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Bullied bus monitor-Why the response is wrong.
The story of the bus monitor from Greece New York, Karen Klein, enduring the taunts of a group of students has exploded across the web in recent days. Spurred on by both the aggressiveness of the students in the video and empathy for what appears to be a kindly older woman; an immense campaign to raise money for the woman has already collected over $500,00. The campaign has attracted international attention and donations of all sizes have poured in from around the world. Since the sotry went viral, Ms. Klein has been a guest on the Today Show, Good Morning America, and her story has appeared in several major news outlets.
As someone who works in education, I can sympathize with the plight of Ms. Klein. Unfortunately, children do not always behave in a kindly manner and school buses are often a hot bed of this kind of activity. I also understand the desires of the people donating money to her campaign. Broken down in simplest terms, they are giving money to a person who has gone through a humiliating experience. Sadly, a deeper look at the situation reveals that while the intentions of the good Samaritans, specifically the donors and the myriad talk show hosts and well wishers putting their support behind Ms. Klein, are noble their response is also misguided. This is not a defense of the bullies themselves, it is a rebuke of the attitudes of many adults following this story.
As mentioned above, some parts of this story is touching. A woman had a terrible experience, and strangers around the world reached into their pockets to do something nice for her. Not only is this a beautiful testament to human compassion, it also stands in stark contrast to the greed and selfishness we hear about so frequently. Additionally, perhaps this event will finally galvanize people to begin taking bullying seriously, and to understand just how vicious bullies can be.
For me, this is where the positive effects of this story end. Unfortunately the list of issues with this situation is a great deal longer.
Role of the Adults: It seems callous to call the actions of the adults involved in this situation into question, but the matter remains, why was there no order on that bus? Both bus monitor's and bus drivers are responsible for controlling behavior on their bus and for reporting situations and disturbances to the appropriate people. During the verbal attack neither Ms. Klein or of the bus driver are seen even attempting to get the students under control. While it is understandable that the situation might have quickly gotten out of hand it still does not erase the fact that the adults hired specifically to keep order on the bus did not do that. The entire situation might have been avoided if a more effective authority figure had been present.
Economic Dimension: One of the most glaring injustices in the minds of many people was the low salary that Ms. Klein was paid, reported to be around $15,000/year. People felt this was not enough to have to work in such deplorable conditions. While this may be true, people seemed to forget that the salary of employees like Ms. Klein are tied to school revenue, mostly from taxes. Yet, almost every year it is a fight for school districts to pass their budgets if they contain even small tax increases. If you think people like Ms. Klein are entitled to a higher wage are you also willing to write a bigger tax check to make it happen?
Wasted Resources: While I watched the amount of donation tick steadily upwards I began to question just how much more good could have been done if that same amount had gone to other things. Just this year the Greece Central School District (where the incident occurred) was forced to close or condense several schools and fire over one dozen staff due to budget shortfalls. Additionally, a number of programs and extra-curricular offerings had to be cancelled or reduced for the same reason. Across New York state school districts have had to make heart wrenching decisions to reduce staff sizes and offer less effective environments to students to make ends meet. It is great that Ms. Klein is now well taken care of, but where were these donors when the schools needed new supplies, new buildings, or to hire new and better teachers?
People are not interested in donating to these causes because they are too nebulous, they cannot see where their money goes. When donating to Ms. Klein you know what you are doing, when donating to a school or agency your dollars are less transparent. That does not change the fact however that a much greater good could be done if people were more willing to support the above mentioned causes with as much gusto.
Lastly, while this money will be a blessing for Ms. Klein, it ultimately does nothing to solve the problem. Bullying is a complicated issue and the children who bully do so for a wide variety of reasons. What we do know is that when children have their basic needs for food and shelter met, when they have outlets for their feelings, and when they are engaged and learning, they are less likely to bully. None of these concerns is being addressed by giving one person $500,000, no matter how deserving they might be. The people donating to Ms. Klein have no interest in helping this sort of thing to not occur again, they are interested in the quick feel good response of giving money to an easily understandable cause.
Demonization: A scary part of watching the story unfold has been seeing the vitriol and hatred directed against the families of the children responsible for the bullying. Matt Lauer wished he could publicize the names and addresses of those involved so that they could be publicly humiliated. The comments section of every article concerning the case is littered with threats of violence and suggestions ranging from public beatings to expulsion. The children's families have confirmed that they have received numerous threats since the story broke.
This is a disgusting response, and the people advocating this line of thinking are forgetting that the perpetrators here are middle school aged. I wonder how many of the same people calling for extreme punishments would have wanted the rest of their lives defined by the actions they took in high school? As adults, if our first response to this story is to wish violence on the bullies, perhaps we ourselves need a lesson in civility.
This case has also sparked a great deal of people advocating physical punishment for children such as spanking or hitting. Every bit of research done on the matter shows that children who are spanked or hit by adults as punishment are even more likely to become bullies or worse. Although the story can evoke heated feelings, it is repulsive that for some people the first response to misbehaving children should be to hit them.
Lastly there is the issue of where to go from here. It was recently revealed that two of the four boys involved have apologized to Ms. Klein. However, she refused to accept their apology believing that the boys could do better. Where then does this end? What are the parameters by which the boys can redeem themselves? Earlier Ms. Klein said all she wanted was an apology, now she claims that is not enough. We have to remember that when someone is wronged there must be a way for the wrong doer to make amends, and for everyone to move forward. If there is no way to make amends, or if apologies are not accepted, then it is not justice we're after it's purely about vindictive punishment.
What about other victims?: The worst part of the response to this scenario for me has been to think of all the children I know personally who are bullied everyday, and yet their stories receive none of this attention. I know students who cry because of the abuse they suffer, who suffer for it academically, and we do not need to look far to find examples of kids being bullied literally to death. Where are the funds for these kids and their families? Where are their chances to go on national television and tell their stories? Where are the outpouring of support from around the world for them?
The answer is that there isn't any. There isn't any because as a country we still largely do not care when kids bully kids. When kids bully kids many people still see it as a phase or a part of childhood. When kids bully an adult it becomes a national crisis and demands attention from everyone. That is a vicious double standard. In this light children are less important and the abuses they suffer deserve less recognition, and yet that is exactly the attitude many people take. Kids should not have to wait until they are retirement age for people to start caring about their stories.