We started this feature with a simple question - where does hatred in school come from?
From the hundreds of letters that we received, it also became clear that this kind of violence is not always rooted in racism. We heard from children with deformities and disabilities that were humiliated and degraded without any intervention from school teachers or authorities. We also heard from teachers who claim that, although they see quite a bit of this behavior every day in their classes, they feel impotent to intervene - either for fear for their own safety or that the intervention will fall upon deaf parental ears.
Around and around it goes... it almost seems as if hatred just sort of has some spontaneous generation and no one party is responsible. But historically there has always been a known source of hatred and I suspect that it is still at the root of this hatred in schools. Hatred stems from our reaction against someone or something that we fear can somehow harm us. And this fear, in our modern civilized world, is based upon the unknown.
We don't really understand Native Americans and their culture, so we hate them. We don't understand African American culture and so we hate them. We feel uncomfortable with gays and threatened by street people and we hate them. It is our own ignorance of the variety of human cultures, traditions and origins that ignites this fear and fuels the burning hatred in our adults and children. We need to educate ourselves and be curious about each other and our ways.
And if we find ourselves feeling a little too superior to anyone else, we must remember the words to the wise, "You are only you to yourself. To someone else, you're just someone else."
Dear Mr. Eden,
Thank you for printing the article on the hate crime. This is an issue that is especially relevant in our home at this time. Last year, a group of 7-8 High School seniors became involved in targeting our sophomore daughter, for the entire school year. Our daughter is physically beautiful, has a vivacious personality, is mature for her age, and she has relatively high self-esteem. Because she was approached by senior boys, and she made friends with a few senior girls, this group of girls felt she was not respecting the hierarchy in the school. They routinely called sophomore girls filthy names and intimidated them. Our daughter refused to knuckle under when ordered around, and therefore she came under special and unceasing attack for having "attitude."
Two girls in particular went after her. Our daughter faced a hostile
environment from senior girls (who were all the more intimidating because they were cheerleaders and, as the assistant principal called them, "school leaders." There was a *great deal* of peer pressure not to make waves, which only added to her trauma.) each day for an entire school year. We did not get involved for five months. We wanted to her solve her own problems and realized that not everyone would like her. However, after our home was vandalized twice (with obscenities sprayed all over our front yard and driveway), she had food thrown on her in the cafeteria, and she was
physically assaulted, we went to the school administration. The rest of the year was taken up with administration stonewalling and foot dragging. Although we had a paper trail of incidence and witnesses, we kept getting the run-around until we went directly to the Superintendent. Even after that, no student was disciplined until the last two weeks of the school year, when her most persistent tormentor was suspended for three days.
Our lovely, happy, vivacious daughter became depressed, she missed a great deal of school, her grades went into the toilet, and she ended up seeing a counselor to cope with not only the trauma of being harassed for 9 months, but also for the trauma of watching the adults she had turned to for help do nothing concrete to protect her or to give her justice.
I have worked in our area public schools as both an employee and as a parent volunteer for 10 years. I have witnessed innumerable instances of ongoing harassment toward students by other students, but teachers and administrations do not take it seriously enough, and they play political games to cover their own rears rather than establishing firm policies and following them. The psychological damage to children who are not protected, and even to bullies who do not learn empathy and boundaries effects our entire society, not to mention the children and families involved.
Adults have the legal right to go to work each day without entering a
hostile environment. If they do have a harasser and they report the
perpetrator of the harassment, and the supervisor does nothing, then the company faces a large lawsuit. Why do we not have the same expectations for our growing, still developing children?! There is much about our school system that sends mixed messages to our children, and that encourages this sort of behavior (including Freshman being open season for jokes at school assemblies just because they are new and younger). Regardless of the reason
for the hatred, whether it is racial, religious, insecurity on the part of
the victimizer, or just a jealous obsession, it has devastating effects for the victim and it is time that we, as a society, start looking at the
emotional safety of our children in a place they are stuck 6.5 hours a day! School administrators need to be held accountable.
Barbara from Washington State
This is just a note to let you know that court for my daughter was changed from September 28th to October 26th. I felt I should let you know in order for you to keep your readers informed. As I have said, "My main goal in pursuing this case legally is to save as many kids as possible from this type of abuse." I hope this will be an example.
Your readers have responded in a way I thought might not be possible. When I first read the responses, my eyes filled with tears. We had no idea that so many unknown people would be so caring and concerned as we were. Again we THANK YOU all.
Mrs. Evelyn L. (mother of the girl in the original story)