Let us all agree that bullying is bad.
Let me admit that I was bullied in school by a kid who beat me up while wearing crutches, which takes some initiative. All I could do was hold my briefcase up to avoid the blows — and of course that just made it worse, because carrying a briefcase to fifth grade is one of those things that sets off a bully. Him think him so smart with implements of capitalism and academy. Hulk smash.
Having said that, let’s talk about whether we need a welter of new codes to define the forms of modern bullying.
I heard about an incidence of cyberbullying at a local middle school, and to protect the identity of everyone, this will be maddeningly vague. Let’s just say this:
Student was doing something. Another student took pictures with a cellphone and put them on the Internet. Mortification ensued.
There are two things the authorities can do:
1. Bring the student into the principal’s office and let him watch as the principal pretends to dial NASA, the Marines, the guys who made the Transformers movie and the president, and explain that he’s calling because the kid did something really bad, and he thought they should know — oh yes, and it’s in his permanent record, we’ll be sending an updated copy — but if he keeps his nose clean for five years, they can forget about it. Or:
2. Ban cellphones in school for everyone forever.
Guess which one they did?
Yes, if your phone is seen during school hours, yoink and it’s gone.
You say: Good. They’re a needless distraction. Why, when I went to school, if the teacher caught you with a Morse lamp or a telegraph, you were caned with a length of oiled bamboo, and it did us good.
I understand, but I have occasion to text my child on logistical matters now and then. Can’t pick you up / was shopping for briefcase / ran into guy from grade school / in the emergency room now. That sort of thing.
If you’re wondering why we don’t have painfully detailed laws on student behavior to keep these things from happening, rest easy: One’s in the works. HF 826, a bill introduced at the Legislature this session, codifies the definition of bullying down to the subatomic level. The definitions are so broad and elastic that you suspect a kid could be busted for Aggressive Breathing or Abusive Winking.
Bullying, for example, includes “conduct that violates the reasonable expectation of privacy of one or more individuals.” Like telling a secret you were sworn to keep. “Nathan has a crush on Katness from the ‘Hunger Games’ movie, he said so …” BOOM. Leg irons.
Bullying, according to the bill, is anything that “encourages the deliberate exclusion of a student from a school service, activity, or privilege.” Because it’s high time kids stopped thinking “let’s trap Marcy in the restroom and encourage some privilege exclusion.”
Likewise, bullying is anything that “creates or exacerbates a real or perceived imbalance of power between students.”
Ah. Well. I remember watching the popular kids in middle school sashay down the hallway like Bourbon monarchs, a claque of hangers-on in their wake, and thinking, “I perceive a distinct lack of egalitarian distribution of popularity in this school. Mayhap some cruel peer will point out how athletic prowess bestows that unquantifiable thing we call charisma, and thus exacerbate my shame because I threw up after the 600-yard dash.”
School, being composed of humans, results in a real or perceived imbalance of power. It trains you for Life.
I hate to break it to my child, but someday when she grows up, the president will be more powerful than she is, unless she becomes the president. If so, hon, don’t remind former presidents that they no longer have the keys to the nuclear arsenal.
Because that would be bullying.
When kids live under a code that sifts every particle of interaction for signs of malice, and punishes them for this, that or the other, they might come to suspect there’s an imbalance of power, and it’s not in their favor.
But it’s more likely that the code will teach them something else. A dumb law took away their phone because they took it out to text I HAVE A NOSEBLEED, and another dumb law didn’t stop a friend from saying something mean.
All these laws, and still people are people. Laws are dumb. Laws are useless.