Friday, June 22, 2012

Busting Bullying - My Theory

By now, I'm sure you've all  heard about the middle school students that bullied the bus monitor. They said all sorts of hateful things to her. To her credit, she remembered that she's the adult in the situation and rather than just feed the fire by answering or reacting, she ignored it. Obviously, this took a great deal of resolve on her part in order to do this.  

If you somehow missed the story, here it is. the attack The reaction across the country was pretty strong. People were outraged at the kids' behavior towards the woman, leaving me to wonder how they would feel if she weren't old enough to be their grandmother? There was an immediate outpouring of support as well as an outcry to punish the youths. Here is the reaction to the story.  a few days after the attack

 My facebook friend, Barbara Minton, posed the following on her wall today: Bullying bullies is not the answer. ~ Throwing money at the problem is not the answer. ~ Just admitting that bullying has gone on for decades is not the answer. ~ But I am at a loss to think of positive steps toward a solution to the abusive bullying that has been exposed in this recent bus video. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Several of us (her friends) shared some examples and some thoughts. From teaching, I knew that in rural districts, bullying was not a big problem for the most part. There was a lot more respect towards each other, and an understanding that bad behavior wasn't the norm. "Coincidentally?" (I think not) families tended to attend church together and they did things together such as attend little league games and county fairs.

My teaching experience in an urban setting, working with the inner-city kids that grew up in housing projects and in neighborhoods where murders were frequent, was different. These kids were extremely rude and disrespectful to everyone, from their peers to adults. Did they attend church with their families? No, though some did attend youth activities sponsored by churches, where they were fed a constant line of "they're keeping you down," and it fed into their anger and frustration. Some were raised in multiple foster homes, some by single parents, some by grandmothers or aunts, and some seemed to drift from place to place. It wasn't uncommon to have parents missing from the household due to drugs, prison, or death.

People have been appalled at the video of the grandmother being verbally abused.  Yet there are children that get a constant stream of this day after day in the hallways, on the bus, or other places where adults won't hear it. Some get angry and fight back. Others withdraw and lose whatever self-esteem they had. Unfortunately, a few feel so overwhelmed that they take their own lives in order to escape.

One of the people that posted, Mary, wrote,  "I don't remember as a child growing up here in Tucson if there was any bullying going on. Unless I was just not looking for it or not, I think is was not here. There is so much more that kids today are exposed to - TV, internet, email, their own ipads. Violence in the movies certainly does not help."

This spurred me to share my theory on bullying. As a teacher, having seen some of it, received some it, and more often, read journal entries by students that were bullied, I had reason to consider this quite a bit. My answer got long (imagine that!) and I decided to blog about it instead. I wrote:

I have kind of a theory on bullying, Mary. I went to school (K-12) from 1963-1976. Every once in a while you'd hear someone say, "She's picking on me," but for the most part, it was limited to a sibling crowding you in the back seat of the family station wagon. There were people that did bullying type things (Mike Whitley took my brand new pencil in 3rd grade. Obviously, I never recovered from it, not so much the loss of the pencil, which was returned to me, but due to the trauma of having to talk to the principal about it. In Mike's case, this wasn't unusual.)

Back then, as today, most abuse was verbal which leaves less of a trail.  When someone did that, they'd either get punched in the nose (if a boy) or snubbed at recess (if a girl) and no one got freaked out. It didn't escalate because no one was running around in hysterics about it. We also watched Mayberry and The Waltons, and neither Andy nor Grandma Walton would've tolerated being mean, so we just didn't think it was the way to behave. Parents knew other parents, so if you did happen to do something, your mom knew before you got home and you were in trouble. When kids were bullied, they didn't see it as a personal failure, but that the other person was wrong. They didn't blame themselves and over-react.

It started getting worse in the early 90s. Students watched Bart Simpson and other shows with crude humor and put-downs, and all of a sudden, it was "cool" to make fun of someone. At the same time, the "You're okay, I'm okay" lessons started with the guidance counselors. There wasn't any personal responsibility and everyone made the team.  By 2000, the kids were often "in charge" and were bored. Middle school students, especially, like to push the limit. It was getting harder and harder to push limits that kept stretching. They didn't hear the word, "NO" very often. It was more important to pass the state math and reading tests, so the school ignored behavior that wasn't "too" bad.

Now, a decade later, we have an atmosphere where people of all ages think it is okay to be rude to others, to insist on "my way or the highway" and see bullying as a sport, using new tools such as technology to take it even further. It is seen in politics and in the corporate world when executives make decisions that make millions for them, yet devastate those lower down on the food chain. Some adults, as well as children, seem to think it's acceptable to belittle anyone that is different than themselves. As long as the television shows, movies, video games, and music, glorify a self-serving rude behavior, bullies won't stop easily. "Role models," such as entertainers, are seen pushing others around and aren't held accountable for their own behavior. This sense of entitlement feeds the attitudes of those that like to bully. 

Rather than ignoring it, those being bullied seem to internalize it more than they did when I was a child.  They either began to believe what they are told, or feel such despair that it'll never end, and begin to feel desperate. In our "instant-gratification" world, there is little patience for "later," and we often fail to see the big picture outside our own perspective. Little do they realize that if they can just make it until they are out of school, they can move away from the losers (who generally don't have much of a future or a choice) and have a wonderful life.

So, the problem is out there, what can be done? For one thing, I think the atmosphere is already improving. While it might not be affecting individual people yet, there is an awareness that it's NOT okay to bully others. People are getting fed up with it and are tired of seeing innocent people die.  There is a call for tolerance of diversity. It's not unusual for bullies to be doing this in order to feel powerful.  They may have been bullied themselves and may have such a dismal education level and resources, that they know they are doomed to live near the lower rung of the opportunity ladder the rest of their lives.  Bullying someone else gives them a momentary feeling of power and they enjoy it. As long as those being bullied curl up and wimper, rather than ignoring it or fighting back (legally) then there's no motivation to discontinue the behavior.

Schools need to stop the mind-games and giving students a dozen chances to do something. While it was intended to make everyone "successful," it made students lazy and lowered expectations. In games, everyone wins, which means that no one really wins. In the real world, they won't get that treatment, so need to learn to cope at any early age.  This same empowerment might also catch the future-bullies, giving them skills they need to cope.  If people start being treated as if they are EXPECTED to be responsible, reasonable, and respectable, then I suspect they just might rise to the occasion. The pendulum has been spinning out of control, so it's about time that we get back to civilized behavior.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Happy Birthday to Someone Special

Today is Keith's birthday so this seems a fitting day to share him with you.  We have a long term relationship that seems to be one of those "destiny" type things. While I love him and care for him dearly, and all that usual stuff, above all, I really admire him. THAT'S why I decided to make him my topic today.  He's pretty unique.

My freshman year of college, I joined the marching band. It was really my parent's idea so that I "could meet new people" before school started. However, I'm pretty sure they didn't mean meet a guy and fall in love. (Click the link if you want to know more about our courtship.)

To say that he is complicated, may just be the understatement of the year! His life has been a series of constant adaptations, but underneath it all, some things have remained constant; things such as love of family, a gift of music, talent in solving puzzles - especially in technology, and a frustration with limits of any kind.

There are several things I admire about Keith. He is extremely intelligent and grasps concepts quickly, especially in math and science. He enjoys figuring out new things and uses this skill in his work creating assistive technology devices and doing computer programming.

Keith is a gifted musician, much self-taught. He plays guitar and piano, but his real gift is singing. He sings a wide variety of songs.  The fact that he used to play his guitar and sing when we were dating won my heart.  He's very talented leading church music and worship services because he has an uncanny grasp of how to plan things to make the most impact. He is able to get inspired music out of the average choir, but his voice is amazing. Many are touched when he sings things such as "Oh, Holy Night!" and favorite Christian songs. He has been a member of The Thoroughbred Chorus. (an internationally known barbershop chorus) and enjoyed singing with them.

The most admirable trait he has is that he keeps going, even when facing adversity. He lost his vision in 1983, at the age of  26. At the time, he was a seminary student. We had a baby with one on the way. Many would have given up, yet this became a series of obstacles that he overcame. First he had to learn mobility (independent travel with a cane) and braille. All this, while at the same time, facing a devastating life change. He didn't give up. Fortunately, this was in the early pioneer days of speech for computers. This allowed him to write his own papers for school.  When he didn't think the program went quite the way he wanted, he figured out how to tweak it, which required learning computer programming. 

Each adversity in his life is seen as a challenge, one he meets and often surpasses. The self-taught computer skills he developed helped not only himself, but was instrumental in developing a program that has since reached countless number of others. When we wanted a deck, he built one. When the garden was overgrown with weeds, he got in the middle of it and cleared them out. Keith enjoys walking, riding a bike, and is on a bowling league. He travels independently for work, not allowing his blindness to be an excuse to stay home.

As the years have passed, he's been a great dad and granddaddy and a positive role model.  He's a real hands-on dad, not afraid to get down on the floor to be a horse, play blocks, or build things. The grandchildren (see pictures below) love walking to the playground with him, especially when they stop for ice cream on the way home!

One of the strongest examples of my admiration for him has been our friendship, one that has endured over 35 years since we met my freshman year in 1976. Why is this a surprise? Because although we were married in 1980, we got a divorce 23 years later! YET we remained best friends. At first, there was the common decision that we put our kids first and did things for them. But in reality, we have always been able to talk to the other one. Who else knows us better? A few years ago, I moved to his house. How many couples do you know that have done that?
  Happy Birthday to Someone Very Special!
Avery sure loves Granddaddy!
Elijah "riding a horse"

Noah  and Isaiah enjoy ice cream after walking to the park 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Crusade for Children

The WHAS Crusade for Children, the largest local telethon in the country, has raised almost $150 Million for children with special needs in our area. 100% of the money raised is used to fund grants. It is a charity near and dear to my heart and I encourage your support.  Last year, over $5 million was donated.

It's the "Crusade for Children" weekend.  If you live in Kentucky or southern Indiana, you've undoubtedly seen the firefighters at the roadblocks collecting money the past few weeks.  I hope you've given generously each time you're stopped. 50% of the money raised for the Crusade is done so by the Fire Departments across the state. They have events throughout the year as well as having volunteers go door-to-door and stand at roadblocks collecting money. 

Other money is raised by community groups, churches, and individuals, as well as donations during the yearly telethon. Throughout the year, there are fish frys, mini-marathons, auctions of homemade quilts, bake sales, and jars for donating your change at stores and restaurants. It's a grassroots effort to help our kids with special needs. Money raised is earmarked for that area and grants are distributed to all areas of the state of Kentucky as well as some of southern Indiana.

My Personal Connection
My first exposure to the Crusade for Children was in 1983 when I was pregnant with Andrew. We'd moved to Kentucky the year before, but after that year's Crusade. While I saw people collecting, I really didn't understand why. I certainly didn't realize the impact of the donations. 

But a month later, Andrew was born prematurely and spent time in the NICU. As I sat in the rocking chair holding him during the night, I noticed little stickers on much of the specialized equipment designated that it'd been provided with Crusade for Children funds. When I took him for follow-up appointments at the neo-natologist, I noticed more equipment, such as the MRI machines with the same labels.

When Andrew was a few months old, I had an opportunity to go back to school to get my Master's Degree in Special Education. When I talked to the people at U of L, I was encouraged to apply for a Crusade Grant. Again, there was that name - I admit, I was getting quite curious. The Crusade for Children offered several scholarships each year to deserving teachers willing to teach special education. I applied and was given a full scholarship. Without it, I couldn't have afforded to go back to school.

My concentration was on teaching the Visually Impaired, but I took classes in many areas of special needs. The classes often included working in the field which gave me hands-on experience with the wonderful things done by the Crusade for Children grants such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy..When I went to the DePaul School, I saw students with cerebral palsy using specialized equipment to help them get around and toys and electronics with adapted dials. I saw a boy learn to ride a special bicycle for the first time in his life and it was priceless. While it was fun for him, it was a part of specialized therapy and training for his muscles.

Another semester, I did some volunteer work with preschoolers with Downs Syndrome. Again, I saw things with the Crusade for Children stickers. At the Churchill Park School, I worked with teens with such severe needs that they were working on feeding themselves, learning to walk, or learning their names. I saw a student using a computer by nodding his head, the only part of his body he could control. The headband he wore allowed him to type sentences, one painstaking letter at a time. They had therapy needs as well as educational needs. Many of these needs were met by the Crusade.

When I started teaching at the Kentucky School for the Blind, I found out that some of the vans used to transport students to our school from all across the state were a result of Crusade grants. The districts were able to provide computers with speech that allowed blind users to use a computer just as their sighted peers did. There were grants used at our school as well.

While still a student, I was offered a position as Braille Transcriber for the Jefferson County Public Schools.  My salary and equipment were funded by a Crusade grant. If it proved successful, the district would then take over funding in future years. New software programs and a braille printer made it possible to produce braille materials more quickly in a practical way for classroom use for individual students. This allowed the visually impaired students in public schools access to the same materials their sighted peers had, whether it be a textbook, student study guides, or tests. Again, I saw the funds from the Crusade for Children directly benefiting the students with special needs.

What is the Money Used For?
As you've noticed, the donated money goes to provide Crusade grants. Currently, there are more needs than funding allows. The grants aren't easy to get and they must document exactly how they benefit the children. The grants are one-time grants for that year only and must be applied for annually. Approximately a third of the requests are funded each year. The hope is that some day, there will be enough money to meet all of the requests. 

ALL of the money donated for the Crusade goes for these grants. Any administrative costs are either volunteer hours or paid for by an endowed trust for that purpose. Materials such as posters, shirts, and office supplies are donated by local businesses. The food used to feed the volunteers collecting money is donated by local restaurants.  The promotion and air time for the yearly telethon is also donated.

How Can I Donate?
I'm glad you asked. When you see a Crusade volunteer at a roadblock, please give generously. Perhaps you'd like to sponsor something during the year to raise money for next year's Crusade. Having a yard sale not only clears out your clutter, but you could donate the proceeds. Please remember the Crusade for Children in your charitable giving.