School Bullies

This problem that has been building for years is coming to a crescendo, and it’s very loud. 

I noticed it at a recent school board meeting, when a zoom caller concluded their statement to the board by repeatedly screaming “HOW DARE YOU? HOW DARE YOU?” at the elected officials. There’s an inverse relationship between how loudly you scream, swear or sneer at elected officials, and how many of them can listen to what you are saying.

Bullying is a very ineffective way to get what you want. 

When I was in grade school, my family had just moved to California, and I was bullied. Bullied for being new, bullied for being different, bullied just because that is how some people entertain themselves. There was another girl in the class, also new to the school. She had been at the local Catholic school, and her family was recently arrived from another country. She screamed a little louder, punched my arm a little harder than most I’d pass in the hall. 

Maybe you went to a school where people would punch you or spit on you just for walking past them in the hall? 

Are there schools where this doesn’t happen? 

One day, I walked into the girls bathroom to find her drying her hands on a paper towel over the sink. She looked into the mirror and saw me. She looked around; we were alone. “You know, Judy, I don’t hate you. But if I don’t yell when they yell, you know they’re going to be yelling at me? I just don’t want to be the target.” 

I was astonished. 

She went on “You can take it; you’re brave. I could never do what you do. I’d cry and then I’d be a crybaby, and they’d never let me forget it.”

I was about to answer her, when someone walked in the door, and without missing a beat, she crumpled up all the paper towels in her hands and threw them at me, screaming “FREAK” and then running out the door.

Bullies are scared. Mostly, they are scared of being bullied.  

I have seen, throughout the pandemic and even more at this end of it, many people participating in meetings have lost any sense of decorum or manners. There are hecklers, jeering and catcalling, and not just at the dais. At a recent council meeting, the mayor had to reprimand a member of the audience for sneering at other people speaking from the podium while they were walking back to their seats.  

But the clamor at city council barely holds a candle to the level of fury and indignation aimed at the school board. The recent Town Hall on Safety was almost ironically titled. It’s tempting to dismiss the fans of faux news, but the more screaming there is, the longer and louder it goes on. The mood is a monster that feeds on itself. 

What is all this volume about? Some of it is actually about bullying. 

We arrived at the surreal level of bullying when a member of the public decided to create a meme of a school board member crying, and post it on line as a taunt. As if it were normal for an adult to model this behavior. As if someone shedding tears was just an easy target. I don’t even want to imagine how the children of that family behave online. Or even in the school bathroom. 

Yes, Pandemic, I know, everyone has been through a lot of challenge and fear and trauma. But have we given up on being able to conduct civic business without shrieking? 

There are people – even now – who can address a municipal meeting with the simple amount of manners that the occasion calls for. It’s not hard. Best of all – actual communication can take place. 

Bullying just begets more bullying, and then you have no communication at all. It seems to be a lesson we all might study a little more closely. 

Judith Martin-Straw


The Actors' Gang