or they are short for their age, it is fine to acknowledge it. It identifies things to work on or work around. In addition, though, make sure you let the child know their good qualities. Don't make a huge issue of the "negative" ones. Be honest but be kind. The kid has a stutter? Well, that is something to work on. In the meantime, can the kid write well? Accentuate their writing ability. Praise their efforts to work through the speech. Each step needs to be praised as they make progress. They need to be comfortable with not being perfect. Nobody is perfect. They also need to be ready to work a little harder. It is worth it and it should draw praise when they overcome, not ridicule as they are still striving.

A child will not be as willing to defend itself if he or she doesn't feel he or she is worth defending. A parent willing to stand up against the bully (or the bully's parents) sets a good role model. It tells the child (s)he is worth fighting for.

The fight doesn't need to be physical. However, it needs to be defense, not retribution or vengeance. Retribution and vengeance just escalate the conflict into a quid pro quo of abuse. The best defense is to not be there. That means walk, not run, away. If it is name calling only, then look at the bully as though they don't mean anything, and walk away. Their words should not mean anything. When it turns to harassment, inform the authorities and parents. Parents, address the situation rationally. Defend your child.

Bullying becomes physical the moment the bully puts up that barrier to trap the victim. It is the moment the confrontation has turned to violence. If somebody tries to trap you, you feel threatened. If they don't back off, you have a right to fight, to escape, to defend. Do so.

I'd rather a child come home safe, unscathed, and unharmed. However, if a child comes home bruised, bleeding, crying, with hair snipped off and gum stuck to her, I hope the other kids are explaining where the black eyes and broken noses they are sporting came from. The answer should be "we bullied the wrong kid and she kicked our butts".

This is not lining up kids to inflict retribution upon a bully in order to teach him a lesson. It is also not within the authority or responsibility of a teacher. This is the parents' lane.

This is advocating a person's right to defense, in the moment, for self-protection. If a school has to take actions due to its own policies, that is fine. All actions have consequences. However, no kid should have to stand there and be bullied while waiting for some "authority" to do something. Self-reliance is a far better solution. It breeds self-confidence, self-assurance, prosperity and success.