Stand Up to the Biggest Bully in the Room: Mental Illness

tags: mental health



Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory (Yale University Press).

Here’s a true story, courtesy of an old friend. Last year, a teacher overheard my friend’s son saying that a girl had called him “gay.” The teacher talked to the boy, who told her that he wasn’t upset by the comment. Under a new state anti-bullying law, however, the teacher felt compelled to report the incident.

The next day, the school principal called my friend to announce that he had commenced an “investigation.” Several students were interviewed, triggering a new buzz in the school. Kids divided into “teams,” according to whom they supported – the girl or boy. In the end, the girl was found “guilty” and received some kind of sanction, although my friend’s son never heard what it was. And that’s the kind of story you rarely hear about bullying in American schools.

We usually hear about bullying only when there’s a terrible tragedy like the death of Rebecca Sedwick, the 12-year-old Florida girl who committed suicide last month after being bullied online.

The kids’ reported taunts – including “Can u die please?” – are abhorrent, and anyone who sent such a message should be disciplined severely. But that does not necessarily mean that online bullying caused Sedwick’s death. Nor does it mean we should address this problem with anti-bullying laws, which might cause more harm than they alleviate....



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