Maybe it’s just the old Marine in me, but I think the nation’s public schools are leaving out an important element in their handling of what they are calling the current bullying crisis. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the various anti-bullying campaigns that are being used to call attention to the situation. Such campaigns have a place and can play an important role in making people aware of the problem. Unfortunately, it will take more than awareness to stop bullying. The bullies I have known in my life would not have been deterred in the slightest by awareness campaigns.
My question for school administrators is this: What happened to teaching young boys to swallow their fear and stand up to bullies? When I was young, this was an essential lesson all boys had to learn, and it is an important lesson. Part of becoming a man is learning to overcome fear, stand up for yourself, and solve your own problems. A nine-year old boy recently stood up to a bully, but instead of being congratulated he was suspended from school. This has to be the most wrongheaded response a school’s administration could have taken. One can only assume that the principal who suspended the young boy for fighting back is the type of misguided liberal who thinks we can prevent wars by putting flowery bumper stickers on our cars.
I suppose I should not be surprised that public schools, which are dominated by the left, would insist on an approach to handling the bullying problem that is in keeping with their attitude toward everything: let the government—in the form of school administrators—take care of your problems. In their wrongheaded handling of bullying, public schools are preparing the next generation of American men to do exactly what the left wants them to do: view themselves as victims who must depend on government. God help America when we have to depend on the current generation of school children to defend us against terrorists and other belligerents.
I have two problems with anti-bullying campaigns that do not support young boys who stand up to bullies and fight back as the nine-year old boy who was suspended did; the first practical, the second philosophical. The practical problem is that school administrators cannot be everywhere at once and bullies are not stupid. Bullies are going to do their nefarious work when and where school administrators are not present. In other words, administrators can respond to bullying only after the damage has already been done. This approach is like expecting a homeowner to wait for the police to arrive when an armed criminal is coming through his front door. In such cases, the police will arrive just in time to zip up the body bags on the homeowner and his family.
My philosophical problem with the way public schools are handling the bullying problem is that it creates an unhealthy dependency in young boys who will grow up unable to take care of themselves and their families. Life is not always easy and sometimes you have to take your lumps in standing up for what is right. The sooner young boys learn this lesson the better. Standing up to bullies has always been one of the ways boys learn to do the right thing, even when it is hard, even when it hurts, and even when there is a personal price to pay. Forcing young boys to respond to bullying by depending on school administrators to protect them has, no doubt, contributed to the tragic occurrences of suicide in some of the victims of bullying. Suicide results from feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and impotence. Young boys who learn to stand up to bullies, even though they might take a drubbing, are less likely to commit suicide because they feel helpless and hopeless.
My favorite episode of the old Andy Griffith Show dealt with the issue of bullying. In this episode, Andy and Barney learn that a bully is accosting Opie on the way to school every day and taking his milk money from him. The bully is bigger, older, and tougher than Opie. Opie has tried to talk his way out of the situation, but words have not worked. Andy is the sheriff of Mayberry. Consequently, he could have interceded on Opie’s behalf at any time and solved the problem for him. But Andy knew that there would be times in Opie’s life when he would not be there to solve his problems. He knew Opie had to learn to stand up for himself.
After some typical fumbling around by the inept but loveable Barney, Andy sits down with Opie and tells him a story about a bully who used to take his favorite fishing hole away from him when he was a boy Opie’s age. At first Andy gave in to the bully’s intimidation out of fear, but after a while he got tired of being pushed around and stood up to him. Andy does not sugarcoat the story for Opie. He explains to his son that he lost the fight. But it was a case of losing the battle but winning the war. Andy got a black eye and some bruises, but in fighting back he made the bully pay a high enough price that it became apparent bullying Andy was a bad idea. The next day Opie stood up to his bully with the same result. In spite of his black eye, bumps, and bruises, Opie learned a valuable lesson, and so did the bully.
The message in this episode of a favorite old television program was a message that public school administrators need to hear, understand, and take to heart. Opie took some lumps for standing up for himself, but physical wounds will heal. What will not heal is the wound on a young boy’s self-image when he knows he can be victimized at any time and by anyone who is willing to use his power to