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On bullies in school

Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Chicago Tribune:

Since the tragic shooting last week at Santana High School in California, attempts to make sense of the act have suggested that school bullying is to blame, that social and academic pressure in school is out of control.

But as long as there have been schools, there have been bullies. And as long as students have had tests and peers, there has been pressure. Most endure it, but a few become destructive either to themselves or others.

The fact is, school violence has declined markedly over the last decade. High-profile cases like Columbine High School and the Santana shooting, though, no doubt create more unease for parents and kids. And when kids have access to guns, there can be trouble.

There may be ways for outsiders to help keep school violence on the decline, and perhaps to prevent the kind of inexplicable act that left two students dead at Santana High. There is talk of legislation to protect student whistle-blowers. Others will, and should, press for tougher gun laws. But there is something that can never be legislated: Common sense.

Parents, do you really listen to your children? Do you recognize that increasing surliness, repeated tardiness or even growing withdrawal may signal deeper problems? Do you really need to store guns in the home while your children are growing up? Students, do you ever step back and think that a casual gibe at an unpopular student can cut to the quick?

Teachers and principals, do you go out of your way to let students know you are available to talk if they have problems? Do you try to connect with the quiet ones? It's not necessarily part of your job description, but good teachers know that listening is one of their most important roles. Do you take bullies seriously?

Schools are their own communities. Creating a civil community doesn't start in Washington. It starts in the classrooms and corridors of the school.

And yet, sometimes, the people who run these communities can seem to be blind. Here's one case. At Horatio May Academy on Chicago's West Side, there's an 11-year-old foster child who has been bullied and beaten up so regularly that he has been carrying to school a bottle he can swing for protection. Small for his age, he has to be escorted to and from school by his foster mother and caseworker. They have begged school officials to transfer the boy to another school, but so far the principal has done little to protect him.

Legislation won't help boys like this and the ones who bully them. Common sense and swift action will.



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