A couple of years ago, I volunteered at my daughters’ school for a committee that was charged with instituting a new anti-bullying program, called Olweus. It is an enormous cooperative effort involving not just teachers, guidance counselors, but the school nurse, custodians, cafeteria workers, and parents. Together, everyone worked with each other to recognize and deal with bullying, and hopefully to prevent it. The program pushed respect for others and encouraged weekly class meetings to have simple and casual conversations among the class.
To make this program work, there were several hours of training, by leaders and then committee members. Part of the training involved role playing and brain storming. Some of us offered our own experiences with bullying. We talked about the impact that bullying has on a student that often does not get considered. How is a child who is being bullied supposed to be able to concentrate in the classroom? I chose that particular moment to give one example how a student cannot concentrate on school work because he is concentrating on something else. And for the first time publicly, I am telling everyone.
I attended Jefferson Elementary School, which used to be the old High School. From the very first day of kindergarten I was marked as the smallest and youngest kid, by a boy named Clifford. He stood at least six inches taller than me and clearly outweighed me. And that, gave him his reason to begin picking on me, nearly every day. As I got older, other children caught on to the bullying activity with me. But instead of helping me, the realized that they were in a position either they would also get picked on, or they could show their toughness, and come after me. After all, a victory was still a victory. Soon after that, for fear that I might begin to defend myself (note – it was 3rd grade and I had not given any signs yet that I would defend myself because that is how I was raised, never throw a punch), the bullying turned to gang events, a minimum of three bullies at one time – one to hold me, the other to look out, and the other to asault me, and then rotate turns. Now, even girls were going to give their shot and see what would happen. I disappointed no one. I refused to hit a girl, so it began, getting the shit beat out of me by girls. And they were not nice about it either going straight with kicks to the balls to start every bout. I was totally defenseless. Even on the playground during recess, teachers just walked around looking away so as not to be taken away from their free time.
So, whast kind of student was I and why? My grades were horrible because instead of paying attention to the teachers, I was busy watching the clock. And this was all day. I would watch the clock anticipating phys ed class because no matter what the activity, I was going to receive extra contact throughout the period. I hated lunch for two reasons. The first because the walk to the cafeteria was routinely accompanied by being shoved into things like doors or lockers or having my foot kicked behind the other to force me to trip. Recess of course was just a matter of haning around the teacher monitors as long as I could because it was only a matter of time until I was dragged into this small alcove between the two buildings. With all the goings-on occurring on the playground, no one could ever hear me in this area. Even going to the bathroom, or in the bathoom was not safe.
Following lunch and recess, the clock would be watched to see how much time I would have left so I could plan my route home, which had to change every day. And with the efforts to bully me being a group effort, rarely a day would go by that I would not get caught. So my planning begun with the fact that I was on the 3rd floor of the building. Which of the two flight of stairs would have the least amount of bullies waiting for me at the bottom. Once I arrived there, there were three possible doors to exit from, one at each side, and the front door. Again, which would provide me the best opportunity of escape? Once out of the door, it would be a mad dash across the street then having to scout the street in front of the school, which of the two streets and two alleys heading towards home would not have the ambushes waiting for me? As I got to the alleyway after that choice, if I saw another group of thugs, I had this opportunity to choose another alleyway or street to head down. Once I got to my street, it was just an all-out run.
The beatings would normally last between five and ten minutes and none would leave anything physically visible. My bookbag would be torn apart. And the last thing I wanted to do, was bring the bullying up at home, because that usually followed with a call to my principal, which resulted with a meeting with the bully’s parents and response “not my child”. And the next day the beatings would be worse.
Jefferson Elementary may have been torn down, and a new building now stands in its place. But those memories of my elementary education have lasted over 40 years.