The Sounds of Silence: a load of Bull-y?
Reading about some of the local goings-on this past week, I am reminded of this excerpt from the beginning from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, in which
...it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity...
I am also reminded of the episode of Reba in which, after Kyra zings the stepmother once again, and then back-talks to her parents, her dad says through clenched teeth (because the rest of his face is paralyzed thanks to a Bo-Tox injection)
I. am. very. angry.
Bullying, whether as a "rite of passage" or just a form of amusement for youth growing up, has been with us seemingly forever. My parents recalled stories of schoolboys "dunking" the girls' pigtails in the inkwells. I recall other children giving the weaklings among us (myself included) "swirlies", "wedgies", and the like. I also remember being called names like "faggot" and "gay". And, how I was "allowed" to give my lunch money to others, so they would have something (more) to eat (or whatever.) Many folks remember this type of activity as "teasing".
Mostly, I remember that this wasn't a whole hell of a lot of fun.
But, even as a child, I saw the dark side of this activity. I recall one of my fellow students, in like the 3rd grade, promising to rearrange my face with a broken beer bottle. And, how the school was totally powerless to take any action. And, how my father had to threaten his father with legal action (both civil and criminal.) And, how I had to be driven home from school for several days. And, how absolutely shitty I felt during the whole time. And, how much I wanted to do nothing more than kill, and kill, and kill. And then die.
Fortunately (for all concerned), that sort of this just didn't happen when I was growing up. How different things are today (and not necessarily in a good way.)
I also remember how I damn near had a heart attack when, as a young adult, this former classmate of mine walked into the office where I was working. In fact, the memory of that day still brings out a feeling of abject terror... and that event was around three decades ago.
Yeah... you don't forget.
So, I was somewhat intrigued when the story titled Silent teenagers have Katy, Clear Creek adults talking caught my eye. Bullying has always been a hot-button topic for me, and with the willingness of the bullied to act out the fantasies that I internalized, the stakes have gotten much higher. Our (adult) power structure has responded much as I expected them to, by implementing various "zero
common-sense tolerance" policies against violence in schools which sound great but somehow just miss addressing the root cause (as in when the original act of aggression is allowed to occur, but the retaliatory act is the one that is punished.) Some of the students, OTOH, responded in what is to me a very mature and adult-like manner: a Day of Silence, where they "protested" the practice of bullying by refusing to speak - how deliciously ironic, given the silence of the school administrations, and indeed government at all levels, on the subject.
Alas, as the title of the article indicated though, it wasn't such a simple matter. For, you see, the person in whose memory the students were keeping their mouths shut was bullied because someone thought he was gay. An eighth-grader. Shot. Killed. Murdered. Because someone thought he was gay. And, besides, the protest, while student-led, was organized by a group called the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Therefore, various other groups of
nutjobs concerned citizens came out of their hidey-holes the woodwork, and spammed engaged in a mass e-mail campaign to like-minded sheep citizens, urging them to "get involved" and oppose this intrusion of the "gay agenda" into the schools, and suggesting they keep their children at home to protest the protest.
And, as is only to be expected, they found a sympathetic ear, right near that little town where Friday Night Pig Races next to the new mosque aren't an example of anti-Muslim bigotry. The sympathetic ear belonged to none other than Katy ISD Superintendent Alton Frailey, whose response was an "all-hands" memo declaring
open season against zero-tolerance for protesters. His justification:
"The degree of exposure and political posturing currently being generated is bringing more attention to this particular subject than is necessary," Frailey wrote Monday in an e-mail that also instructed teachers not to make exceptions for students taking vows of silence.
The results, as reported by the Chronicle staff in Gay but silent, tell a slightly different story:
"I was gay bashed more today than I have in all years I've been here. The word 'faggot' was tossed around so much. Just walking by people in the hallway, I got stares and I was, like, is there something on my face and I would realize there was tape on my mouth."
-- Rico Gardaner, 18, who is openly gay
"Before first period I was going to my class and the assistant principal saw me -and he saw me and he was really, really mad...Some teachers made us take off the tape in class. But I didn't have that many problems."
-- Julian Morales, 17
"It kind of makes you wonder what people are actually thinking about you... Normally I am a really talkative person and I don't talk for one day and people think I am lesbian. These boys, I walked by and they said 'Lesbian.' (But) I am extremely glad I did it. I think it was probably one of the best things I have ever done."
-- Nichole Cannell, 18, who is straight but participated to support her gay friend.
Why am I not surprised?
However, it is apparent that neither Alton Frailey, nor the screeching hordes of freaked-out parents, had a clue as to the actual purpose of the "protest." And, ironically, this caused the protesters to experience the very behavior that they were protesting. A life-sesson, if you would, in what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi went through.
dumbasses folks, the Day of Silence wasn't about being gay, or lesbian, or bi-sexual, or transgender. As Therese Odell said in her posting on MomHouston titled Are we choosing to be silent about bullying?
...the Day of Silence protests are demonstrating against bullying. And bullying is a universal bad, isn't it?
It most certainly is. As the reactions we have seen demonstrate, bullying is indeed alive and well. And, far too often, those doing the bullying are those in authority,
abusing their positions to compel others to remain silent(!) about injustice. One of the criticisms of this protest (and in favor of Mr. Frailey) was that this was not part of the "core mission" of the schools. If you believe that the "core mission" of the schools is to prepare our youth for life as sovereign adults in a free society (something commonly called "citizenship"), then my position is that this activity (how to engage in civilized and peaceful debate about social/political issues) is more certainly relevant to said "core mission". And, by their actions, Superintendent Frailey and his goons henchmen staff, as well as the like-minded students and parents, did their students - and us all - a big disservice.
Shame on you.
In closing, I would like to quote a teacher in Katy ISD, who demonstrates that it is possible to face stressful situations with humor, putting into words something I am sure a lot of us were thinking as we read this:
"What is the worst that can happen? Good Lord, how much instruction could you get done if kids were silent for a day?"
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