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JENKINS: Bullies thrive because we've forgotten how to deal with them

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

One of the less attractive features of the nanny-state is its exaggerated hand-wringing over problems that didn't even exist before the nanny moved in.

Take school bullying, for instance. How much have we heard lately about this so-called "epidemic?" It's as though the concept of bullying had just been invented, and -- oh, my gosh -- we have no idea what to do about it.

My dad knew what to do about it, more than 40 years ago, and he shared that wisdom with me. When I was about 6 years old, he taught me that bullies are essentially cowards, and that if you stand up to them, they'll usually back down. That turned out to be true back then, and it's still true today.

Because the fact is, bullies have always been around. I've encountered them as an elementary-schooler on the playground and as an adult in the workplace.

It's just that bullying has never been an "epidemic" before. So why is it now?

One answer is that it's probably not. Our culture just has a tendency to sensationalize and exaggerate anything that involves violence or even potential violence. In real life, that is. We love violence on the football field, after a car race or during an episode of our favorite reality show.

But let two third-grade boys even talk about fighting? Forget it.

That's because modern American society has become effete, with absolutely no stomach for violence. My dad's generation understood that sometimes violence is necessary in order to preserve freedom. They knew how to handle bullies, after watching their fathers deal with Hitler and Mussolini.

To the extent that bullying really is increasing in our schools, that may be partly a result of stupid "zero-tolerance" policies that punish those who defend themselves as severely as their attackers, if not more.

I know of one area high school student, for instance, who was minding his own business when he was attacked by a wanna-be gangster and stabbed in the arm with a pencil. Unfortunately for the attacker, his "victim" was a third-degree black-belt, who promptly put him in the hospital.

Guess which one got kicked out of school?

Ultimately, though, I think the increase in bullying among boys may stem from their ongoing emasculation at the hands of female teachers and school administrators.

Don't get me wrong. Many of my favorite teachers have been women. But the fact that most of our boys' teachers are women presents problems. They have their own ways of dealing with conflict, and they tend to think boys' instincts are all wrong.

I'm glad I didn't go to my teacher back in fifth grade, when Greg Harris, a hulking oaf who was supposed to be in seventh grade, was terrorizing the playground. Instead, Bobby Newsome, Scott Barker and I caught Greg in the boys' room and the four of us shared a come-to-Jesus moment.

Bullying problem solved.

Rob Jenkins is a local writer and college professor. Email him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.