Sunday, June 25, 2017

9th Grader Teaches Us a Lesson

Knowing the right thing to do is sometimes easy, sometimes fiendishly difficult. Actually doing the right thing once you know what that is can be just as challenging. These are lessons you strive to teach your children, but on occasion, they will teach you instead.

As grade 9 wraps up and Glory prepares to go to a new high school next year, some situations build to a head. She has a classmate I will call Ron, who is a little awkward, kind of quiet, and of course low-hanging fruit for those who like to antagonize the different. In Ron's case this started out some time ago with his being described as 'someone like a school shooter'. The inevitable progression of these things has gone from 'if he did' to 'when he does', and at last, direct interaction as the resident jackasses ask him kindly to spare them on the day of reckoning.

These machinations peaked in a couple of incidents last week in Glory's media class. The first of which involved one of that key group constructing a cylinder out of red construction paper in a crude effigy of cartoon dynamite, which, accompanied by supportive snickering, he proceeded to roll to Ron's feet, saying "Hey Ron, don't go blowing up the school now, huh?" or something to that effect.

But Ron had had just about enough of this, it turns out.

He jerked to his feet, his chair squawking back, echoed by his surprised tormentors doing the same. Ron strode over to them, purposefully, fists clenched, as the other boys backed away. When he got close enough he shoved one of them, which, of course, was when the substitute teacher twigged to what was going on, saw Ron as the instigator, and sent him to the office to receive an in-school suspension.

Talking to Glory about it a night or two later, it was clear that the fundamental injustice of the situation rankled her deeply. "It's not fair," she said, " he didn't start it, and if the other boys hadn't taunted him, nothing would have happened, but he is the one getting suspended?" She had sympathy for the sub, who admitted she had come into that particular opera in the third act and had no context, and could only act on what she saw (which I thought was surprisingly transparent, actually). 

But Glory felt compelled to act, and she and another girl went to one of the vice-principals to explain the situation. They met another classmate when coming out of their meeting, who had done the same thing with another member of the administration, so it was clear that this was bothering a significant number of ninth graders.

In the end though, the staff cannot act without evidence, and we all know what the road to hell is paved with, so two days later meant the curtain was going up on Act Two. This time the insincere admonition to Ron not to become violent was punctuated with references to the previous incident, as though his reaction justified their characterizations of him as a mad bomber or mass shooter.

And, unsurprisingly, Ron's fuse was even shorter at this point - after all, who knew how much he had endured over the preceding semesters? - so this time the confrontation ended with some seriously surprised bullies locking themselves in a side room of the media lab while Ron battered at the door with a chair.

The teacher was not in the room at this time, so Glory and another girl left to find another teacher, any teacher, and they did, and of course the end result was once again more punishment for Ron and (assumedly) a finger wagging for the idiots who had set him off.

Putting aside the inherent cruelty of picking on someone simply because they lack the social skills to blend in, the stupidity of pushing someone into a position where they could perhaps end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and actually come to school with the intent of doing indiscriminate harm, leaves me slack-jawed. 

As a former 9th grader myself, I recognize the cognitive limitations and fundamental lack of appreciation for long term consequences as being endemic to the breed, with a better than even chance of growing out of it, but come on! The combination of an absence of empathy and shortsightedly outlining a probable course of eventual revenge is not just cruel, it borders on evil.

Not long after this, Glory's best friend overhears this group concocting yet another menu of torments to visit upon Ron in that afternoon's media class, which she is not in. She meets up with Glory afterwards, unsure what to do. Glory says, "What else can we do? We tell someone, and we keep telling until someone does something about it."

This time they find a vice-principal who shares their frustration, who makes sure to get as much detail as he can from the girls, including first and last names of the conspirators, but as they leave, the girls are unsure if they have affected any real change.

But when media class rolls around, Glory notices that Ron is not in his seat. And shortly into the class, the vice-principal knocks on the door, comes in, and reads the names that had been provided. Sharing some puzzled glances and shrugs, the core group follows him out.

They come back some time later, perhaps chagrined, but more mystified than anything else. Glory sits close to them and can hear them whispering. Once the teacher has left the room (noticing a pattern here) they begin to discuss the situation in earnest, with one of them finally inquiring bluntly , "Well, who snitched?"

Glory sensed her role shifting from bystander to participant in the drama, but didn't want to sell out her bestie, who was not there. She had already taken a couple of incidental shoulder-checks and locker bumps in the hallways, and Glory didn't want to exacerbate that, but turned to these adolescent badgerers regardless and said, clearly, "Yeah, it was me."

If they were puzzled before, they were probably mystified by this point, seeing their seemingly rhetorical question answered so forthrightly.

After confirming that Glory had in fact said what she'd said, and done what she'd done, one of them asked, "But, why?" and there was no delay in her response.

"Because I'm sick and tired of watching you guys bully him," Glory snapped, "it isn't right."

There was a pause.

I suppose no one ever considers themselves a bully, really. It's teasing, it's horsing around, it's 'just kidding'. But I wonder if hearing that word, having that label so forcefully applied to their behaviours, maybe gave them pause for thought, because I was astonished by the response.

Breaking the silence, one of the leader-types in the group quietly admitted, "Y'know, she kind of has a point."

And that was the last that was said of it to my daughter.

When Glory told me this story, I was so proud I nearly burst, but I was a little jealous, too. 9th grade Stephen probably would not have participated in the bullying (having been subjected to a fair amount of teasing in junior high himself), and he might have brought the names forward as Glory did, but there is not a cat in hell's chance that he would have had the guts to stand up and tell a group of bullies that a) they are bullies and b) yes, I had ratted them out.

I was also impressed that she addressed it in a way that focused on the behavior, not the perpetrators, making it easy for them to separate themselves from it. She didn't call them bullies or jerks (although few would have blamed her), but pointed out that they were bullying, and that it wasn't acceptable. The aphorism "All that is required for the triumph of evil is that good [people] do nothing," springs to mind, and it is gratifying that other students also felt compelled to act.

I'm not sharing this story just because I am proud of what my girl did (but let's be clear here: I'm really proud). There is a valuable lesson here, and I have every reason to believe that every single person who reads this (yes, all my tens of readers!) can expect to be tested along these lines at some point in the future. Maybe you will see a woman in a hijab on the LRT being told to go back where they came from. Perhaps you will overhear a coworker saying that aboriginal people need to 'get over it'. 

Whatever the test is, I hope we perform as well under pressure as Glory did, and make a point of standing up, and making a simple declaration about what is right.


  1. Way to go Glory!! Strong and confident about truth telling and helping right wrongs. You are SO ready for high school!! REALLY PROUD indeed!! Shari and Dave. Thomas and Rhondda too.

  2. We are so proud of you Glory! The fact that you kept talking until you were heard and then told those boys straight up that you spoke up because what they were doing was wrong is absolutely amazing. Well beyond what I've seen many adults do. I am so glad my girls have you to look up to! Love you! Shelley

  3. Wow, well done, Glory. The world needs more guts like this.