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?

47 thoughts on “You Have My Word

  1. I saw that movie recently, and of course had to quickly do a search to see what happened to the characters since the movie. The good news was that the main kid is now a thriving mini-celeb (because of the movie) in a different school in a different city, but the bad news is that the biggest villain of the movie, the woman who was supposed to protect the bullied kid, still defends herself and claims the reaction to the movie has been unfair.

    I don’t remember where I found it, but there’s a site in Baltimore (and probably in every jurisdiction) that show bullying statistics. The most interesting part is that in each and every school, there’s a huge gap between the percentage of students who say bullying happens in school, and the percentage of teachers who say the same thing. Teachers really have no idea what’s going on under their noses.

    • First, thanks for your comments.
      Secondly I also did research about the movie afterwards. Some notes were positive and other things not so much. Anyway, it is good news about the child but of course, as we both know there are still many kids out there who are suffering.
      Now, I want to take up in defense of teachers. Yes, I am a bit defensive as the mass majority of teachers I have met are caring and compassionate professionals. We are looked upon by many as the reason for all things wrong with society.
      In regards to the stats you note in Baltimore, I think that one way to view it is that a lot of bullying happens outside the classroom. Also, there is a fine line between bullying and teasing. I am sure there could be times when I would have thought something was teasing and a student would have called it bullying.
      All that being said, I am sure there are teachers who have turned their heads to bullying or have simply not done enough to stop it.

  2. This post makes me very sad Larry, to hear your oldest son went through this is sad. As a parent, I don’t like to hear that this is still happening even after how much the media is involved against “bullying”. I can’t believe how some people won’t do anything to help kids with this. I am glad you wrote this Larry and that you do something to try to stop this 🙂

    • Thanks for your sympathy. However, I ask that you try and do something about bullying – whatever it is that you can. Also, please if you would consider passing this post along, I would appreciate it.

  3. Larry, when I started a thread to accompany Dr. Cherrye Vasquez’s guest post on my blogroll I never imagined the discussion would last for so long. It’s still active, weeks after the post was replaced. I explained, when asked “what I would suggest,” that bullying isn’t frequent in my country, probably because we don’t encourage idle competitiveness, popularity, or a philosophy of “winners” and “losers”. I also said it would be presumptuous of me to interfere in another country’s social issues. I very much value your pledge to keep children safe while in your care. Still, when bullying is a “style” at home, or parents encourage kids to seek leadership through violence, or so many other things, perhaps taking the bull by the horns -the parents by their ears, I mean- and sending them into rehab might change things.
    Thank you for a wonderful post!

    • Thanks for your comments. I do remember the post you are talking about. I have never thought about how bullying may be different depending upon the country. You may very well be right about that.
      I agree that issues at home and cultural issues contribute to this epidemic. However, as we both know, we can only do what we can do. I will be responsible for what happens in and around my classroom. If every educator and school personnel took that attitude, the situation would improve.
      Thanks again.

  4. A powerful, poignant post, Larry. Well done. I haven’t experienced bullying first-hand as a parent (yet?), but admire your commitment and dedication as an educator and parent. This is such an important issue and your voice adds an important element. I will promote this post on Facebook and Twitter. May your words reach many.

    • Thanks. This post means a great deal to me. I appreciate the promotion. That is exactly what I want to happen. The more people who can see this, the better chance of making a difference.

    • I am sorry that you experienced this.
      I don’t think bullying will ever be stopped completely. I do believe that if more adults make an effort to do something about it than they can have an impact and less children will bully and be bullied.

  5. It’s so incredibly sad. The school my kids attend have a special class they go to twice a week that addresses topics about how to be a good friend and not to bully. I hope this helps. I feel a lot of this is in the parent’s hands though. Unfortunately I think a lot of bullies are learning to act this way because of what they see at home. I know when I was a kid, an older boy was harassing me on the bus and when I told my mom she called his parents. His parents actually yelled at my mom for calling and told her to mind her own business and their son could do whatever he wanted. It’s that kind of attitude that will continue to keep bullies going. I hope things go better for your son this year.

    • It’s great that the school is having programming that focuses on these topics. Let’s hope that they follow up and are consistent with their message.
      I hear your story. I wonder what the bus driver did about the issue. He/she very well could have made an impact. If the school knew of this, did they act upon it.
      Anyway, I agree with you that parents, as well as many other things, are factors in bullying. That is part of the reason I put this out there. I think parents need to take a role. School personnel, however, are on the scene, or should be, and have to be a factor to the best that they can be.

  6. Oh boy…I’m not sure if I could watch that. I’ve lived it and it’s painful enough to even imagine a child going through it.

    I experienced it in middle school and it was devastating. Gym class and the bus were my personal hell. There were two gym teachers who ran the class, and they witnessed everything and never said a word. There have been several times over the years that I have tried in vain to find them using the internet. What could I say, anyway. Some day I’ll blog about this topic. I started an entry a while back but never finished it.

    I’m curious, what response did you get from the other child’s parents?

    • I’m so sorry to hear that you were bullied and am disgusted to hear of the inaction of your teachers. I hope that one day you can talk about it and that will help you come to peace with the incident.
      If you wouldn’t mind, I would greatly appreciate you letting others know about this post. I think it is an important piece that I view as a call to action.

  7. I loved this. As a parent let me say thank you for taking those efforts as a teacher. I would hope that all teachers would. I worry about bullying. I worried about it more when I was in a workplace situation where I felt bullied. I never want my children to feel the same amount of helplessness and voicelessness that I did. And most of all I hope that they are never the kids who will be the bullies (though I can’t imagine that happening).

    • I appreciate your reaction. Thanks.
      Please consider passing the post along. It is a call to action, and I want people to get on board.

  8. This is my week to read blog posts that break my heart for the less fortunate! The last one was about a sex slave in India who had been sold into prostitution by her uncle and stepmother.

    Wave after wave of people needing love and getting abused instead.

    • That is some post you read.
      In regards to the one I wrote, I wrote it as a call to action. So, don’t feel sad. Think about what you can do to help the situation. Don’t you work in a school as a volunteer a couple days a week. You can help.

  9. I’ll take that pledge. Like you, I do all I can but bullying still happens. My goal for this year is to become better at identifying the small red flags before they become huge red flags.

    • Thanks James. That is the exact reaction I was hoping for. If we are involved in the education process along with parents identify those small red flags, a difference can be made.
      I would love for this post to get out further. I think it is so important. Maybe, I should bring it to the attention of your friend Caspar Lee.

  10. Hi,
    It is truly sad when aggression becomes a viable part of a school day for any child. There are so many factors today that weigh in on violence, and I believe one of them is the fact that we have taken away the power of raising children from parents and teachers. What I mean by that is that I remember when I was a child. Everybody in our neighborhood looked out for each others children. If I was doing something wrong and one of the adults in my neighborhood saw it, they would stop me and promptly call my parents who administered discipline that was mighty unpleasant. Today, most parents will not open their mouths because they get in trouble with the parents of the kid that is doing wrong. It is unbelievable how many times I hear a parent fussing at an adult, even cursing them out with terrible profanity, just because they corrected their child in an orderly manner. You hear things like “don’t you correct my child. I’ll call the police.”

    It was the same way in the school system where I attended school. When the teacher said stop, or we were put in a corner or administered any kind of punishment, the parents would be told, and they reinforced the punishment. Today, most teachers are afraid to step out there and do anything because the parents come to the school to jump on the teachers.

    I agree there is a real problem but I believe all adults must come together and redefine child development and get back to some of the help aids that were used in the past. No family is an island and we need to stop building this island mentality that opens the way to bullying.


    • I agree that there are many factors that contribute to bullying. I also agree that it is not just school personnel but others who need to step up. Parents need to take responsibility and be part of the process as well.
      Because we all need to get involved, this post means a lot to me. I really want to get this post out there. So, please feel free to assist in that quest.

      • Hi,
        Just wanted you to know I have sent your article out on FB, Google+ and twitter. You are so right to bring this up. If we all spread the word, change will come.

        Thank you for being able to participate.

    • Thanks – I thought you would appreciate it. I really want people to see it, so I am pushing it.
      We all, school personnel & parents/guardians, need to be more vigilant.

  11. I’ve been in many classrooms as a volunteer and I know teachers don’t know or see everything that goes on. So I am especially grateful to the ones who make the extra effort when something is wrong to not turn a blind eye and to do something about it. Good for you for reaching out and helping this kid. We need more caring teachers like you.

    • Very nice of you to volunteer.
      What I am suggesting here is that we do make that extra effort and not turn that blind eye even when it is challenging. I am not just talking about teacher but everyone in the school building. Parents must also be part of the process.

  12. This was a very topical and powerful piece. The two aspects that you have had to contend with bullying shows your sensitivity and frustration with this. You raised a valuable suggestion for how to try to make an impact in this area where the school is the primary venue for bullying to be carried out. Your frustration comes through here as well, not just in the feeling of helpless in confronting bullying, but the sense that we must demand educators adhere to the same kind of unbending oath that doctors conform to. That to not address bullying when it is happening in front of you is tantamount to ignoring a life that is in danger. Very well done.

    • Thanks Martin. This piece means a lot to me. I am really striving to get it out there. So, please feel free to pass it along. A new school year starts soon and we school personnel need to go further in dealing with this issue.

  13. I shared this link on the Madhouse Facebook page. I hope my readers link to it. You’re an impressive man, Mr. Bernstein.

    • Thanks on all accounts. Your compliment is generous and appreciated. This post means a lot to me. I really want to shine a light on a serious issue.

  14. How sad to hear your son had to deal with this kind of behavior. At this time, my son hasn’t had these issues but he’s seen it happen in his school. Our school talks about it all the time and how to deal with it (who to report it to, how to respond, etc.) but I guess, it’s one thing to listen to teachers, it’s another thing to do something about it.

    The part about this stuff that gets me is that these kids like your Kerwin example, these are the kids that eventually lose it and something horrific happens. How wonderful it would be if we could stop this and help those kids before they snap. Thanks for your post!

    • Thanks for your comments. This post means a lot to me.
      I think striving to make a difference on this issue requires many people in different areas committing to doing so. Parents and all school personnel need to be more aware and step up when needed.
      It sounds like your son’s school is doing a good job on this front. I hope it is translating into no kids being bullied. That would be great!

  15. I’m with you Larry! Bullying must be stopped and we all must do whatever we can. I was bullied a little in primary school, but nothing too bad (and it stopped almost immediately after I punched the bully in the stomach – I know violence is not the answer, but it worked well for me). The high school I went to was pretty much free of any kind of bullying, not sure how this was possible, but it was great. There was one instance though where a little boy from the first year got bullied and me and some of my friends (we were in the fourth year) hung out with him for a few days to try and discourage the bullies, we never saw it happen again.

    • Thanks Elske. That is the point I am trying to raise – we must do whatever we can.
      I am glad you were able to put the bullies down and then stand up for yourself. Very cool.

      • Well, you have my word that I will do everthing I can on this side of the pond. With Elisabeth growing up to be just as tall (if not taller) than me, I’m sure I will have plenty of opportunity to.

  16. In Yitzchak’s textbook, “The Developing Person,” (IIRC) there is a section on bullying. One school in Norway took a whole-school approach to the topic, had peer mediators and a formal way of solving problems (at the top was expelling the bully, if nothing else worked) and they found that after this solution was implemented the number of cases dropped by 95% or some crazy number like that.

    In other words, their solution worked. Worth looking up exactly it was. (My textbook is packed, otherwise I’d quote it for you. ;))

    • I don’t think the part about expelling would ever happen hear in America – in a public school that is.
      I think a whole school approach is definitely what is needed. The results are awesome!

      • Right, but on the other hand, there are other public schools in the area. And I’m pretty sure that the school in Norway was also a public school. I agree that America is a little behind the times because of their super-duper effort to protect everyone’s rights at the expense of everyone else’s. Maybe one day America will grow up. 😉
        Or maybe a few schools will decide to do something and the initiative will spread.

        (Hey, did you hear? Netanyahu was pressured to free terrorists. He freed 100, 99 of whom killed Israeli citizens and 1 who killed an American citizen. Guess what? America pressured Israel not to release that one terrorist. So basically, Israeli blood is cheap. A terrorist who killed Israelis – who cares. A terrorist who killed one American – don’t release him, he’s worse than everyone else. Thanks, Obama.)

  17. Bullying has always been terrible. It seems that it;s getting out of hand. Or is that because we hear of more incidents? Kids are jealous and want everything their way.
    In a lot of cases, they are brought up to feel that they’re PERFECT. This is very hard for the average person to swallow. I raised four children, and none of them are perfect.

  18. Larry, this is such a good article. The sentiments are true and bullying is really an issue, especially in inner-city school settings. (Although these are not the only settings where bullying is present). As a mother and educator I also believe that while educators may play an important role, curbing the problem requires the effort of all involved. I also firmly believe that the legal system should be clearly supportive of stamping out this problem. Too many times, educators’ hands are tied (no pun intended) when it comes to successfully addressing the problem. We all should play a part.

    • Glad you liked it.
      100% agreed that this problem needs to be addressed by all parties. It can’t simply be left in the lap of educators like so many other issues are these days.
      Thanks for the comments.

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