“The Bully Society” by Jessie Klein
c.2012, New York University Press
$29.95 / $32.00 Canada
307 pages, includes notes
By TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER
Your child’s grades are slipping.
You noticed it last winter, just after the new year, but you thought it was just a mid-winter slump or something. But now, though, he’s been avoiding activities he used to love, he has little interest in anything but his bedroom, and although you once had a good relationship with him, he refuses to talk about things.
You think you know what’s wrong. You were bullied once, too.
Author Jessie Klein did some research on bullying and what she found is stunning. In her new book “The Bully Society,” she tells the story of bullied kids, school shootings, and what we can do about them.
In October 1997, sociology professor Jessie Klein heard about a Mississippi 16-year-old who opened fire in a school, explaining that he’d done so because he was angry over mistreatment from peers.
Then similar violence happened again. And again.
“I continued to study these cases,” Klein says, eventually finding 182 of them in a forty-year period. What she learned were three main reasons for school shootings: “everyday” violence of bullying, destructive gender pressures, and social demands on children at schools.
Our children, she says, are constantly enduring a culture that “places a diminished value” on students who don’t measure up in social status. They have the “wrong” clothes or accessories, live in the “wrong” place, or lack money or “social capital.” Klein found that this problem occurs even in schools that require uniforms. She also found that adults are often unaware of what’s happening.
Boys are bullied for not being masculine enough, and any lack of athleticism is reason for beatings, sexual slurs, and derogatory name-calling. This is doubly problematic for children who are gay or are perceived as such by peers.
Girls, Klein says, are bullied for similar-but-opposite reasons, a type of bullying she calls “slut-bashing.” Sexual harassment is common, too; so common that girls often don’t realize it’s happening.
So what can be done?
Listen to your child when (s)he says there’s a problem at school. Don’t allow bullying from anyone, including coaches, teachers, or other parents. Nurture a mentor-and-model program in your area and help design laws that allow underage children to take bullies to court. Most of all, work with others to embrace “collective courage.”
United, you stand… and make change.
“The Bully Society” is a hard book to read – not because of the way it’s written, but because of what’s written.
Author Jessie Klein shocks repeatedly with stories that’ll make your heart hurt: accounts of kids with nowhere to turn; memories of 40-something women who cringe from 30-year-old pain; tales of beatings and suicide; and jaw-dropping stories of adults who ignore or perpetuate the bullying of children. These are accounts that every parent needs to see and every teacher needs to read.
If you’ve noticed an epidemic of bullying in your community or your school and you don’t know what to do about it, here’s a good start. Before school reconvenes, you’ll want to slip “The Bully Society” into your reading pile.
Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.