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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

School shooting in Ohio

Abruptly bringing me down from my Oscar high on Monday morning - a shooting at an Ohio high school.  One student was DOA, 2 more died in the hospital during the following 2 days. I heard a student being interviewed who said that boy with the gun walked through the crowded cafeteria to a particular table, and one of the students there got under the table, trying to hide his face. School officials insist that this incident is not related to bullying and that the shooting was "random," but I have a strong tendency to believe the student rather than the school administrator.  I'm sure more details will emerge soon.

This morning I read an excellent essay by Marlo Thomas, which captures the issue very well:

Bullying is not, as some allege, some mandatory rite of passage that young people must endure on their journey to adulthood. This is not "kids just being kids." This is a murderous game that young people are playing all across this country, and without immediate intervention by adults -- parents, teachers, community leaders -- we will continue to see more and more deaths, and the slow and painful obliteration of a generation.

It is tempting to call the horrid news from Ohio a wake-up call, but that is both disingenuous and naive. We've had far too many wake-up calls already.

If we are not awake by now, something is seriously wrong.

. . . Obviously, the system isn't working. The kids who are in the thick of today's bullying epidemic -- victims, bullies and bystanders alike -- are lost, and they urgently need adult guidance. Most kids believe that there is nothing they can do to stop it; whether they are being bullied or standing by, watching, they are helpless.

An important first step to untangling this dilemma, says Herzog, is changing how we treat the bullies. "We need to take the anger out of our response," she says. "Making villains of kids who bully does not create a positive environment. We need to teach all kids empathy and bring them together, inclusively."

Among those trying to do exactly this is Kevin Epling, co-director of Bully Police USA, who became an "accidental activist" for bullying-prevention legislation after his son Matt committed suicide. "Kids are our best tool for turning this around," Kevin says, and he calls on parents and educators to seize control of the problem by creating programs that bring together students, teachers, principals, parents and the community to tackle bullying head-on.

I recently watched videos for two of these initiatives -- Hero in the Hallway and Team Urban -- and, for the first time in a long time, felt a glimmer of hope. Here are kids who are not fighting, not name-calling, not spreading hate, but instead banding together -- even dancing -- to celebrate their childhood, not fear it.

It is time for us to dedicate ourselves to listening carefully to all of our children -- victims, bystanders and bullies -- and stop abandoning them to face this problem alone. Nothing short of their lives is at stake.



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