Write...or Die Trying

I used to work in a factory. Now I work in an office. Either way, my writing was dying. So now I must: Write...or Die Trying.


Letter to the Principal Regarding a Bullying Problem With my Son

My son Jackson and I had an hour-long discussion tonight about the ongoing bullying he's experiencing from K K. Jack graciously gave me permission to discuss this issue with the Middle School staff--in fact he sincerely encouraged it.

This bullying has been going on since grade school (six years is Jack's estimate, though I'm not sure that's completely accurate--it's been a number of years at any rate) and, unfortunately, Jack and K have the same schedule this year. K's insistence on sitting next to Jack in class and his bullying in the boy's bathroom, the halls, and other places, hidden from the watchful eyes of teachers, seems to be affecting his ability to concentrate on learning and is contributing to increasingly severe self-confidence problems. I wouldn't classify these problems as "dangerous" quite yet, but my wife and I are understandably concerned.

I fully understand that coming to terms with the actions of boys with larger physical stature and an innate ability to intimidate their peers is part-and-parcel with the public school experience. I'm not expecting you, or any of Jack's teachers, to eliminate the bullying altogether. We discussed the fact that he will always have to deal with people like K throughout his college (assuming he chooses to go that route) and work career. I'm concerned, however, that the degradation of Jack's self-confidence over these past 4-6 years--for the most part because of K's persistent antagonizing--is detrimental to my son's academic success.

I tried my best to encourage him tonight. I carefully armed him with some strategies to turn the antagonism he's experiencing into humor, which I've always found far less draining than the bullying he's described to me so far. I also communicated to him that I fully support defending himself against physical aggression. I know that's frowned upon in today's public school system, but there it is. I did make it clear that it was a last resort, and a defense that is far less effective than humor, sarcasm, role-reversal, or reverse psychology; but one of K's most effective weapons thus far has been his physical superiority. Jack could go a long way towards being less affected by K's bullying if he got over his fear of K's physical size and his ability to intimidate (but lacking the wherewithal to back up that bravado.)

I sincerely believe that somewhere inside K is a really good kid just waiting to be encouraged to emerge. But just this week Jack described a situation in which K grabbed his throat and tried to choke him. He's told me before that he's been the victim of other kinds of physical aggression. Things like punching and similarly demeaning "abuse," while understandable, seems to be increasing to such severity that--in Jack's situation at least--it's becoming inarguably inappropriate. I hesitate to use the term "abuse" because physical aggression is natural for boys just coming to terms with their masculinity and it has dangerous connotations if the person using it has some intention of "punishing" someone (in this instance, I believe unfairly.)

I don't know of a solution for this problem other than that Jack be made to understand why bullies feel the need to bolster their self-esteem by bringing others down. From what Jack has described to me, I sincerely believe there's a part of K that wants to be friends with Jack; however, that desire--admittedly an interpretation based on pure conjecture--is overshadowed by the demeaning attitude Jack perceives on an almost daily basis. Around teachers, Jack has told me that K is deceptive in exhibiting his antipathy (to use a harsh word) for my son. It's only when K thinks others aren't watching that he seems to make his seemingly real feelings known.

I know that you--or any of your staff--don't have the time to keep such an intense eye on K that would reveal this bullying in action. I accept that. But I thought, at the least, it might be beneficial to make you aware of this problem. I would hope you communicate my concerns to Jack's teachers so they could be a little more vigilant, assuming they have the time. If not, then I'll simply say: I turned out okay, even though I didn't have special attention paid to my bullying problem. At that time, such a thing was considered more a character-building experience than anything.

Thank you for your time to read this long email! I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this and--thinking optimistically--your plans for working towards a more comfortable and successful learning career for my first-born. He's just now having to learn what it's like to go out into the world and deal with all sorts of people with all sorts of personalities.

I also hope you don't think I harbor any ill will towards K or his family. Having experienced the problem of bullying myself, I know first-hand how much damage can be wrought upon the relationship between the children involved and, more so, their parents. I intensely desire to avoid those problems and hope that you and your staff can take care of this bullying problem in a discreet way that doesn't damage any relationships--or at least doesn't damage them beyond repair. I don't know you very well, but I get the impression that that is not an unrealistic expectation. And hey, that's what you get paid for, right ;-)

It might be a good idea if Jack discussed some of this with the school counselor. My wife would very much like that to take place. Please email me at this address, or use MSN Instant Messenger at "[ MSN Passport ID ]" to contact me. Both are much more easy to communicate with us than trying to catch our busy family at home, via telephone.

Again, thanks for your time. I hope to be hearing from you soon.


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