I saw the post on Facebook and it made my breath catch in my throat, as I stood on line for “Glow” at Monmouth Racetrack this past weekend (locals, it’s fabulous!) and tried to mitigate my son’s impatience for standing in any line, ever. I noticed the title “Popular Homecoming Tradition Axed at Monmouth County School,” and perhaps my Pisces powers kicked in because I just knew it was about my alma mater, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School.
And somehow I knew the reason for eliminating a tradition that’s lasted for decades wouldn’t be a good one.
The article was brief, and later I got to see a video from News 12 describing what happened. The reporter said the voting of the homecoming home and queen at my high school was scuttled due to rumors going around that some students were going to vote for two people who “would ultimately be the subject of ridicule.”
Lovely. Welcome to Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.
Having only attended one high school I can honestly say I can’t compare RFH to other institutions, however I do remember we had a particularly “clique-y class,” which I believe my brethren ultimately revolted against by voting two technically “non-popular” people (who happened to be two of the nicest people in our class) to the throne our senior year. I racked my brain for outright bullying that transpired when I was there and couldn’t remember anything (but then again I was focused on boys and passing physics, so I probably missed a lot).
I know from reading some of the comments on Facebook that overt verbal bullying did occur, but the not-so-subtle kind happened too. There was the “no eye contact/ignore in the halls/ not deign to speak to people in the bathroom” variety, which having come from a small elementary school where there were perhaps five self-proclaimed “popular people” who were generally nice to everyone was a bit of a shock to me. I had friends in all different groups but basically hung with the keep our heads down/ go to a good college crew, found the majority of the elitism stupid and just went about my business, and just stressed about class rank, grades, (those boys), and had fun.
Yes, I liked high school. Don’t hate me.
RFH is certainly not the only place I’ve been witness to such exclusionary tactics in my life. I taught 4th, 5th and 6th grade in DC and Virginia for a dozen years, and saw cruelty that made me question my desire to reproduce. My co-workers and I tried to quell as much of the bullying as possible and were generally able to do this in our classrooms, but we couldn’t have eyes and ears every second our students were in the bathroom, walking to lunch, on the playground, or on the bus. I began to identify subsets of cruelty- retaliatory for a perceived wrong, acting out because something sucks in their lives, and my personal favorite, let’s destroy this kid just because it feels good. I found that boys in general were easier to deal with. Over the years I found often just threatening to make a student’s parents miss work to come in and meet with me, the principal and their wayward son often deterred the boys, and half the time the two squabbling students would become friends.
The girls were tougher. When you teach upper elementary students you are often able to “float” around the classroom as kids work independently on projects, and this is where I caught many of my girls in the act. At the time I was much younger and still able to see and hear far away (good thing I don’t teach anymore) and was able to address issues on the spot. I was often greeted with an angelic stare by the perpetrator and a promise never to repeat the act again. At least half the time I’d pretend I was convinced, take two steps, turn around, and see the verbal bullying continuing as if I’d never been there.
Ooh, and what followed was never pretty. When it came to bullying, and this was way before giving birth to my two special needs sons, Mrs. McCafferty took no prisoners.
And here’s the truth about kids that no parent wants to hear- some have empathy, some need to be taught it, and some, well, don’t hold your breath.
Bullying is not something that “kids just do.”
I had students who bullied and were genuinely mortified by their actions, and I was certain after the incident that it would never recur again. I had others who were repeat offenders, who had to be made aware that I would report every single bullying incident I could find, call their parents repeatedly, notify the principal, and make it so that their lives were miserable until they stopped. Reality is, some kids are mean just like some adults are inherently mean.
Parents need to actively teach their children to respect people who are different than they are. They need to teach their children to actively stand up for classmates who are being bullied. And the schools need to stick to the letter of the very strict NJ anti-bullying laws created to protect students in just such a situation as this.
I think the schools in general are doing a much better job at this, but ultimately it has to start in the home. I would always tell my students they didn’t have to be friends with everyone but they had to respect their classmates, and if they reached out to that “different” kid they might just be surprised at how cool they are. I don’t think a hell of of a lot of teaching about differences was going on when I grew up in the seventies and eighties, but at least in my experience with my two autistic sons I have seen a growing awareness and understanding in the past thirteen years, which gives me hope for future generations.
And for those students at my alma mater who thought this would be fun to publicly humiliate two unsuspecting people reminiscent of the movie Carrie, I have a few choice words for you.
I hope everyone knows who came up with and supported this fabulous idea. I hope your parents know, and your parents’ friends know. I hope your teachers know and your college recruiters find out and that the RFH parents who are posting this are not lamenting the “loss of a tradition” all over Facebook that you’ll never read. I hope you realize that this could happen to your brother or sister, or one day, your kids.
Be the almost adults you are, apologize if those two kids even want you to, and mean it.
And I hope you realize you’re just one step away from it someday happening to you.
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