September has always been my month for writing about kids and schools.
My father always said that the two most difficult Sundays in the year for which to prepare sermons were Christmas and Easter. When I found myself in that situation many years later, I understood what he meant.
It’s all been said before, over and over again, in a thousand different ways. Here are the same old problems and the same old challenges and the same old issues, and I’m supposed to say something interesting and new.
Well, I have news for you: I’m still into the same old topics that everyone else has talked about. Sorry.
“School days, school days, good old Golden Rule days.” I’m not sure who wrote that foolishness, but he wasn’t in my class. It had to be a he because a she would have had more sense. On the other hand, girls were never subjected to that other definition of The Golden Rule: “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
Girls never got involved in overt physical action and reaction, but we didn’t hear the sharp jibes that were whispered about each other, especially when some girl looked different or was obviously too poor to dress without patches and darns. Remember darning?
Today, students have to have designer jeans and designer everything. Parents and teachers decry that attitude, but they don’t understand where it comes from. Not having those Reeboks means that you are somehow different, not just different but less than, not being capable of running (absolutely no pun intended) with the “in” crowd.
It marks you as being one of that most unfortunate groups of people: the poor. Being poor says things about your parents and the fact they are at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, and you’re down there with them. There are boys you can’t date and parties you can’t attend. Students would do almost anything to avoid that stigma, which is why they insist to the point of rebellion on having those designer jeans.
In my day, it was patches and darns. But in the schools I attended, the majority of us had them. You stood out if you didn’t. You would have to look long and hard among my schoolmates to find pants that didn’t have knees with a patch over each one, and not necessarily of the same material or colour. Few of us went around without at least one patch on the arse of our pants.
So, we didn’t bully each other over the clothes we wore as they so often do now. More often, it had something to do with the way one looked or the perception that one was stun.
I don’t know if one was any worse than the other. I do know that kids in all times and for all reasons have been bullied. I was the minister’s son and I know. Back then, I didn’t see any of it as being wrong, just something that had to be endured.
This little anecdote is absolutely true. One day when I was about 12, a bigger (honestly) and meaner boy gave me a pretty good going over during recess in front of most of the other kids, which unfortunately included girls. I went home sniveling as much from embarrassment as the physical discomfort.
My father came home and heard me still crying down in the basement. (This all had a time frame of less than a half-hour.)
“What’s wrong with Ed?” he asked.
“Ernest Long beat him up,” my mother answered.
I’ll never forget the tone of my father’s voice when he spoke. It was a mixture of irritation and disappointment.
“Seems to me somebody is always beating him up.”
Which was fairly accurate. Understand this was someone who had never lost a fight in his life.
The words went through me like a serrated knife. I resolved then and there to get even with Ernest Long, if it was the last thing I ever did.
I rushed “over the road” and found him with some other boys and tore into him like a Tasmanian devil. Of course, I got beaten up all over again, but this time I did not let my parents hear me cry. In fact, I don’t think I ever again cried as a result of a fight.
Point is, I do know the embarrassment of taking a licking from other boys. I know what it’s like to go to school afraid, although I overcame that one in time. What’s the difference between my school and a St. John’s school trying to cut down on bullying? Mainly we were a lot smaller and the potential for real damage therefore a lot less. Everyone knew everyone else in the school and everyone else’s parents and older brothers. If someone crossed the line, it was a lot more difficult to hide away from all of them.
Finally, everyone had his champions and friends. Bullying or hazing couldn’t go too far without some of them getting involved.
In the meantime, I never came home with more than a bloody nose or an occasional split lip. Everyone knew the limits. When I finally got to be older and bigger, my own problems were over. My regret now, along with some still fairly strong guilt feelings, is that I wasn’t a champion and a friend as often as I should have been to those who were being embarrassed and “picked on.”
In the bigger schools and more complex student and adult societal structures of today, there is no room for hazing that causes pain of any kind, and my hat is off to those schools that are leading the way in doing something about it.
A lot of students are still waiting for their champions.
Ed Smith is an author
who lives in Springdale. His email address is email@example.com.