Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Little More About Bullying

Ben and I take on the bullies in our Scripps Howard column this week. My take:

Let me tell you about the most important teacher I ever had: Terry Hill.

Hill was a social studies and P.E. teacher at the middle school in the mid-Kansas town where my family moved in the 1980s. Adolescence is never easy, and transitioning to a new school complicates the level of difficulty: I didn't immediately fit in -- and found myself on the wrong end of confrontations with my fellow students. I was miserable. And then Mr. Hill stepped in.

I'm told he had a few words with my classmates; I wasn't there for that. What I do remember is that he called me out of class one day and sat with me in a school stairwell, asking me questions and listening to my pained answers for the better part of an hour. And for the next few years, he gave me encouragement, even handing me books he thought would entertain and enrich me. Middle school didn't become perfect, but it did become bearable.

Can the feds end bullying in our schools? No. They probably can't even make a dent in it. The attitudes and actions of bureaucrats in Washington D.C. will have precious little influence during the precarious school hallway moments that can shape a young person's life. Ben is right: the problem is in our homes and schools and communities, and that's where it must be addressed.

That means cracking down on bullies, yes, but it also means shining a light on adults who enable bullying behavior -- like the Arkansas school official under fire this week for a homophobic Facebook post. And it means following the examples of teachers like Terry Hill who listen to, encourage and empower students in need of a lifeline. Thanks, Mr. Hill, wherever you are.

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