Karen Klein: so, we’re pretending we care about this one. Okay.

When someone first drew my attention to news reports of a bus monitor being bullied by kids, I wondered why this was news. When I learned that the bus monitor was female, older, heavy and had worn hearing aids, I was especially surprised. Since when does this society not condone mistreating older people, women, fat people and or disabled people, let alone someone who falls into all four categories?

I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves. These kids didn’t come up with the idea they could target this woman so viciously without repercussion on their own. They got it from hearing authority figures talk about similar people in similar ways. They got it from living in a culture that is awash in subtle and not-so-subtle hints that women are second-class citizens at best, but become absolute garbage the minute they cross certain age or weight thresholds, and that people with disabilities are unfortunate occurrences that should probably be put out of their misery.

In fact, as far as I can tell, the kids posted the video themselves. They filmed their behavior, and proudly made it public. Does anyone know better about this?

It’s unfortunate that the kids, their families and school officials have had death threats as a response. Violence wouldn’t help here. What might help is subjecting all these people to an intense, month-long campaign of being taunted by people who are skilled at picking out one’s worst insecurities, saying extremely cruel things about them and laughing remorselessly. I’ll volunteer – that’s a skill I had to learn to deal with bullies when I was in seventh grade too.

Removal of public privileges is probably a more practical solution for the kids. Take them out of sports. Flunk them in a class they really need to get into the college of their choice. Put this on their permanent record. Charge them. Wreck their young lives a little! Who cares? By treating others as disposable, they have made themselves disposable in my book. Sometimes you do stupid things as a kid. Sometimes you pay for them the rest of your life. We all run that risk. These kids should not be protected from the consequences of being hideously vile assholes just because they’re young.

But what about the parents and other authority figures who helped make this possible? What would really make them regret their failure to teach these kids to respect someone like Karen Klein? Will the death threats do it? I doubt it. I’m a fan of public humiliation for bullies and their enablers. And I’m sick to death of schools getting away with doing nothing. We keep asking about the parents, and they certainly have some culpability, but schools get by with total failure when it comes to bullies, and  never seem to face any consequences because, why? Is it that no one can sort out which individual to blame? Or is it that schools are all poor? Either way, this one’s easy: next time a school district lets bullies get by with it, cut all administrative salaries for that district in half. Let ‘em see how they like that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad we’ve decided to pretend we give a shit what happens to this particular lady. It’s better than nothing. I just wonder what has to happen for all the other elderly and/or overweight and/or disabled women in America to get some fucking respect. I saw a lot of teachers get bullied by classes they couldn’t win the respect of, and they were always women, and they were never conventionally attractive. The male teachers would try to counsel them on how to win that respect, but it simply didn’t work for them like it did for the men. The kids had learned from home and their culture that they didn’t need to respect a woman, and nothing a woman told them was going to change that.

Just speaking for myself, I admire Karen Klein. I would’ve bullied those little shits right back until they couldn’t sleep at night.

Comments

  1. Red says

    And the really amazing thing? This woman won’t even press charges.

    Remember this well, kids; this woman could have taken you AND YOUR PARENTS to court for this. And you would have been SLAUGHTERED and made to pay for it in ways you can’t imagine!

  2. Amy McCabe says

    ***Before you read below, I’ve used language below that reflects the message I was given at the time about myself, absolutely NOT how I feel about people with mental and/or developmental disorders.***

    I find this whole thing too difficult to think constructively about. I have thoughts, I’ve tried to make them coherent, but it is all to close, too raw to me years later. I confess after all I went through, I’m terrified of sending my son to a public school.

    Jennifer was right. As bad as what the kids did is, it is authority figures that are to be blamed. When I was in 5th grade in elementary school, I had a wide circle of friends with 3-4 really close friends. In sixth grade I was targeted by a cliche (gang?) of kids. All my friends deserted me. I wasn’t allowed to sit on the bus or in the cafeteria. No one talked to me unless it was to mock me. I was regularly assaulted. About once a month or so, the whole group would board my bus (only two actually belonged on it) and told me they were all their to kill me. Thus those days I’d rush off at an earlier stop, run home and lock the doors. This was my life for three years (then I went to private school).

    The authorities at school? Well these kids never even got verbally reprimanded. I, however, it was decided that their must be something profoundly wrong with me. I had to go to counseling, my mother was encouraged to get my professionally tested and she did…again and again and again. They suggested maybe autism? Low grade? Something.

    I saw multiple professionals on top of the school’s psychiatrist. The “defect” remained elusive, I never was diagnosed with something. But obviously there had to be something wrong with me, right? I mean, these kids wouldn’t have picked on me for no reason, they figured.

  3. says

    Red, it shouldn’t be up to a victim to “press” charges when the offense was filmed. That really bugs me, because I still don’t see that any bullies are going to learn a lesson from this.

    Amy McCabe, that is just so offensive. I’ve read all the psychology behind victim blaming, and it all boils down to people being too weak or too assholish to face reality. People like that need to be confined to positions of absolutely no authority over anyone, not even ameobas. This is exactly the sort of thing that reaffirms to bullies that terrorizing someone was okay – or at least nothing they could be expected to restrain themselves from doing.

    This is also why when the Columbine shooting happened, a lot of us were pretty philosophical about it. Even though we would never have shot random people under any circumstances, we sort of related to the shooters. We remembered being terrified and miserable to the point where we fantasized about bringing powerful guns to school and making sure our tormentors knew what it felt like. The fact that this society is one in which loving, law-abiding people can relate to mass murderers even for a second under ANY circumstances at all – well, that says a lot about that society.

  4. Red says

    Amy McCabe,

    Oh, God, that was me my ENTIRE TIME IN SCHOOL. My sisters and I, for whatever reason, were the targets of bullies. It was BRUTAL. I, for one, ended up getting shunted into the ‘special education’ class because it was the ONLY PLACEI could get something close to work done and even there I wasn’t safe from bullies. I finally ended up getting sent to a small, private school a few towns over, in a cab that was paid for by the school system that refused to help me and my sisters when it counted. I actually asked my older sister why we were targets. Her answer? ‘We were strange’. HOW, I can’t imagine.

  5. says

    Red, I think bullying boils down to two reasons:

    –The bullies believe they are better than you (because they have social privilege over you), but feel the need to prove it.
    –The bullies know for a fact you are superior to them, and want to bring you down to their level by tearing you apart.

    If I’m right, at the base of both of these, you have people who are deeply insecure and not sure who they are. I’m starting to think that a poorly developed sense of self is at the heart of antisocial (meaning “harmful to society” not “I prefer to be left alone, thanks”) behavior. If you know who you are and what you’re about, then you’re not so worked up about what other people do. You have to be very insecure to feel the need to pick on someone, I think.

  6. Red says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    That’s pretty much the conclusion i came to a long time ago. And after reading Amy’s post, I can’t help but wonder if there was ever really anything serious wrong with ME, as I also had meds prescribed, much to the upset of my mother.

    I have to say, if the ONLY WAY you can feel good about yourself is to make fun of other people or you find something entertaining about deliberately getting a rise of people and even making them cry, then you have a VERY LIMITED imagination and are a very sad little person.

  7. says

    My guess, just based on what I know of you and Amy, is that bullies perceived you both as superior. That can mean anything from “smarter” to “doesn’t seem to crave everyone’s approval as desperately as I do” or “prettier” or nearly anything. It can also mean they see you being resilient in the face of things they figure would knock them down for the count, and that bothers them.

    The real, longterm solution to bullying – and probably most of what’s wrong with society – is to make sure kids are allowed to develop a sense of self. For that, they need a stable environment, consistent rewards and punishment (so they learn about both good and bad consequences) and unconditional love. Frighteningly few parents seem to get this. And schools seem determined to undermine it for those kids who are being parented well. It unconscionable.

  8. Red says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I don’t know if it was any of what you suggest, but i appreciate the thought!

    From what I heard from my sister (who also happens to be named Amy!), she asked one of the kids who picked on me so much why they did so. It was, she told me, because it was fun to get a rise out of me and I was extremely sensitive to those kinds of taunts. Ignoring it did little, if any, good.

    One teacher told me ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.’ Obviously, this woman had never been on the receiving end of such brutality. or if she was, was very likely told the same thing.

    If that saying were even remotely true, we wouldn’t have cases like mine and Amy’s here.

  9. says

    Red,

    I think ignoring it fails because they’re determined to get a response out of you. The problem is that so many people respond by advising the victims on how to defuse the bullying, and hell, if the victims had any power in the situation, it wouldn’t have happened to start with! What’s needed is for an authoritative third party to step in and resolve it professionally – and school districts are best poised to do this. But they usually support the bullies instead. That’s why I get so angry with them.

  10. Red says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Probably because it’s ‘easier’ to deal with ONE person (usually the victim) than it is to deal with two, three or more people. Who are usually the bullies. They don’t want to go through the actual, painstaking WORK of having to deal with the bullies because it would mean dealing with a LOT of parents instead of just one person’s parent. Because they would rather risk punishing the victim of the bullying and their parent(s) instead of dealing with many parents, because NO parent wants to face the fact that THEIR child is a bully. It would mean confronting things about THEMSELVES and admitting that they failed to teach their child the importance of decency and treating others with respect. And those parents of bullies rarely, if ever, want to deal with that.

    What it boils down to is this; people are so lazy and so cowardly to take action and change their habits that they would let a CHILD suffer for THEIR insecurities, ego and pride. Try explaining THAT to a bully victim. All they (the victim) understand is that no one is willing to make the effort to help them and the system in place that is intended to HELP AND PROTECT them is letting them down by blaming THEM for others actions.

  11. Amy McCabe says

    Here’s an interesting link: http://bullyfree.com/free-resources/facts-about-bullying Let’ me quote a relevant part:

    “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). The above definition includes the following criteria that will help you determine if a student is being bullied… There must be a power imbalance.

    Victims, I firmly believe, are targeted because they are disempowered, which yes, ties into privilege, though in the school world privilege may have different criteria, though there is definitely overlap between “school world” and real world types of privilege.

    Quite frankly, one of the great disadvantages I had when I went into middle school was that, for the first year, I had no classes with any of my friends. I rarely crossed paths with them. My elementary school cliche wasn’t a small group. Where I had classes with them, where surrounded by them most of the day, would the bullying have ever happened? Probably not. By the time that first year was over, however, they were afraid to be seen with me and I no longer had friends, so it didn’t matter so much from that point on if I had classes with them or not.

  12. Amy McCabe says

    I’m currently dealing with a work environment that has a large bullying problem. I’m not targeted nearly as much as others, although I am to some degree from one individual (we have 4 bullies…fun!) Those getting harassed:

    1. Are much, much more likely to be untenured librarians (and yes, they are voted against by the bullies when it comes to tenure).

    2. Are much more likely to have a lower rank.

    3. Do less campus-wide visible work and thus have less name recognition and fewer outside of the library allies.

    4. Are more likely to be bullied by a supervisor or by librarian or staff member who is in a “mentoring” position over that individual.

    This is why I HATE it when people (including our own HR) say that victims of bullying are at least partly at blame for not standing up to the bully. Especially because in the past not only did nothing happen, but the bully was informed of the report and then got away with retaliation.

  13. Linda says

    First, let me say that I AM this woman – over-65, overweight, hair so thin you can see the curve of my head, and grieving over all of it. But there is no way that a bunch of children (or anyone else) would ever have been allowed to get away with this, had I been the target. As a paid staff member, the monitor was in a position of authority, and I’m at a loss to understand why she didn’t exercise it instead of allowing herself to be victimized. She had backup (the bus driver), the bus made several stops, and at any one of them she could have called the driver and thrown these twits off the bus. Yes, the behavior of these children was appalling and they should be punished in some appropriate way. But it’s also true that you teach people how to treat you – by arguing with them on their level, she made herself a peer they could target, instead of an authority-figure with some clout. Not condoning their ugly behavior in the slightest, but she could have settled their hash in no uncertain terms and been completely within her rights – not to mention her job description – to do so. I wish she had.

  14. says

    Linda,

    Linda, I object to the idea that she allowed herself be victimized. Not knowing how to avoid victimization is not consenting to it. But despite your victim-blaming choice of words, I think you raise a point that needs to be addressed: wasn’t she in charge? If so, why didn’t she stop the bullies?

    First of all, I haven’t seen a source that addressed whether she really had authority or not. If you have, please let me know, because that would shift the parameters. But based on what I know now, my first part of a response to your point here is: sometimes businesses like to give out theoretical authority, but if you actually use that authority and the people you use it against complain over your head, the business punishes you and bends over backwards to the rule-breakers. That’s the kind of society we have, so even if Klein had real authority, I’m not surprised she didn’t know what to do with it. We’re conditioned from early days that we have to tolerate a lot of bullshit in this life.

    Another consideration is: was Klein trained to wield her authority, assuming she had any? It may come naturally to you – and me, too – but not everyone knows how to lay down the law. The school should have (a) hired someone who could do the job and (b) give her the proper training. So I lay all of this on their door.

  15. Amy McCabe says

    I recall, quite vividly, my health teacher in middle school being bullied by the class. This class had the triple whammy of not being considered a “real” class, some of the worst personalities attending as students and a very young (black) woman on her first teaching job. Attempts to police her class were sad. For instance I remember her telling one of the students to go the the principal’s office. The kid (already larger than her) leaned back in his chair, folded his arms and sneered: “I like to see you make me.”

    I also remember one of our teachers (home economics) getting her class firebombed in retaliation.

    Once again, one of the defining characteristics of bullying is a power imbalance. When a school does not have well defined policies for such behavior and/or those policies are not enforced/supported by the administration and/or proper training of staff doesn’t take place, then yes, there is room for students to have the upper hand.

    Teachers and other authority figures that work in areas already looked down upon as not as important in the culture of schools by the administration and/or fellow teachers already sit at a weaker position that the kids pick up on. Not that the two above examples are home ec and health. Not a coincidence. School bus monitors area are also in that category.

  16. says

    Concerning the examples at the top where authorities had the children tested if anything was wrong: what the heck? I don’t get how that would change anything.
    Let’s say, you have a learning disability (or really, any disability) and people start to bully you … why would that be okay? Do these authorities have a policy that goes: Bullying is bad, except when it concerns the disabled or introverted or poor kids?? If you get hit for being strange, you are still not the one hitting people.

  17. Casey says

    Zweisatz,

    It’s a very Calvinist mentality and sadly all too common. “If you weren’t so fucking WEIRD, people wouldn’t harass you! So…knock it off or something.”

  18. says

    The really sad part is that people can read the Harry Potter books and use some of the stuff from them to justify bullying, especially if the victim is a Creepy Loser (as defined by the bullies) and the bullies happen to be rich athletes who are backed by the power structure (James Potter ended up as Head Boy of Hogwarts). There are Harry Potter fans who sincerely believe that anyone sorted into Gryffindor got there because they were morally superior. Not to mention that the Weasley twins get away with causing permanent brain damage in Montague, and are clearly adored by the author.

    Fortunately the movies were fairly sanitized that way, though the issue of bullying was not actually addressed in them either way.

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