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A Nation of Bullies: Our Children Are Watching. And Waiting.

| February 19, 2011

Ben shahn liberation children world war ii

Ben Shahn's 'Liberation' (1945) (tempera on cardboard, mounted on composition board.

By Heather Beaven

The 1999 execution of 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School woke up the nation. Parents wondered: are my children safe? Politicians at every level talked about how to protect our children. We talked about gun control, violence in the media, access to mental health and how we treat each other. We talked about it because our children needed to see us act like adults. We talked about it because we were morally obligated to do what we could to see that it never happened again.

Heather Beaven florida mica

Heather Beaven

Last month, after a string of brutal attacks and bullycides across America, New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie,  signed into law the harshest anti-bullying legislation on the books. The law reads that “harassment, intimidation or bullying means any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication … that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory [handicap] disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic …and that a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming a student or … has the effect of insulting or demeaning a student or group of students.”

Christie signed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights on Jan. 7, 2011. The following day, 19 people were shot in Tucson. Again, people began talking about gun control, access to mental health, violence in the media and how we treat each other. But this time those topics were stifled by more name calling. It’s easier and more convenient to blame a grown madman. Ten days later, members of Congress were back to calling the president of the United States a dictator or emperor and invoking comparisons with Nazis.

Comparing political leaders to murderous butchers is not new. During George McGovern’s first run for office in 1956, his opponent – a sitting Congressman – took out a full page ad in the newspaper that read “McGOVERN IS FOR CHINESE COMMIES.” Surprised and shaken and financially unable to defend himself in print, McGovern sought guidance from former President Harry Truman. “What should I do, Mr. President?” he asked. “Kick ‘em in the ass with facts,”  Truman said. “I am doing that,” McGovern responded. “Then I have nothing more to advise,” the President said.

If we ever want to face our children again with integrity, we must use rely on the facts and our manners. There is no excuse for name calling. You are either on the right side of the facts or you are not. From kindergarten on we hold children accountable for their every “gesture, written, verbal or physical act or electronic communication.” Yet we aren’t willing to discuss holding ourselves accountable. While coffins are lowered into the ground, we find ourselves returning right back to our old ways. Our children deserve to look upon us with admiration as we factually debate the issues facing our nation.

The Live Commentary

President Clinton said to the mourners of Columbine, “we know somehow that what happened to you has pierced the soul of America. And it gives you a chance to be heard in a way no one else can be heard – by the president and by ordinary people in every community in this country. You can help us to build a better future for all our children, a future where hatred and distrust no longer distort the mind or harden the heart. A future where what we have in common is far more important than what divides us.”

The kindergartners of Columbine are now preparing to graduate from high school. As their graduation present, let’s make sure that we are on the right side of the facts so their children don’t begin and end their formative years wondering about gun control, access to mental health, violence in the media, and how we treat each other.

Heather Beaven heads the Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates, based in Flagler Beach. She was a Democratic candidate for Congress against John Mica in the 2010 elections.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, 'Children in Seville' (1933), which may have been the inspiration for Ben Shahn's painting above.

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22 Responses for “A Nation of Bullies: Our Children Are Watching. And Waiting.”

  1. Jim Guines says:

    Thank you that is a mindful, Heather,

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Just a reminder: way to go. You caught Heather’s point brilliantly. That’s exactly what she said. Look for blame. Any blame. And lay it on thick. Blame on. Seriously: did you read her column? You left out all the nasty stuff poor old Nixon had to live down. And how Gerald Dangerfield Ford never got any respect. Andrew Jackson bitched about the Indians, too, and Thomas Jefferson couldn’t stop politely calling John Marshall names, and the Plymouth colonists really thought the Rhode Island separatists sucked, and there’s no telling what the Siberians who first crossed over the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago must have said about the absence of a welcoming Starbucks on the other side. I’m sure they unfairly and proleptically blamed the GOP for that one too. Just to be fair. At least you have a sense of humor.

  2. Just a reminder says:

    Just to be fair, people called Bush a Nazi, too. Love how it appears that only Democrats get called names.

  3. Tina Jeffe says:

    We can do this on a local level, even by state as Gov. Christie has done, but how do we keep our children from seeing and hearing the horror that is cable media?

  4. Just a reminder says:

    It was also Bill Clinton who blamed talk radio for the Oklahoma City bombing, and it was the left who blamed Sarah Palin for the shooting in Tuscon.

  5. Heather Beaven says:

    This has nothing to do with party.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Yesterday I received an email from a 15-year-old student at Flagler Palm Coast High School that read, in part:

      I have been discriminated against by a teacher […] who has made several gay bashing comments to me in class over the last few weeks of starting his class. For example the teacher sells soda and chips in his class and said out loud to the class that you can not put mountain dew and pepsi in the same fridge or they will turn gay. When he made this remark which he made several times he looked straight at me so I knew he was trying to [offend] me and people in the class laughed like it was a joke. Then one time I asked for his help on an assignment and he came over to me and I said hey and he said hey like trying to imitate me or what have you. So after that I realized I did not want to walk back in the classroom again. So I went to see one of the principals and told him what had been taking place he told me to blow it off that [the teacher] was an older man and that he would talk to him and just to go back to the class and everything would be ok.

      What disturbs me here isn’t the outcome, which hasn’t yet been determined–the school and the student and his mother are going through the motions of dealing with the matter, and those motions will certainly accelerate once the school gets a few more phone calls from media outlets: I’m not the only one privy to this email–but the fact that, a) a teacher in our schools today could still make even remotely suggestive, demeaning or flippant comments about someone’s sexuality, and b) that the frequent response by students isn’t indignation but laughter. (Let’s let that astounding Mountain Dew slush fund go without comment for now.) It’s naive to be disturbed or surprised, of course: this nation and this state still have their head in their ass when it comes to gay matters, that hold-out of still-permissible bashing, compliments in good part to screwed up biblical teachings. But it’s no joke. People are dying over this, and it shouldn’t take gay activists to be ringing alarms. (If you haven’t yet seen Ellen DeGeneres’s brief video on bigoted bullying, please do so.)

      As with sexual abuse and sexual predators, who, overwhelmingly, are not strangers but the victim’s friends and close family members, the larger part of the problem when it comes to bullying at school begins not with students, but with the tone set by the school itself–by the administration, by its readiness to be as zero-tolerant of its staff’s imbecility as administrators so zealously apply the zero-tolerance standard on students. They don’t, of course: the reigning hypocrisy of school administrations tends to be as repulsive as that of cops: when the fuck-ups occur in their ranks, they close ranks. When they happen with students, they expel.

      Look at the situation with the student in question: the school’s response has been to look at the possibility of switching him to a different class, a concession that there is a problem. But if in fact that teacher even so much as hinted at demeaning the student’s sexuality, where’s anything less than serious discipline places the school’s administration in complicity with the offender.

      And then we’re surprised when students emulate their idiotic elders.

      • Mike Bencal says:

        How can children take bullying seriously when they hear their parents doing the same thing? Parents scapegoat immigrants, government employees, unions, and whoever else is vulnerable. Of course the kids will mimic that behavior.

  6. PC MAN says:

    I love the way people on the right can read an article about anything and find a perceived slight.
    And Pierre, “proleptically” and a French quote from an obscure Belgian singer ? Are you trying to win the elitist of the year trophy ?

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      No PC (you bear your initials a bit too well), just a reminder that there’s more to the world than Flagler’s two syllables. And Brel, an obscure Belgian singer? That’s like a Belgian calling Billie Holiday an obscure Harlem crooner. No Belgian beer for you this week.

  7. PC MAN says:

    Actually Pierre I have a Belgian beer history, the Belgium soccer team stayed at the hotel I worked at during the World Cup and tipped me 5 cases of Jupiler. Billie who ?

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Best beer in the world. Since you haven’t made your annual contribution to FlaglerLive–as really, you should: I mean, these pages don’t hack themselves–I’ll take a six-pack. I use it when I have to cover the county commission, as a palliative (there goes another one of those words). Unless you’re referring to the ’94 World Cup and you’re down to your last case. Heather’s going to be upset that we hijacked her thread for something so fizzy as this. Look at the bright side Heather: no bullying here.

  8. Jenn Kuiper says:

    Thank you Heather and Pierre for bringing this to everyone’s attention. There is too much intolerance in our society. I feel awful for the student Pierre mentioned. Unfortunately, there are many adults who are afraid of what they don’t understand and act out in this unacceptable way and then kids take these cues from the adults and think it’s ok to act that way too, not to mention what they’re hearing from their religious institutions. I’m a religious person but in many churches it is taught that homosexuality is wrong. People then make a connection that if it’s wrong it shouldn’t be tolerated. People are unique. No one is the same as everyone else no matter how hard you try to make it so. We are all the same in that we all feel love and we all feel pain but that’s were the similarities end. I never thought my own son would be bullied at such a young age, he’s only six, but he’s been pushed, punched, and teased for “talking funny” and being “weird” due to his language and social delay. Bullying should not be brushed aside. More attention needs to be given to this issue and people need to embrace their differences. That’s what makes us beautiful. It’s what makes us special. It’s what makes us human.

  9. Jenn Kuiper says:

    And apparently this Friday is the International Stand Up Against Bullying Day and people all around the world are going to wear pink shirts in order to take a stand against bullying. I urge all to wear a pink shirt this Friday to show that bullying will NOT be tolerated! For more info see

  10. Wm Porter says:

    We are raising a nation of little girls, of both sexes.

  11. Jenn Kuiper says:

    Then you’re ignorant Wm Porter. Sensitivity is a GOOD thing. Too bad you missed out on that.

  12. Christie2012 says:

    Would there be the same passion for a child who was being bullied because of his christian beliefs the way the child was bullied for his sexual preference? I know the answer if the child was other than christian.

  13. William says:

    I thought I had heard stupidity on this thread when the “well, the other side does it too” argument reared its ugly head, but I was mistaken.

    WmPorter wins the “Dumbest Knuckle-Dragging Fuck of the Week” award. Hands down.

    Your parents must be sooooo proud.

  14. Jenn Kuiper says:

    Christie2012, I would hope so. With Christians being the majority down here in the Bible belt, most are not bullied for their religious beliefs because it’s those who are different who are bullied. I did experience a tense moment a few years ago when a couple of Christians, specifically a Mormon and a Catholic, were bullied because of their religious beliefs. The bully was reprimanded and as far as I know it didn’t happen again to those children in that setting.

  15. Christie2012 says:

    Jenn, It is good to hear that, seems like christian bashing is in thing these days. I am sure it has to be very hard as kid in today’s society.

  16. Liana G says:

    Actually Muslim bashing is the in thing these days by most Christians.

    Seriously though this whole agenda bashing is to keep people distracted and fighting among themselves because the rich got too greedy and the gaping hole left from their greed is so glaringly noticeable that they need a diversion. And race and religion always work because they’ve indoctrinated it into us.

    On the email posted;

    I hope that this gets forwarded to the local ACLU and other organizations. The trouble with this school district is that becaue they serve a predominantly poor demographic they think the people are too stupid to know what to do. It never cease to floor me when I hear from parents who were introduced to administrators as ‘This is — she is an informed parent.’

    A few years ago I had a problem with issues that happened to my kids at school. I called the school district and spoke with the person in charge of student’s services? Midway into my conversation the person interrupted me to say in an incredulous and shrieking tone ‘maam unfortunately when you make the decision to bring children into this world and put them in the public school these are the consequences you have to live with .’

    In my opinion, this was a well rehearsed line that seemed to have been used many a times over. I choose to not be intimidated or to feel ashamed for bringing kids into this world and having the government educate them with my taxpaying dollars.

    This is why I am a strong supporter of school vouchers. This BS would not fly in private schools. By the way, Japan, Hong Kong, Sweden, Denamrk, Canada, Milwakee, parts of Colorado, DC, and several other states have school voucher programs and they are working out FANTASTIC!
    Parents are very happy with their CHOICES!!!

    I’ll take a wild guess here and say that this teacher is tenured, and part of the nepotism and good old boy network that can be found in this district. Staunch republician too I presume.

    Here is something that always puzzles me.

    Why are republicians – educators/others – part and parcel of a socialist system of PUBLIC education and UNION affilitation????? Does this not go against their republician party principles?????

    Should they not be employed in the private religious education sector instead? Well, I certainly hope they are for school vouchers too. We can use all the support we can get.

  17. Kyle Russell says:

    I feel like most adults have no concept of what school culture is like. The average life of a middle school boy: Like music outside of the popular performers? GAY. Enjoy reading that book for class? GAY. Like movies that aren’t just shoot-em-ups? GAY. The term gay has come to equal strange or unusual among adolescents. This carries over to high school, where the students who end up being homosexual still have that word attached to them: GAY. Our culture has prepared children to hate those who are different before they even understand what those differences are.

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