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October 4, 2011

I had the privilege of going through school without being picked on or bullied. I pretty much minded my own business, got along with my friends and didn’t make enemies (on purpose).

That is not the experience of a lot of kids. To address that concern in our local schools, the district is providing a showing of the movie Fat Boy Chronicles. Junior high students are reading the book. Efforts are being made to reduce the effect of bullying of kids who weren’t as privileged as I was to get through school unscathed.

I think this is a good effort, but it is woefully inadequate.

The problem of bullying is systemic. From the first day of school, behaviors and attitudes are expected to be the same, but not in a good way. School and education is seen as thirteen years of drudgery. In order to cope with the drudgery and boredom, students are expected to “express themselves.”

The problem is that all the self-expression looks the same. All the kids have to look like miniature teens waiting to go to their first rock concert. And all the teens have to look like they’re halfway between depression and denial.

When Bart Simpson got an earring against his parents’ wishes, his sister Lisa remarks glibly: “How rebellious in a conformist sort of way.” Self-expression is not about personal identity at all – it has to be within socially acceptable parameters.

Even in the story of the Fat Boy Chronicles, the boy’s pathway to happiness is to lose weight to get the attention of a girl.

Why? The ruse is that the boy becomes “healthier.” Of course, the truth is that the boy becomes socially acceptable. And that’s a shame.

Isn’t the boy talented though he’s overweight? Doesn’t he have ideas worth sharing? Doesn’t he have a sense of humor or feelings about his parents? Why is his stature a factor?

Of course, if the boy were lithe, with great hair, straight teeth, and wealthy parents, there wouldn’t be a story, would there? Because that’s what we want. It doesn’t matter if students are dullards and nincompoops – if they look great, they’ll make it.

How is the issue systemic? It comes from the top. The federal government continues its efforts to make every student go to college. What about those kids who have no aptitude for the liberal arts? State governments spend millions of dollars on sports programs, awards, recognitions, bus travel, etc. What about those students who are not athletic? Local schools have entire hallways filled with trophy cases, team photos, and awards. Where are the academic awards? Where are the music students? Where are the galleries for artists? The showcases for the construction students or the displays recognizing the student who queitly enjoys the library?

The system wants everyone to be the same.

Don’t misunderstand: college is good for those who are suited for it. Sports are great for athletes.

But when was the last time a football game had to be rescheduled because the school play was on the same night? When was the last time that basketball parents had to take their athletes to a game because the debate team needed the bus and driver?

More to the point, when was the last time a student was asked what he wanted to do with his life and the school developed a curriculum to meet his needs? I suspect that students are tested and told what to do rather than asked.

The efforts of the school district to address bullying is a good start. I hope they follow through with some real changes that will enable all students to excel as the great kids they are, not what others want them to be.


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