Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

And Even More Speechless

with 7 comments

I am having one of those mornings where I really shouldn’t write anything, not the blog, not a post card.  I’m in a foul mood for a reason that even I accept as being essentially trivial–but I’m like anybody else.  Push my buttons, and you will get a response.

So I’m going to try to ignore than, and go on with what I started yesterday.

The following is an actual incident.  It really happened.  I would like to know if any of you consider this incident bullying, and if not, what you would call it.  I’d also be interested in knowing what you think should have been done about it and who should have done it.

It is, if anything,  a perfect example of the way in which I think teachers and parents collaborate with the convoluted system of “in” and “out” that happens in American public junior high and high schools.

When my niece was in eighth grade–junior high, here–one of the girls in her class (we’ll call her Carla, I don’t actually  know the real name) decided to give a party.

Carla was chubby and shy and not very “popular,” and her mother thought she’d help make the party a success by allowing it to be the first girl/boy party given in this particular class.

And, indeed, at the beginning, it was a success.  Carla sent invitations to every single boy and girl in her grade, and the vast majority of them accepted immediately.

There was a lot of excitement in the class, and Carla was suddenly a lot more “popular” than she’d ever been before, and everybody was happy.

Then, about a week after Carla’s invitations went out, a girl we’ll call Marnie sent out another set of invitations, to her own party.

It was also a girl/boy party.

It was on exactly the same night as Carla’s.

And it did not include everybody in the class.  It purposely excluded the “dorks,” including Carla herself.

And that’s when the kicker happened, or what seemed like the kicker to me.

All the people invited to Marnie’s party dropped Carla’s party.  Carla’s party was left with only herself and two or three others. 

And the parents all knew that Marnie’s party had been organized specifically to spoil Carla’s. 

Among the people who knew that this was going on was my sister in law, whose response was, “well, you can’t make people like somebody they don’t like.”

I agree that you can’t make kids like kids they don’t like, but that didn’t seem to me to be what was going on here.  The issue, to me, was not who “liked” who, but rather simple manners–you’d accepted the first invitation, you’d better be seriously ill before you ditched it.

Needless to say, none of the parenets of the girls who ditched Carla’s party for Marnie’s felt this way–they all seemed to feel that this kind of thing was perfectly natural and not only couldn’t be helped, but required nothing on their part but accepting the brute fact of it. 

The school was a private (well, parochial) one, and therefore could actually have done something about the situation, but they didn’t feel it was their place, so that was that.

But in most cases I don’t think the school could in fact get involved, and yet this is the kind of thing–not name calling and taunts–that is most likely to be visited on “out” girls. 

I don’t see that it would fall under the definition of “bullying.”  I don’t see that a school would be able to do anything about it as long as the parents were willing to let it happen. 

And, for what it’s worth, I don’t think the incident came about because Marnie or the other girls who ditched Carla’s party had once been bullied or ostracized themselves.

In fact, I think most of this kind of thing is perpetrated by people who have been largely immune to both bullying and ostracism.

The urge to attack and destroy the weak seems to me to be inborn in human nature.  We have to teach out children out of it.  These parents–most parents–decided not to teach.

But even if the school tried to “do” something about this, I doubt it would have been worked.  In the long run, children accept the standards their parents set over those set by the school if there’s a conflict.

There was only one real way to save that situation–for parents to tell their children, “sorry, you accepted the first invitation, you’re committed.  You can’t change that now.”

It didn’t happen, because the parents themselves didn’t agree with that concept of civility.

So, was that “bullying”? 

Should the school have done anything about it?  Could the school have done anything about it?

And if the school had tried, do you think it would have worked.

Written by janeh

June 25th, 2011 at 10:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'And Even More Speechless'

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  1. This was none of the school’s business. If the student shows up on time in the morning, not sick or sleepy, dressed according to the school dress code and all homework done, it is no proper concern of the school’s what he did off school grounds. Do you really want the school to decide whether after-school play was “appropriate,” or friendships sufficiently “inclusive” and “diverse?” I certainly don’t.

    It IS the school’s concern that the strong do not physically abuse the weak on school grounds. It is the school’s proper concern that standards of civility and decorum are maintained in classrooms, hallways and cafeterias. But perhaps the effort you earlier described as being put forth to make sure no one is chosen last in recess games could be redirected into teaching language and math skills?

    It is the parents’ duty to teach civil behavior by precept and example. This bunch obviously failed. But if you want to make a bad situation worse, setting the school authorities in judgment over the behavior of the general population should about do it.

    And making Carla’s feelings the particular concern of the faculty might very well destroy her. Guardians can inflict harm enemies wouldn’t even think of.

    (One might consider introducing real fiction in English classes, of course. I can find a fair number of stories in which people are polite and well-bred without being weak or cowardly. Of course, my teachers didn’t much care for such stories either.)


    25 Jun 11 at 12:47 pm

  2. Not sure how your 8th Grade compares with our grade system here in Oz. We have kindergarten at about age 5 and then Primary school years 1-6 spanning ages about 6 to 12(ish). High School runs from years 7 through 10 (ages about 13 to 16) then Senior High years 11 and 12 (ages 17 and 18). So Depending on whether you have a kindergarten year, I’m guessing that your 8th Grade equates roughly with our Year 7 or 8 and that the kids we are talking about are around 13 or 14 years of age.

    I have no direct experience with this phenomenon. Our kids went to school in an era that seems to have been before this current (to me relatively recent) fad for school class-based birthday party rounds. However, our 9 year old grand-daughter, who is currently living with us, went to one such just last evening. She has several other invitations pending. I doubt if we will encourage her to use our house as a venue for any return hospitality any time soon.

    So, was that “bullying”?

    It’s not “bullying” by any definition I’ve ever seen. Nevertheless, it was cruel, extremely and, by my standards, unforgivably rude, and the parents of the child who gazumped Marnie should be ashamed of themselves. But I guess they are too stupid for shame, or they would never have tolerated such behaviour by their nasty little daughter. As for the rest of the crowd who accepted Marnie’s invitation, they, and their parents – if they aware of what was going on – are just as bad.

    Should the school have done anything about it?

    If I were the head at that school, I think I’d have been very tempted to send letters to the parents of the children who stood Carla up. I think I’d start by implying that they, the parents, must have been unaware that their children had behaved so rudely, because otherwise they’d undoubtedly have acted to prevent such behaviour, as I would hope they would surely do in any similar future situation. And let the chips fall where they may. If any of the parents wanted to take it further, then a spendid “teaching moment” would present.

    Could the school have done anything about it?

    I think the school could have done that much. Beyond that, I doubt if the school would have the authority to act. If the school tried to single out and shame the offending kids, as opposed to trying to shame their parents, I’d be worried about real bullying resulting from payback.

    And if the school had tried, do you think it would have worked.

    I doubt it, at least in the short term, because the culture is obviously toxic. Carla’s parents should go looking for another school, perhaps, but she’d undoubtedly find the same or even worse culture there. Modern times, I fear.


    25 Jun 11 at 12:51 pm

  3. Was it bullying? I prefer to have well defined words. I’ve always taken bullying to mean physical abuse or stealing someone’s lunch money. Calling this bullying stretches the meaning too far.

    And I agree with Robert. It was outside of school time, outside of school property, it didn’t make the newspapers with the police called to stop a riot, no arrests for drugs or drunkenness. Its not the school’s business. That rules out Mique’s suggestion of a letter to the parents.

    The days of handshake and “My word is my bond” seem to be gone forever. And I doubt that the schools can restore them.


    25 Jun 11 at 3:55 pm

  4. It’s not bullying and it’s not – directly – the school’s business. If the children concerned used class time to distribute invitations or discuss gthe party, which I hear does sometimes happen, it becomes the school’s business, but only in a minor way – that, for example, when the second lot came around, the teacher would be free to say ‘It’s too bad you are having it on the same night as Carla’s since so many people have already agreed to go to that one, and no one with any manners would cancel’. But of course, long term, the parents have more influence and the parents clearly saw nothing wrong with the behaviour, even though I (and others here) think it inexcusably cruel and rude.

    Hardly anyone teaches basic manners any more, except a few parents and maybe Miss Manners.

    And good manners and courtesy are a bit unnatural if you believe in individuality as the highest human value. FOr manners, you have to put yourself out and stop thinking about your own wants and needs long enough to consider someone elses.

    Yes, Mique, Grade 8 is about 13. It`s a horrible age. All those hormones beginning to kick in, and they don`t know what to do about themselves.


    25 Jun 11 at 5:06 pm

  5. I think we might have something of a different culture down here with regard to the role of schools in these sorts of situations – particularly private schools including parochial schools. The Roman Catholic parochial schools do have a pastoral role which most take very seriously. The situation in our state schools is probably closer to that in yours – which might go a long way to explain why our private and parochial schools are bursting at the seams as parents vote with their feet leaving the public school system in increasing numbers (at least here in the ACT) despite their having to pay high fees.

    As I said earlier, I don’t have any direct experience with this actual scenario, but our media are very quick to place the blame on the schools for _any_ behaviour that offends them. In the media view, it’s never the parents’ fault when kids behave badly, and rarely even the kids’ fault. Almost invariably, the media places most of the “blame” on the schools – particularly on the “rich” private schools (but they repeat themselves). I know that the private schools have suspended kids involved in unacceptable behaviour regardless of where it happens if those kids have been identified as belonging to those schools.

    I don’t entirely agree with the view that it’s none of the schools’ business. It must be their business to some extent, and certainly to the extent that the organisation and aftermath will have an adverse effect on school discipline.

    Where’s Mistress Fran when we need her?


    25 Jun 11 at 9:33 pm

  6. Well, technically, in the research literature, yes, this would count as bullying under the “relational aggression” subheading.

    If it happened at a public school, no, the school shouldn’t do anything. And if they did, it would not be effective. The target here must be the parents, and the school has no authority or responsibility for them.

    In a private school, I like Mique’s suggestion to target the parents, but if you were in the sort of private school where that would work, the incident wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

    In a scenario where the *teachers* are aiding and abetting, then the school should do something.



    25 Jun 11 at 11:19 pm

  7. I have no idea. I can only recall one party, if it was that, (memory is very dim) that I ever went to from 1 – 12, and certainly never gave any.


    26 Jun 11 at 10:47 am

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