Every student in Minnesota has (or will at some point) experience bullying -- whether as a victim, perpetrator or bystander.
This statement is based on my observations as a longtime classroom and school volunteer at various elementary, middle and high schools.
There is a bullying incident at every single private and public school in this state, every single day, as well as in our communities before and after school, facilitated by home-based technology and social media. And this is true whether decent adults and students care to admit it or not.
The gifts of technology have made bullying more pervasive and in many respects much worse than anything any of us experienced on the playground back in the day when an electronic typewriter was leading-edge.
It doesn't matter why bullying happens. It matters that it does happen. And because it does happen, we do need a stronger law in Minnesota for bullying prevention. Current training, policy and legislation does little to minimize or prevent bullying.
Despite the Justice Department statistics Katherine Kersten recently cited in support of her own agenda ("The real agenda behind antibullying campaign," Jan. 13), the truth is this: The value a Catholic holds closest -- respecting life from conception to natural death -- is not protected when bullied kids in despair kill themselves to escape the pain of their experiences.
Google "teen suicide/bullying statistics," and you'll get millions of perspectives on this issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the teen suicide rate is going up, and bullying and cyberbullying are part of this increase. And according to Save.org, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Minnesota youths.
I am a practicing Catholic who is raising a family with my husband. We choose to send our four children to excellent public schools. A long time ago I had to choose how to live out my Catholic values when interacting with families deemed "not traditional" and certainly not "Roman Catholic," and I found the answer provided by Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew (22: 36-40). It is called the Greatest Commandment, or the Summary of the Law, and to paraphrase it: Love God and your neighbor as yourself.
I can be an authentic witness to this and still tolerate and respect my neighbors who, through their God-given free will, choose another path to spiritual redemption for themselves and their families. In fact, I can even be friends with people who have different beliefs about religion, values and politics. All of us are so much more than any given role or label or choice -- and the act of bullying denies this reality.
I would encourage everyone 12 and over to view Alec Fischer's YouTube documentary "Minnesota Nice?" to learn for themselves about the pervasiveness of bullying in our schools. He highlights every type of group or student targeted in some way daily -- and it is not just GLBT kids. He tenderly memorializes the students who killed themselves to escape the pain. I warn you that this documentary features the raw language used on students by both students and adults.
His courage in sharing this truth is not part of some politically correct "agenda" to "force" change in our schools about "lifestyle choices." We need every school in Minnesota to be a safe place for learning -- learning how to be upstanding as well as how to be academically competent.
Changes in family structure and sexuality choices are here and now, and will continue to be. Maybe it's time for authentic witnesses to the Gospel to focus on Jesus' command to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. We can't sit on the sidelines and hope that bullying goes away by itself. Every single life is too precious for that.
* * *
Karen Waters is a volunteer advocate for children's issues through Children First and Parents United For Public Education, and is a member of the St. Louis Park City-School District Anti-Bullying Task Force. The opinions expressed here are her own.