When in doubt, pull them out June 15, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, older son, societal commentary.
Tags: bullying, gifted, homeschooling, older son, school
I came across this article about Brandon Elizares this morning. I feel horrible for his family and for him because of what he went through. I’ve been meaning to write a post on bullying for a while, but I’ve been hesitant because it’s somewhat personal. After reading about Brandon, I determined that I should just come out and say it: if your kid is being bullied, do what you have to get them out of that environment. Whatever it takes.
When the older boy was supposed to start middle school, I took the stance that he needed to start learning how to function in a normal school environment. Heck…this is something I’m worried about today as we’re looking at college. But as far as making him go to school in sixth grade, I can honestly say that’s one of the worst things I ever did.
For those who say that kids need to go to school to learn socialization, I call utter and complete bullshit. Do you know what socialization is in middle school? Exactly the kinds of things that happened to Brandon. They were the kinds of things that were happening to my son, as well. In his case, it wasn’t because he was gay but just because he’s different. He was being sexually harrassed so badly by one person that I went up to the school and demanded they do something. They did, and the teasing died down from this kid, but it never stopped. He just found more creative ways of doing it. Older son started to refuse to ride the bus home because of the teasing. He started walking and instead found another group of kids who thought it was cool to beat him up on the way home from school. Kids would harass him in school while teachers’ backs were turned, and then stop just as he was about to retaliate, thereby leaving him to get in trouble. He was suspended from school several times, and the one who provoked the attack never received any sort of punishment.
He started shutting down in his classes and didn’t care about the work. The only class he was succeeding in was his advanced math class…and that’s saying something because he hated math. However, it was the only class where his teachers were advocates for him. The rest of his teachers started treating him like he was an idiot, and when he was evaluated at the end of the year because of his ‘dysfunction’ in the school environment, his English teacher, who’d originally raved about how bright he was, said he wasn’t gifted and there was obviously something wrong with him.
I saw more and more anger bubbling up in him. As a parent, it terrified me because I was worried that one day he was going to flip and either hurt himself or someone else. (Yes, I had images of Columbine burning in my head.) And I’d pretty much decided that the year of school had done more damage than good. He would not be going back.
The following year was when he was accepted into the gifted school. About a month after he started, a local television crew visited the program, and I remember a video clip of the director talking about how they got two kinds of kids: the ones that were obviously far above their peers or the ones who were troublemakers and likely to drop out or get kicked out of school. It was particularly ironic because that statement was made on a day when the older boy was home from school, on a temporary suspension because he’d shoved his PE teacher. My fears about how this bullying was affecting my kid were obviously not unfounded. The school said their normal policy was to permanently kick out students who assaulted teachers…but they wanted to give him another chance.
His first year at the gifted school was very hard because he was paranoid and angry. He thought everyone was out to get him because of the incessant bullying (both from other students as well as from teachers) he’d had to deal with the year before. The teachers at the gifted school were very patient and understanding of him, and slowly he began to lay aside some of the anger and started making friends. By the end of the year, things were going better, but then he did something to another kid and was told that if anything else happened, he would be out. Fortunately, summer came, he had time off, he spent a lot of time thinking about it, and when he went back the following year, he was like a different kid. That year went very smoothly because he finally felt like people understood him and even liked him. There were only minor problems, and by the end of the year, the teachers were suggesting that some of the support he’d had during that school year would be unnecessary for the future.
So basically, one year of damaging bullying took about two years and some very special people to make it go away. I honestly don’t think things would have changed as much had he not been in a place with other kids like himself, or with teachers who understood what he’d been going through. However, I can say for certain that leaving him in the middle school would have guaranteed that something very wrong would have happened.
I can only plead with parents who are dealing with this sort of bullying to please get your kids out of that environment as quickly as possible. It will not get better, only worse. It doesn’t build character: it makes them terrified and angry, and they will find terrible ways to deal with those feelings. And no matter how willing the school is to police the behavior, other kids find ways around it. Their drive to harass others who are different is unbelievable. (I still don’t understand it.) Getting kids out of school and either into a school where they’re more comfortable or even homeschooling, where they’ll have the opportunity to get involved in things that interest them and gives them a reason to learn, is far better than leaving them in that vulnerable position.
There is no reason any kid should have to go through that, and parents really need to understand that doing nothing is worse than taking some risks to get them out of there.