You Have My Word

Less than one minute. That’s how long it took for a potent mix of anger and sadness to envelop me. What caused this you may be wondering? I was watching the documentary, Bully (

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Among the memorable images of the movie were:

–the red rimmed eyes of a grieving father

–the helplessness of a mother whose son is being bullied,

–a child declaring, “ Pretty much a good day for me would be people leaving their hands off of me.”

According to, bullying is “a form of aggressive behavior that is intentional, hurtful, (physical and psychological), and/or threatening and persistent (repeated). There is an imbalance of strength (power and dominance).”

While the majority of bullying takes place in the hallways, lunchrooms, school buses, and play areas, it also occurs in the classroom.

As a high school English teacher in an inner city school in Brooklyn, I have witnessed teasing that has crossed the line into bullying. I strove to combat it. I did not always succeed.

“Kerwin” (made up name) was a child in my classed. Kerwin was overweight. He did not dress fashionably and was very quiet. He was a capable student. However, his absenteeism negatively affected his grades and the amount he was able to learn.

Kerwin was part of a challenging class that included some unruly students. Days would go by,and Kerwin was left to his quiet self. However, the teasing could start at any time. And it got personal – faggot, pussy, piece of shit, and more. I called the parents, talked to the deans, and gave the class and the offending individuals lectures on respect.

I’d like to think I did everything I could to stop the bullying. I’d like to think that if I were Kerwin’s parents, I would have been appreciative of the teacher’s efforts. But I’m not sure.

I’m not sure because I’ve also been the parent. My older son has been bullied – he was hit and harassed on the school bus and at recess. My wife and I addressed this issue in multiple ways. We talked to members of the school administration, contacted the family of the child who was bullying our son, and gave our son instructions on how to handle the situation. Despite all this, the situation was ultimately out of our hands. We were helpless and had to rely on others to watch out for our son. It was a sickening feeling.

I don’t like feeling helpless – I’m the kind of person who always wants to think there is some action I can take to make things better. When kids are in school, the only concern they should have is how to achieve their potential. They should not be worried about making it through a day without being pushed, prodded, beaten, or worse.

Doctors have the Hippocratic oath where they promise – among other things – to treat the ill to the best of their ability. Policemen take an oath as well.

I believe it is time to create an oath for educators. As part of that oath, we will promise to do our best to teach your child. We also will watch out for your child so that he or she will feel safe wherever they are in school.

Let me be the first to pledge. You have my word.

Now it’s your turn. What will you do to make it stop?

Standing Up

My older son has had some issues with bullying during this school year. Thankfully, they have not been major, and I am hopeful that they are over.  My wife’s advice to our son is, “Walk away, and tell someone.”

Bullying image courtesy of Google.

Bullying image courtesy of Google.

The advice I offer is a bit more nuanced. I recently advised him about an incident at his lunch table. I told him to firmly say to the bully, “Get up or shut up,” and to report it to whoever is in charge.

BR is passive (except when he is around his little brother). While I certainly don’t want him to turn into a bully himself, I don’t want him to be afraid or feel uncomfortable standing up for himself in whatever walk of life.

The purpose of Memorial Day is to remember the veterans who have fallen during war. These courageous individuals paid a terrible price to protect our country and the freedoms that we enjoy. They deserve our respect, admiration, appreciation, and attention. However, I wish there was no need for this day. How many lives have been wasted because of war? The number, whatever it may be is too terrible to count. As Bob Dylan said in Blowin’ in the Wind: Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died.


Courtesy of Google

Courtesy of Google

Yet, sometimes fighting/war is the absolute right thing to do. No, it should not be the first option. No, it is not something to be aspired to. But it may be the only solution.

We are in the middle of the war on terror. Iran is racing towards a nuclear weapon. North Korea continues to provoke its neighbors and the US itself. I wish these things were not occurring. I would prefer that we could reason with these entities/countries. I would rather we find an accommodation that would satisfy everyone. Unfortunately, all indications including recent negotiations, offers, and discussions point to these entities/countries being unwilling to be reasonable. They are bellicose in their ways and expect the U.S. and the West in general to roll over and allow their desires to come to fruition.

President Obama has apparently decided that the war on terror is in a new phase, that there is still time to negotiate with Iran (before they acquire nuclear weapons), and that North Korea can be handled. I believe that the president of the United States is the most powerful person in the world.  While the president can attempt to amend and convince other countries of a course of action, he can not decide the desires and the goals of other countries. Nobody has that kind of power.

I don’t envy the president. He (and someday a she) has to make the decision when force is necessary. He has to decide when to put soldiers – young men and women – in harm’s way. I hope and expect the president to recognize when force is necessary and pray that he will take appropriate action.  There will be more soldiers to mourn and miss on future Memorial Days.

I want my son to stand up for himself. I want him to know that he can take care of himself. I want him to use reason and be firm. I want him to work with the authorities that be.  If all else fails, I expect him to use force. Maybe not a nuclear weapon, but if he has to throw a punch to express his confidence, I’m ok with that.

There are times when one must stand up for one’s self. Memorial Day reminds us of this difficult lesson.