The perfect storm – reflections on a social injustice

"With ignorance comes fear – from fear comes bigotry. Education is the key to acceptance." – Kathleen Patel, author of "The Bullying Epidemic"

I have a thing or two to say. Bullying takes many forms beyond the playground and exposes the darker side of the human experience.

While bullying today has the attention of the media, governors, teachers, parents and school administrators, we would be remiss to not reflect on the bigger picture.

In fact, we are a nation with a record of bullying, including launching personal attacks on politicians who have fallen from grace, lodging political barrages against civil rights movements or carrying out unjust assaults against minorities, such as our long history of discrimination against Native Americans and African Americans.

Don't forget how we incarcerated Asian Americans after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Like war, there is nothing good about bullying. It's always oppressive, scars its victims and degrades the bullies themselves.

Let's face it; at one time or another, just about everyone has been bullied or has been a bully. We were targets on playgrounds, in classrooms, on school buses because of how we looked, talked, walked, and dressed, for not following the crowd or simply for being different.

As a risk-averse, chubby, second-generation Italian kid, living in a skinny, risk-taking, white Anglo Saxon neighborhood, I was an easy target.

Even so, I am mystified by all the clamor today. Should we cast blame on the media? The minute-by-minute news cycle and citizen's journalists have the capacity to record the most egregious acts of bullying as they are happening. Add the super highway of social media, which serves as an instant handheld freeway, hurling pervasive and punishing attacks anywhere, anytime, by anyone. As one teacher put it, our kids can't escape bullying; it follows them home and never leaves.

Depending on which report you read, the frequency is varied and alarming, including as few as one in six children and as many as nine out of 10 children are bullied each year.

According to 2009 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 42.9 percent of sixth graders were bullied during the 2007 school year.

A report by www.Do states that 56 percent of students have experienced some sort of bullying at school. Between fourth and eighth grade, 90 percent of students are victims of bullying. The most common reasons for being bullied are a student's appearance or body size.

A victim of bullying is twice as likely to take his or her own life compared to someone who is not a victim. One out of 10 students drop-out of school because they are bullied.

Researchers say they believe that bullying should not be treated as part of growing up with the attitude of kids will be kids. Some 57 percent of students who experience harassment in school don't report the incident.

On the other hand, schools with easily understood rules of conduct, smaller class sizes and fair discipline practices tend to have less violence compared to those without these.

It doesn't matter which statistic is the most accurate, all paint a troubling picture.

With every new story on this subject, I shake my head and wonder what's happening or what's not happening to make our kids think it is OK to harass their peers.

From all of the bullying today, one would conclude that the valued lesson of the Golden Rule – "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" – and "play nice" are no longer relevant.

What's our society coming to?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do believe that children don't learn tolerance, kindness and the value of diversity on their own. It takes an entire village and such lessons begin at home.

2012 © Copyright Paula Damon.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email  boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at and find her on FaceBook.

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