Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sticks and Stones and The Story of Karen Klein

This is the story of Karen Klein - a woman made sadly famous because she was bullied and harassed on her job. Due to the advantages (and I use that term loosely) of convenient technology, we have this incident on video. That in itself a violation of her dignity.  Karen Klein, the school bus monitor from Greece, New York, who was verbally bullied and physically threatened by the same middle school students she was charged to monitor and protect. This account is one of the most disturbing things I've ever witnessed.

But not for the reasons you might think. Take a moment to watch.
Then I'll tell you why.

Shocked? I wasn't. And that is what bothers me most.
While Karen Klein may seem like a defenseless woman who can't speak for herself, and who has every right to strike back in anger, we see none of the usual coping mechanisms we teach children who are bullied to use in play from Karen's seat on the bus.  She told no one. As we find ourselves gasping at representations of twisted adolescence bouncing around on that bus, we watch a resigned adult, one seemingly coping with her everyday existence as if it's normal. Her quiet command and self-control is amazing. And heartbreaking. This is an anomaly, we say, an uncommon event like the one that took Matthew Shepard's life in the nineties or the cruelty that pushed an emotionally tortured New Jersey Rutgers student off the George Washington Bridge.
That couldn't be further from the truth. 
 Karen Klein is far from weak.
And this is far from a rare occurrence..

Why did she sit there and endure this torment? She had no choice. Stuck on a bus. She's the adult. And although the perpetrators received a year's suspension from school, those are consequences I personally believe were doled out due to the public nature of this event and are far from how these situations are normally handled.  Most of the time there is little or no consequence. Because adults are much less apt to report bullying than kids - unless the child is the victim - and then they are legally required to do so. But when it happens to them? No.  It's embarrassing. They're adults. They're supposed to handle it quietly or ignore it. The sadder truth is that they are expected to endure it. "They're just kids," after all. And within the always-do-what's-best-for-children internal mantra ingrained into public school teachers heads from day one - no one wants to say it. 

Apparently, what's best for children is bad for everyone else. 
Only when it came to the attention of a nation did we sit up and take notice of what it's doing to the culture of our schools. 

But what is it doing to the souls of our teachers?

I sometimes wonder when I'm going to turn on the news and hear of a suicide note left by an educator, who chose to end the shame instead of quietly resign. How many times in the course of a school year do you think this happened to Ms. Klein? How many times in the course of a school year do you think this happens to other adults in a school building? How many times in the course of a school year do you think this happens to teachers?

I am here to tell you it is everyday. Not once a day. Not even twice a day. Many times a day. Every single day. Somewhere from the back of a classroom, on an activity bus, in the hallway, at the football game, on a Facebook page - it's happening.
Do you think it is a lesser hurt because it falls from the mouths of children?

How many times in the course of a lifetime and a career do you think Karen Klein and every other adult in charge of adolescents who freely insult, disrespect and bully them will think about the abuse they received at the hands of children?

How long will it affect them?
Every day of their lives. On an unconscious level, they will pay for it somehow. 

We know from research that verbal wounds from childhood shape the psychological and physical destinies of people for most of their lives.  We know that words are powerful. Somehow we stopped counting the stones when we became adults.

Join us for BlogBlast For Peace Nov 4, 2012

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Sherry Blue Sky said...

Wow, Mimi. This is really horrifying and shows the utter disrespect rampant in our too-permissive society, where kids know there will be no real consequences to them (other than the occasional kid who quietly feels sickened by what they are hearing and witnessing, but doesnt dare speak up and become the next target.

Thanks for directing attention to this. I had missed it. I wondered why she didnt get up and go sit beside the bus driver or why the bus driver didnt take note of what was happening and kick the kids off the bus.

Sigh. Discouraging. We have so far to go, still.

Anonymous said...

I have chosen not to watch any videos on this incident. This kind of thing disturbs me. I was bullied as a small, shy, afraid young child. I hate anyone being bullied and feel deeply for them. It disturbs me. Our society teaches how to bully, yes - also that no one should bully or take it, but still makes bullies the heroes. Movies, games, music .. all contain a glut of violence and disrespect. How is it processed by our youth? Bullying. But don't make the children pay! Oh no! That might hurt their right to free expression. oh dear ...
How far we have fallen.
That's my opinion, anyway.

Mimi Lenox said...

Sherry - It is a shameful thing.
I don't think bus drivers can be aware of everything that goes on because of the attention to the road and I doubt they would have the authority to kick anybody off the bus anyway.

If I had another child in school, they would not ride the bus for sure.
Public school hallways are bad enough. This is just further stress for kids.

Mimi Lenox said...

Lynne -Everything you said I totally agree with. "But don't make the children pay! Oh no! That might hurt their right to free expression."
Bingo. The kids know their "rights" and exploit them to the hilt, especially online.

Whatever happened to kindness? Where is the premium for that?

This video was painful to watch but I made myself watch it. It is sleep-driving disturbing.

I am deeply sorry you were bullied as a child.

Jamie White said...

What disturbs me is that somehow these "children" feel entitled to be cruel and rude. I know it makes me sound like an old fogey, but every school I went to (and there were a lot of them between 1949 and 1961 in all economic levels) enforced minimal standards of behavior. I don't have a clue as to when behavior of this sort some how became if not acceptable at least ignored by surrounding adults.

I'm sorry, but all children need two things: Love and structure. Let the little barbarians run wild until they are adequately civilized and you get Lord of the Flies.

The Gal Herself said...

This is a very important post. The thing that disturbed me the most about the incident is the way it was found out -- one of the kids posted it himself on FB. They weren't exposed. They were proud of it. It makes me wonder about their young souls, I really do.

Charles Gramlich said...

Well said. I'm sure I would not have born it as well as her. I would have snapped, put a few kids in their places, and gotten myself fired.

Mimi Lenox said...

Gal - And the souls of their parents. Honestly, teachers cannot be social workers 24/7. No teaching would ever get done.

My solution at this point is a bulldozer. Start over.

Mimi Lenox said...

Jamie - I totally totally totally agree. It's insane.

Mimi Lenox said...

Charles - Ditto.

Mimi Lenox said...

Charles - I don't think this happens as much to male teachers. It happens, but not like with female teachers who aren't as physically intimidating.

Had Mrs. Klein actually slapped one of them she would have been the one in jail now for assault.

CyberCelt said...

I am a substitute teacher at times. I quit working middle school because of the rudeness and threatening that is part of every day life.

I stopped several incidents of bullying. Regular teachers walk on by.

Mark In Mayenne said...

Sorry, can't watch the vid.
Thanks for the post though.

Claudine G. said...

Mimi, there was an error and I wasn't able to watch the video, and actually I don't think I have the stomach for it anyway. However, I have the stomach to keep reading your post, and I'm quite taken aback to learn that teacher-bullying is rampant over in the U.S.. I feel really bad for those teachers, and the fact that there doesn't seem to be much help available. Sorry to hear about this.

Travis Cody said...

I knew of this incident but I have refrained from watching the video.

I never tolerated a bully. Not ever. Not to me, and not to those around me.

I don't say that to make myself seem special. I say it because bullies make me so angry and protective of those who have trouble protecting themselves from abuse. My biological father was a bully and I swore I would never tolerate one if I could help it.

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