Lord of The Flies Revisited
“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it's only us.” ~ William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Where are the bullies?
My son just graduated from the 8th grade and, like my daughter a few years back, has shed tears and spread love with all of his classmates, who left their elementary school with beautiful, heartfelt memories of closeness and positive bonding. They also graduated, having some of the highest test scores in the country, from a school that consistently wins Academic Decathalons and sporting events.
And, to my awareness, no bullying or notable threatening behavior to speak of.
How did this happen? I grew up knowing that having to deal with threats and bullies was just a part of life. It was just one of those things on which teachers and administrators just seemed to shrug about, with an undercurrent of expectation that students just had to deal with it and learn how to stick up for themselves.
Perhaps it was just embedded into cultural expectation that it was a problem that could never be solved, and that you just dealt with it as you could.
Granted, his was a private Catholic school, but still. This is evidence that it can be done.
Eliminate Junior High
I don't like to think back much about Junior High School, because it was pretty awful. My Elementary School was similar to my kids' version, only it ended at 6th grade, and while there were some bullying/threatening behaviors, it was more or less addressed by the teachers and administrators. We felt safe.
Going into 7th grade, we heard horror stories about how on the first day of school, the 8th graders would throw you into a trash can and roll you down the stairs. That you would be beaten up and mocked as a "poindexter" if you received good grades. And while those stories were exaggerated, I can say that those two years left a scar that didn't need to be there. I recall vividly the constant harassment of anyone who didn't maintain an air of "cool" - including a red-headed boy who likely had some significant mental health issues. I had my lunch stolen, jacket vandalized, was taunted and called names by strangers and got into physical altercations, and I was a regular kid, who worked hard to not be noticed.
Looking back, it's hard to fathom how the teachers and administrators at that school could be so passive and incompetent. And they were. It took me a couple of years in high school to recover from it, and I did - high school was fine, and reasonably memorable. Nothing like Junior High.
So what happened as a system that such a positive thing as childhood could be sullied by an incompetent and ineffective educational environment? And I only bring up my experience because it's probably not nearly as awful as some others, and no one enjoys reliving bad memories.
What I can say is that in my opinion, there should be no middle schools, no Junior High Schools. They provide little to no value. Extending childhood through 8th grade makes so much more sense. My kids are proof positive. And secondly, schools need to have zero tolerance for any kind of threatening or bullying behavior. Non-action is worse than the behavior itself - it gives tacit endorsement of those behaviors, which do NOT make the child stronger or more resilient.
“We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?” ~ William Golding, Lord of the Flies
It's funny, but I wouldn't have even reflected on that time as anything but what it was. Now seeing what 7th and 8th grade can be - how 13-15 year olds can be given leadership and mentoring assignments for the younger kids. How they can learn to enjoy and appreciate service to others. How they can learn to respect and appreciate each other, their teachers, parents and the community.
And in comparison, what seemed to be something you just shrugged about from the past, now seems so solvable. I'm guessing that back then, they thought that they couldn't tackle the problem of bullying. Perhaps the teachers weren't supported when they reported bad behaviors. Perhaps the administrators weren't supported by the school board, or were afraid of being fired. Perhaps the school board was afraid of getting sued. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
And then there's evidence. And all of that seems pretty silly. Since clearly it was navigable.
So looking forward, it strengthens my belief that so many more social problems can be tackled by starting with the attitude that they can and should be solved.
“The greatest ideas are the simplest.” ~ William Golding, Lord of the Flies