Friday, April 17, 2009

Somebody Is Responsible: National Day of Silence to Combat School Bullying

And because today is GLSEN's annual Day of Silence to combat school bullying, I'm going to reissue this post from a few days ago, in observance of the Day of Silence:

Courtesy of Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin (here), an important CNN video by Anderson Cooper about school bullying . . . .

The video links to the horrific recent story of the suicide of 11-year old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover in Springfield, Massachusetts, and to an earlier story about the suicide of another American school boy, Eric Mohat in Mentor, Ohio (here). Both were taunted by classmates with slurs about their perceived sexual orientation, called gay and effeminate. In both cases, their parents reported the problems to school administrators and begged for help, without being heard.

And each time a horrific, painful story like these hits the news, I ask myself,

1. Who's responsible? Where do schoolchildren learn to use language like this, to taunt a peer for being gay?

2. Who's teaching our children? Who teaches children that being gay is something to be made fun of, the basis for ostracism and ridicule?

3. Who legitimates this behavior? Where are parents, as this is going on? Where are teachers? Where are pastors? Where are churches?

4. What are our colleges and universities doing to produce teachers and school administrators that work vigilantly to produce a safe, tolerant, non-homophobic environment in our schools? What are church-owned colleges and universities, which speak of their commitment to healing social wounds, doing to address these problems in their formation of future teachers?

Behavior like this doesn't happen in a vacuum. The children doing the taunting, making the lives of some youngsters intolerable, come from homes. They have parents. They have brothers and sisters. They have aunts and uncles. They have grandparents. They go to church, in many cases.

They certainly have teachers. It's happening at school, after all.

Someone is teaching these children to bully. And that someone is responsible for the death of someone else's son or daughter. And someone is standing by in silence doing nothing as these lessons in bullying are being passed on within families and on the playground.

Someone is standing in front of a college classroom or running a college and turning her head away as story after story breaks of suicides of gay youths bullied in American classrooms. Someone is assuming it's somebody's else's problem, not hers, somebody else's child, not hers; assuming that someone else can take the political heat for standing up and doing what is right, making the hard decisions to teach future teachers that bullying based on sexual orientation is not okay.

Someone is standing in a pulpit and pounding that pulpit Sunday after Sunday and legitimating hatred of his brothers and sisters who happen to be gay. Someone standing in the pulpit is allowing his parishioners to go home with the message that it's not only okay, but holy, to persecute those who are gay.

This won't stop until all those someones own their responsibility for these unnecessary deaths of precious, talented young people. It won't stop until we follow the philosophy of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune-Cookman University, and recognize that every youngster we meet on the street is a potential Mary McLeod Bethune, a young person of incalculable worth, who deserves an education and a future full of hope.

Gay or straight.