Friday, September 24, 2010


I recently finished reading Jodi Picoult's book Nineteen Minutes. It is the tragic story of a high school shooting which was carried out by Peter Houghton, a boy who was bullied from kindergarten through high school. As with many of her other books, Ms. Picoult writes from several different points of view, which allows the reader to see through the eyes of a variety of characters. In Nineteen Minutes, we see the story through the eyes of Peter, as well as those who bullied him.

In this book, Jodi Picoult masterfully provides the reader with enough insight into the villain that the reader is able to also see him as a tragic victim.

About the time I finished reading Nineteen Minutes, I heard a news story about a father, James Willie Jones, who had stormed a school bus to confront and scold students for harassing his 13-year old daughter who has cerebral palsy. He later apologized:

"At that time, I was a bully. And I apologize again for that. If you see the tape, I feel like I was backed up against the wall as a parent. I just didn't know where else to go. We definitely don't want to promote that. We don't want vigilantes going on buses, threatening kids, because kids have rights too."

YouTube Clip of Mr. Jones's Apology

Bullying isn't new in our society. Though the teasing in my life has been minimal, I do remember being teased in school about silly things - what I wore, braces, being a band freak, goody-two-shoes, skinny-minny. Still, I remember the hurt I felt.

Has bullying gotten worse, or does it seem that way only because of the added exposure it receives with 24 hour news coverage? Sadly, the consequences do seem to be getting worse: school shootings, suicides.

I see varying degrees of it everywhere, not only with school-age children. It exists between adults, too, on television reality shows, in politics, on radio talk shows. It all leads us to become desensitized to it.

Bullies seem to have lost empathy for how it makes others feel. Isn't that part of what makes us human?


  1. Like most kids, I bullied and was bullied. Humans have a lot in common with chickens, that will peck to death a flock member that is injured. Kids are not much different. Anti-bulling classes and closer monitoring may help, but one hates to burden schools with additional responsibilities.

  2. ed_quixote, as a child, I did my own share of bullying, too, particularly of my youngest siblings. (Sorry, Tami and Chuck.) Thinking back, my bullying was often the result of my own fears and frustrations, which may be where a lot of today's bullying stems from. And you're right - sadly, the more vulnerable the victim, the more savage the bullying. Where you mentioned classes and school responsibility, I think the primary responsiblity is with parents and peers.

  3. Excellent blog, Jan. I agree with you and ed_. When parents drop the ball and don't teach their children that bullying is wrong, it's left to the teachers. My daughter teaches in a public school and already sees it surfacing in kindergarden.

  4. Excellent blog. My husband drives a school bus, and he doesn't tolerate bullying on his bus. Of course, he doesn't know what happens before and after the kids are on his bus, but while they're on his bus they're safe. He drives kids with special needs, and some of them have a hard time with boundaries, but they also know that when this driver says "Sit down or the bus isn't moving," he means what he says and he never has to raise his voice one iota.

  5. Thank you for your comments, everydayclimb and vegakitty. Teachers, bus drivers, and anyone who works closely with children, have the toughest and most important jobs out there. And the ones who have the courage and conviction to "step up" are heroes.

  6. Bullying comes out of the desire of children to figure out the world. A child forms a picture of reality and then feels distress when someone else doesn't fit well into the picture. This impulse develops into a demand for conformity.

    It is the job of teachers to teach individuality and self assurance. I can be who I am without you having to be the same, and that lesson is part of the socialization that has to come from being in elementary school.