“Bullies”         1byNancy Knight                                                                          zxg            ...
“Bullies”         2byNancy Knightdon*t you get a real car...how come your mom doesn*t drive? Oh yea she isblind. Hahahahah...
“Bullies”         3byNancy Knight      David got started right away. He sat at his computer for hours thatevening and wrot...
“Bullies”         4byNancy Knightacting out and we were worried she’d get into more trouble than she’dalready been getting...
“Bullies”         5byNancy Knight     During the next few weeks, we struggled to remember and documentdetails of every inc...
“Bullies”        6byNancy Knightchildren had been experiencing everyday at school. I’ve been driven tocomplete this task b...
“Bullies”         7byNancy Knight“A tyrannical coward who makes himself a terror to the weak, a person whodeliberately int...
“Bullies”         8byNancy Knightnot an impulsive push or shove or even a punch, though it could be any oneor all of these...
“Bullies”        9byNancy Knight                             2. The Early DaysEarly on, Mr. MacIntyre, David’s grade one t...
“Bullies”         10byNancy Knight       “Always,” he said.        A month later, David told me he’d cut Darren’s hair wit...
“Bullies”         11byNancy Knightdifficult to deal with such an active child. His behaviour is isolating him fromhis peer...
“Bullies”        12byNancy Knight       That’s when I started having trouble with my stomach. It just startedto churn and ...
“Bullies”         13byNancy Knight                              3. New BeginningsSoon after my last conversation with Mrs....
“Bullies”         14byNancy Knight       A few days later, I walked over to Kilbride School with David andKatie. I was fil...
“Bullies”         15byNancy Knight       Meanwhile, at home, I started to help David catch up. It was hard.My vision hadn’...
“Bullies”         16byNancy Knightall out of the box. There was a whole bunch of it on the floor. The kidwraps it around a...
“Bullies”         17byNancy Knight       Kilbride Public School is set back from the hamlet’s main road by anacre of grass...
“Bullies”        18byNancy Knight       Years later, we found notes that David had written about the winterdays after ther...
“Bullies”         19byNancy Knight                              4. Little WeaponsWhen I heard the back door open and close...
“Bullies”         20byNancy Knight       The next day was cold with a strong, cutting wind. That morning, Iplaced the comb...
“Bullies”         21byNancy KnightMichael’s right. Maybe I am causing trouble, I thought at one point andstopped mentionin...
“Bullies”         22byNancy Knight       I met the principal in the secretary’s office just inside the front doors.At that...
“Bullies”         23byNancy Knight        “I was walking in the hall,” David told me. “Christine kicked me in thebum. It m...
“Bullies”         24byNancy KnightWhen the weather cooled, he lost winter hats every week, along withscarves, mittens, and...
“Bullies”         25byNancy Knightfight. “Of course, we’re supposed to have a zero-tolerance policy in effecthere,” he add...
“Bullies”         26byNancy Knight       I felt sick. My stomach was upset and I rushed upstairs for anImodium. What if th...
“Bullies”         27byNancy Knight      “Are you all right ma’am? Listen that’s all I can do. If there’sanything else wron...
“Bullies”         28byNancy Knight                                  5. ExcusesDavid and many of his classmates were eleven...
“Bullies”          29byNancy Knight       Soon, David came home with some news. “Mr. Hampton’s going toget a rifle, Mom.” ...
“Bullies”         30byNancy Knight       She spoke in a whisper, “There’s just not enough supervision and notenough money ...
“Bullies”         31byNancy Knightschool who were troubled and dangerous but no one was supposed to talkabout them.       ...
“Bullies”         32byNancy Knightthought as I walked around the playground. Surely there must be someway to deal with the...
“Bullies”         33byNancy Knight       When I started hearing Tyler Harvey’s name, I realized that the newkids might not...
“Bullies”         34byNancy Knightbe the cause of his own injury. Tyler would eventually learn that David’sbones were a lo...
“Bullies”        35byNancy Knight                                 6. ParentsFor a fledgling Parent Council, that first yea...
“Bullies”         36byNancy Knight       I spoke up. “I’d like to mention the amount of aggression and theinjuries that ar...
“Bullies”         37byNancy Knight       “Yes, on the surface it does, but every day there are fights andinjuries. We repo...
“Bullies”         38byNancy Knight       Terry rushed towards the group, angrily gesturing the kids towards thedoor and ye...
“Bullies”         39byNancy Knightdesignated the losing team. David was hoping that the pressure to winwould not be as gre...
“Bullies”          40byNancy Knight       “No one else does anything around here!” she shrieked. She was toofar away by th...
“Bullies”         41byNancy Knight      “Yes certainly. I’ll return it tomorrow,” I said. That evening I calledLinda. “I’m...
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  • Bullying is a common experience for many children and adolescents. There are lots of ways parents can help a child who is being bullied. Parents should create an open, honest and supportive environment. Encourage your child to talk about what’s happening. Don’t blame them for the harassment. Let them know that you’ll help them figure out what to do and encourage your child to be assertive rather than aggressive when confronted by a bully. As a way of helping everyone especially the parents, who find it quite hard to manage time, I found this great application which featured a safety app which gets me connected to a Safety Network or escalate my call to the nearest 911 when needed, it has other cool features that are helpful for your kids with just a press of a Panic Button. Check it here: www.RelentlessProtection.com
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Bullies 972003

  1. 1. “Bullies” 1byNancy Knight zxg Bullies 1. Innocence and IgnoranceOne day in the spring of 2001, I was sitting at my computer desk. I staredat the sheets of paper scattered in front of me. A ribbon of letters andpunctuation marks stretched like a banner across the top of each page:http://us.geocities.yahoo.com//gb/view?member=daveknightisgay. I knewthe last four words, daveknightisgay, were a lie meant to humiliate him. Theinsult could have been just another childish prank—except that it was awebsite, available for the whole world to see. There was a photograph of my son, David, at fifteen years old, on thefirst page. He was wearing a baseball cap. I turned to the next page. “Tellyour friends what you think of Dave Knight!” it said. I glanced over the linesof text that pretended to introduce each contributor: J, Maveric, FU, Cpt.David Knight, ur mother, and dogg. The name of the school my children hadbeen attending was printed above each entry: Pearson. I started to readthose comments one more time, courting the pain they caused; as if withthe suffering, I could purge myself of the guilt of inadequacy. I am hismother. I couldn’t protect him. Am I a failure? *** "dirty fagget get somes friends and then take a shower and get urmother some glasses"; "stop using date rape on little boyz and then takinthem in the back of ur car. your dirt and so is ur sister..."; "dave is thebiggest fucked up fag i have ever met! his mom was on something bad whenshe had him. U think ur so tough dave but ur not ur a flaming homo"; "Why
  2. 2. “Bullies” 2byNancy Knightdon*t you get a real car...how come your mom doesn*t drive? Oh yea she isblind. Hahahahahah"; "FAG!!! cum guzzling queer"; "dave ur such a fag, itsunbelievable fuck...ur a ugly gay loser who has no life/friends...u rev urengine and look really gay, o well i gess some ppl never learn (ie. daveknight) u fuckin f"; "come rape me daviD" *** I had been trying to get it stopped for months. David and my husband,Michael, had tried to help. Months went by. I finally turned to the internetand searched for words like internet abuse and harassment. I spent dayslooking for defamation cases. A dog breeder had successfully sued someonefor posting lies on the internet about the quality of her puppies. Eventually, I found an article about a large corporation based inChicago, which had successfully sued several former employees who hadslandered some of its executives online. I phoned the company’s office inCanada, and then their legal department in Chicago. Their lawyer referredme to the law firm that had handled their case. I finished reading those hate filled words. Then, I picked up the phone.In an instant, I was speaking to a lawyer. “I need your help. There’s awebsite about my son. The service provider won’t take it down. The policeand the school haven’t helped.” “Could you send the website address to me?” he asked. “Um, I’m not sure. It’s just that it’s not very nice. It’s horribleactually.” “That’s ok,” he reassured, “I don’t mind. I need to know exactly whatwe’re discussing here.” I went to my computer. “Ok, I’ve got it,” he emailedback. Then, we were talking on the phone again. “Could I speak to David,please?” I called David and handed the telephone to him. A moment later, hehung up and turned to me. He began twisting his upper lip with his thumband forefinger, the way he always did when he was nervous or afraid. Hewas looking at me, waiting for some sign of possible trouble. “Mom, hewants me to write about all the stuff that happened.” “I know, David. You can do it,” I said. He had been bullied for eightyears. Where could he possibly begin? I wondered.
  3. 3. “Bullies” 3byNancy Knight David got started right away. He sat at his computer for hours thatevening and wrote out a history of constant psychological and physicaltorment. He emailed several pages of hurt and despair to Mr. Arthur: “Ihave tried hard to think of specific examples and events of this abuse. I canremember the phrases and words used against me, but they have occurredso frequently that I have trouble remembering specific instances. Byfrequently, I mean on an almost daily basis. Sometimes, maybe three, four,or five times per day.” We scheduled a meeting with Mr. Arthur and the following FridayMichael and I drove from our home in Kilbride, Ontario, to the lawyer’s officein Hamilton, about thirty kilometres away. We parked in a parking lot nearthe red brick building, a renovated remnant of the city’s past near thedowntown core. I grew up in Hamilton and throughout my childhood, I wascareful to avoid that neighbourhood of worn out commercial and lightindustrial buildings. That day, they looked upmarket with recently sand-blasted exteriors and a strikingly modern glassed atrium. We took the elevator to the third floor where Mr. Arthur greeted us. Hisexpression showed a slight disappointment. “Where’s David?” he asked. “We’d like to meet with you first, before we bring David in,” I answered.He must surely understand that we’d be sheltering our son, I thought. He introduced us to Courtney, the young, vibrant lawyer who would behandling our case. They led us into a large meeting room. It took us morethan two hours to explain what our lives had been like. “David has been picked on at school for years and now there’s thiswebsite. The emotional and physical abuse has been getting worse overtime. The impact on our family has been unbearable. “David has stomach aches and headaches. He often doesn’t sleep atnight. Michael and I have been losing sleep, too. We’ve all missed a lot ofdinners. It’s been difficult to make social plans when we never know whenour children will come home hurt or when the house will be vandalized.Michael and I have been arguing about all this. We’re suffering financially,too.” I paused. “I work in the information technology industry. I get paid by the hour.There’ve been meetings at the school and I’ve had to take the kids to thehospital a couple of times this year,” Michael added. I began again. “Our daughter, Katie, has really had a hard time, too.She was picked on because she’s David’s sister. We had to take Katie out ofschool. She hadn’t finished all of her grade ten credits but she started
  4. 4. “Bullies” 4byNancy Knightacting out and we were worried she’d get into more trouble than she’dalready been getting into. “David’s grades are suffering, too, and the stakes are high. He wants toget into the Royal Military College and the Canadian Air Force. He wants tofly F18 Hornets but he thinks he’ll be lucky if he makes it into a communitycollege. He’s been injured so many times over the years. The schoolprobably can’t stop it even if they finally did try. It’s so severe and sogeneralized now. He’s already been assaulted several times this year.” The following week, we were back in the lawyer’s office with David. Inyet another brightly lit room, the two lawyers patiently explained severalparts of Canadian legislation. One section in the Criminal Code of Canadaaddressed the “duty of care” that requires those with whom we entrust ourchildren to act as a prudent and just parent would. “There’s a lot happeningright now with regards to bullying, and this website is definitely libellous,”Mr. Arthur said. I didn’t know anything about bullying. I had only a vague notion ofwhat the word meant. There had been a lot of mean kids in Hamilton while Iwas growing up there in the 1950’s and 60’s. I’d even been picked on. Butthe only bullies I thought I knew were cartoon characters. Even as an adult,I thought youth violence was something that happened in big Americancities, not in Canada. The conversation quickly moved on. Mr. Arthur asked us what wewanted to accomplish. “Vindication for David,” said Michael, “He’s a goodkid and he didn’t deserve the treatment he got.” “I want to make sure it never happens to any other kid,” David said. “Correcting the systemic failings that allowed this to happen,” thelawyers reworded David’s request into legal jargon. “An apology, too,” we all agreed. “How will we get their attention? They’ll think it’s just another lawsuit,but, though money’s not important, if we ask for a lot of it, they’ll certainlypay attention,” I volunteered. As we walked back to the parking lot, I considered the seriousness ofwhat lay ahead. This is going to cost a lot of money, I thought. It was alsogoing to change our lives.
  5. 5. “Bullies” 5byNancy Knight During the next few weeks, we struggled to remember and documentdetails of every incident of harassment and every assault, every meeting,letter and phone call to school administrators and staff, police andgovernment. We went to the big drawer in the study and the cardboardstorage boxes in the basement to get the report cards, the notes, the policereports and all the victim impact statements we’d given to them. Over thenext few days, we told Courtney everything that had happened to us andanswered her many questions. Courtney sent us the first draft of the statement of claim at thebeginning of the holiday weekend. We searched through all of our notesagain. We relived our memories of each incident, confirmed the times andplaces, and made sure even the smallest detail was correct. Later, Courtney asked David and Katie to write about their memories.Michael and I wrote our stories in heart breaking detail in chronologies thatwere dozens of pages long. As time went on, we kept adding to the pagesas our memories came flooding back. ***Six years later, I gathered all of this together with hundreds of pages ofcourt documents. It’s all spread out on the floor of the small study in ourToronto apartment. The legal documents are sorted into coiled binders withlegal titles printed on their front pages like Statement of Defence, Affidavitof Documents, and Request to Admit. Within those documents, there arethe board of education policies and procedures, and the notes of schooladministrators and the superintendent. We had learned a lot during those years when our children attendedpublic school about how local boards of education function. They have aresponsibility to interpret and implement the provincial Education Act thataffects our children and their education. Criminal law, provincial law, privacylaw, and even municipal bylaws, individually and together, impact whathappens in schools. I’ve spent years, organizing and combining all of this information into anarrative about the day to day lives of our children at school. As I worked, Iwas often overwhelmed by the magnitude of the violence and suffering my
  6. 6. “Bullies” 6byNancy Knightchildren had been experiencing everyday at school. I’ve been driven tocomplete this task by the knowledge that thousands of children are goingthrough what my children experienced—every, single day. How naive Michael and I had been. As parents, we plodded on. Wetried to support and protect David and Katie by working co-operativelywithin the system, only to find that the system: school, community, and lawenforcement, could not or would not help us. Over time, the bullying became more frightening. Trying to get itstopped became more frustrating. Year after year, in an escalating cycle ofabuse, our children suffered. We gathered strength and courage. Webecame more assertive and involved. But those who could make adifference chose to look the other way. By the time we withdrew first our daughter, and then our son, fromhigh school in 2002, I had asked at least seven teachers, eight schoolcounsellors and school staff, three vice-principals, four principals, twosuperintendents, two board of education staff, four parents of some of thebullies, one director of education, one ministry of education employee, onetrustee, the privacy commissioner’s office, and several police officers, tohelp. They all knew our children were being bullied. I know they knewbecause I told them in person, phoned them, or wrote letters or emails.Eventually I realized that the school principals were the ones who could havemade things happen, but didn’t. Over the next many years, I read everything I could about bullying,youth violence, and teenage suicide. [ I learned even more at the nationalconferences on bullying held in Ottawa and presented by Child and YouthFriendly Ottawa (CAYFO). There, experts from all over the world sharedtheir knowledge of this tragic subject. ] I wanted to understand what words like bully, victim, bullying andcyber-bullying mean. I looked up some definitions [in the AskOxford EnglishDictionary on the internet. I had some fun looking up the word bully andwas surprised and amused to find that the word bully was once a term ofendearment. It probably originated from the Dutch word boele (bull as inmale cow). I like this use of the word in a piece of old English literaturetitled: Thre Lawes published in 1538: Though she be sumwhat olde, it ismyne owne swete bullye. Later on in the 1500’s, the meaning of the wordtook a drastic turn and a bully became: ]
  7. 7. “Bullies” 7byNancy Knight“A tyrannical coward who makes himself a terror to the weak, a person whodeliberately intimidates or persecutes those who are weaker,” one entryread. [ All too often, bullies and victims are our own sweet and preciouschildren. Though all children instinctively seek acceptance, approval, andlove, bullies are children who have learned inappropriate ways to gain whatthey think is the attention they so desperately need. Bullies fail to learn appropriate negotiating and leadership skills. Yetthese are children who could otherwise become good leaders. If leftunchecked, bullying evolves over time. I witnessed this from the misdeedsof youthful urchins to the intimidating and threatening battles for power ofteenagers and adults. Bullies often get into trouble with the law. Littlebullies become big bullies in the workplace and at home with their ownpartners and children. Thus the bullying cycle begins again. Victims are the unfortunate children who happen to be in the bully’spath when the bully decides to find a target. Victims are usually isolated. Inthe long term, they may suffer from low self-esteem. They may beconvinced that they somehow deserve to be bullied. They’re ashamed andhumiliated by it. They often have trouble trusting other people. Victimsusually don’t want to talk about the bullying. That’s why our daughter Katiewouldn’t tell us what was happening to her. It was years before shegathered the strength she needed to realize that she didn’t deserve to bebullied and it wasn’t her fault. Bullies and victims are not the only children who are affected bybullying. Barbara Coldoroso, in her book: “The Bully, the Bullied and theBystander,” (Harper Collins, 2002) introduces us to the great multitudes ofchildren who are also affected by bullying. These are the children who areforced to witness this abuse day after day. As Ms Coldoroso wrote in herbook and I observed at my children’s elementary school, bystanders learnthat bullying behaviour is acceptable if there are never any consequences forit. They lose their natural empathy for the victim and come to believe thatsome people just deserve to be bullied. They see that bullying is a way togain power and that the bully always wins. They become the bully’sadmiring audience, they may align themselves with the bully (and help withthe bullying), or they may become bullies themselves--because they don’twant to become victims. After all, which one of these characters would yourather be--the bully, the victim or the bystander? So what is bullying? ] To me, bullying is what happens when someonewho is physically, intellectually, or socially more powerful hurts or denigratessomeone who is weaker. Bullying is not an argument between friends. It’s
  8. 8. “Bullies” 8byNancy Knightnot an impulsive push or shove or even a punch, though it could be any oneor all of these things. Bullying is a deliberate and determined plan of attack meant to lowersomeone else’s status within the group while raising the prestige of thebully. That’s why bullying almost always takes place in front of an audienceor for an audience. The bully very rarely bullies when he or she is alone. [ In the twenty first century we have cyber-bullying. That’s a futuristicword meaning the use of communications technology, like a computer or acell phone, to bully others. The psychological torment can invade theprivacy of your home and enter into every moment of your children’s lives.You may never know it is happening. ] Should we accept or even excuse a bully’s behaviour? I don’t believethat would be the kind thing to do. Teaching our children appropriate waysto build healthy relationships and modelling that behaviour for them is theresponsibility of adults. Firm, deliberate, and yet compassionateconsequences for behaviour that hurts others, are essential. This takescommitment from parents or educators or society. Someone must do thiswork. There is no other choice. Our children are paying a very high price asthis violence is allowed to continue. They are hurting themselves and eachother. The cost to society, in terms of lost potential and even the lives ofour young people, is too great.
  9. 9. “Bullies” 9byNancy Knight 2. The Early DaysEarly on, Mr. MacIntyre, David’s grade one teacher at the privately-ownedMontessori school, asked us to meet with him. He was having difficulty withDavid’s behaviour. “But if I had to choose someone to accompany me on along, difficult journey, it would be David,” he told us. Katie was attending that Montessori school, too. Both children hadattended the school since they were three years old. For the majority ofthose early years, Katie had been in a separate class from David’s. Two years later, Katie, then seven years old, had been in the sameclass as David for two years. She was doing fine and keeping up with hergrade two work. David was eight and in grade three. He was behindacademically and his behaviour was still a problem, Mr. MacIntyre, who wasstill David’s teacher, told us. He suggested we take David to a tutoringagency. But after we enrolled David, the owner of the Montessori school,Mrs. Taylor, called me every week for a month. “We don’t need their help,”she said. So we stopped taking David to the agency. Within days, the owner of that tutoring agency sent us a note:“David’s needs should be addressed in a determined way,” it said. “I’m sure the Montessori teachers and Mrs. Taylor, as the owner andadministrator of the school, will take care of David,” I told Michael. The following year, Mrs. Taylor, hired a new teacher for David’s gradefour class. There were no more holes in David’s turtleneck shirts. For years,I had imagined that he’d been pulling on them and I hadn’t mentioned theholes until then. “Good work, David, you’ve stopped pulling at your shirts.Look, they don’t have holes in them anymore!” “Mr. MacIntyre pulled my shirts. He dragged me out of reading circle.He made the holes,” David looked down at his feet and shuffled a bit. “Honey, why did he do that?” I asked, hoping to hide my shock. Mr.MacIntyre had been David’s teacher for three years and for that entire time,there had been holes in the shirts. “I couldn’t sit still, Mom.” “How often did that happen?”
  10. 10. “Bullies” 10byNancy Knight “Always,” he said. A month later, David told me he’d cut Darren’s hair with a pair ofscissors. Darren had been in David’s class since they were three years old.“Darren wanted me to. He said it was funny,” David grinned. When I phoned the administrator’s office, Mrs. Taylor told me not toworry, “The teacher is perfectly capable of handling the class,” she said. Soon after that, David told me he’d knocked over the room divider thatseparated the work area from the reading circle. He stood up too quickly, hesaid, and lost his balance. “What did the teacher do?” I asked. “She grabbed my shoulder and took me out of the room,” he said. Helooked down at his feet again. There was a nervous tightening in mystomach. When I spoke to Mrs. Taylor again, she said not to worry. Soon after, we went in to see the teacher, Miss Gregory. “He’s a veryactive boy,” she told us. “We need to nip this in the bud.” Nip what in the bud? I wondered. At home, David was a great kid tohave around. He was happy, funny, and loveable. But I began to noticethings. He was more active whenever the house was filled with company.He often did things without thinking first: he’d rush across the kitchen withan open carton of milk in his hands and trip over his feet, sending the milksplattering across the floor. Then, he’d carefully help to wipe it up. I tried calling different organizations, hoping to find answers to David’sbusyness. The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto transferred me to theirpaediatric psychiatry department. “Tell your son you love him every day,”the lady at the hospital instructed. “Tell him he’s a good little boy everychance you get. Make sure you find something for him to do, something hecan do well, at least once a day. He’s a good boy.” That was easy. David could build intricate models with Lego bricks.He could draw precise pictures of airplanes, boats, and cars. But there wasalso chaos. When he wasn’t playing at something he really liked, orwatching television, David was a bundle of energy—and a whirlwind ofaccidents. And things weren’t getting any better at school. I went to the phone book again. Soon, Mr. Sanders, a children’stherapist, was sitting in our living room. David came into the room andinterrupted our conversation three times. I didn’t think of his behaviour asdisruptive but Mr. Sanders noticed. “He might be hyperactive. Let me testhim.” Mr. Sanders spent many evenings assessing David. Months later,Michael, David and I were at the paediatrician’s office discussing thetherapist’s reports with her. “I’ve been thinking long and hard about this,” Itold the doctor. “David’s my son and I love him, but other people find it
  11. 11. “Bullies” 11byNancy Knightdifficult to deal with such an active child. His behaviour is isolating him fromhis peers. He’s in the middle of a game of Hide and Seek, he’s It, and hegets distracted and just walks away, comes home and starts playing byhimself. He leaves all the kids waiting for him, still hiding in the bushes andbehind trees. They get furious. I think we need to help him.” “Do you want to try this, David?” the paediatrician asked him after wehad discussed available medications. “Ok,” he said. “I want to be good.” The doctor prescribed a small, twice a day, dose of Ritalin for him.Ritalin is an amphetamine. For most of us, it would affect us like we’d hadseveral cups of coffee. For a hyper-active child, the results are different. Later in the day, we were all in the kitchen at home. We asked Davidwhen he would like to try taking one of the pills. “I’m ok with right now,” he said, sticking his hand out for one of thetiny pills and reaching for the glass of water we had ready. We startedtalking again. As usual, David carried the whole conversation. He wastalking quickly, trying to get as much detail about the latest airplane he’dbeen reading about into as short a time period as possible. Before Davidhad said six sentences we became transfixed, not on what he was saying,but on how he was saying it. His speech slowed; his sentences becamemore logical and concise; he looked more relaxed. “I feel like my brain is in a box!” he told us later with a huge smile. The Ritalin slowed his impulses and gave him a chance to think aboutwhat he was about to do and the potential consequences, instead of doingsomething as soon as it entered his mind. Mr. Sanders worked with Davidfor a few months. He prepared a classroom intervention strategy for MissGregory to use in the Montessori classroom. Soon, she started telling meshe’d noticed a wonderful improvement in the classroom. But weeks later, Mrs. Taylor started calling me again. “Mrs. Knight,we really don’t need the therapist. David chooses to misbehave. We canhandle it by ourselves.” She called me once a week for several weeks and Iwas getting more agitated with each call. Why is she always trying to stopme from helping David? I wondered. Is it the reputation of her school she’sworried about, or my child? The next evening, I phoned Michael who was working in OttawaMonday to Friday. “Mrs. Taylor keeps resisting. The therapist says she’sgiving him a hard time, too. Can you talk to her?” “Nancy, I can’t phone her from work and talk about David in front ofeveryone here.” I slammed the phone into its cradle.
  12. 12. “Bullies” 12byNancy Knight That’s when I started having trouble with my stomach. It just startedto churn and heave. Whenever I got nervous or upset the cramps came.They pounded downwards with such fury and without warning. “I can’t goanywhere without checking for washrooms,” I told Michael. “Mom,” David said, “you just have to take Imodiums.” “What are they?” I asked. “They’re stuff you take when you have cramps or diarrhoea.” Mychildren had been watching more television, and more commercials, than Ihad. With Michael away so much, and because I’ve had low vision for years,I rarely had time to watch television and I never read magazines ornewspapers. Mr. Sanders, when he came to the house to counsel David, startedsuggesting I transfer both David and Katie to public school. Then, Mrs.Taylor called me for yet another weekly conversation about not needing atherapist. I didn’t believe her anymore. “Mrs. Taylor, send David and Katiehome. I’m taking them out of your school,” I told the administrator. “Let me talk to Mr. Knight,” she demanded. “He’s not available. I’m their mother. Send them home.” “David’s a fine young boy, with concerns about his own behaviour,”Mr. Sanders wrote in his last report. He also wrote about David’s threerequests: David wished that his behaviour would improve, he didn’t want tobe bad anymore, and he wanted to get to his work. That summer, we took David to a psychologist. “Please test him. Wewant to know where he is academically and what we have to deal with.” “He’ll need lots of help to catch up,” she said after the tests weredone. “That’s ok. That’s our job,” I told her. By the time David entered public school, he was a well-behaved andintelligent ten year old, who had already determined his own future. “I wantto fly airplanes,” he told us. “You have to work really hard at school,” we said. “I will!” he answered.
  13. 13. “Bullies” 13byNancy Knight 3. New BeginningsSoon after my last conversation with Mrs. Taylor, I called the local publicschool and asked for a meeting with the principal. Mr. Hampton sat behindhis desk and observed me through his wire-rimmed glasses. His suit wasimmaculately tailored, a dark blue pin-stripe, crisp white shirt, navy tie withtouches of powder blue and daring red. I felt awkward in my faded butfreshly laundered summer blouse and my cotton-twill skirt. I wished that I’dhad a chance in the last month or two to get my hair styled, but with all thathousework, laundry and the spring gardening to do, I kept putting it off. “Well now, Mrs. Knight,” the principal said, “tell me about yourchildren. Nothing anecdotal though, please.” I watched his lips movingsomewhere in the midst of his thick, brown moustache and his full beard. I held my breath for a moment and tried to think quickly. But Icouldn’t remember, or possibly never did know, what the word “anecdotal”meant. I’d been a stay at home mom for nine years. I knew how to makecookies and edible play dough, peanut butter flavoured. But I didn’t knowwhat that word meant. So I guessed. “Well, my son is a sensitive boy. He cries easily when he’s upset. Hisface gets red when he’s embarrassed but he’s not afraid to express anopinion if he knows he’s right. He never gets angry at anything. David’svery smart. We’ve had him tested by a psychologist and his scores showhe’s far above average. He’s a little impulsive for a nine year old, but he’staking medication for his attention problems and he’s made greatimprovements with the counselling that he’s had. We’re really hoping hecan have a fresh start here at Kilbride.” “Thank you, Mrs. Knight. That’s very enlightening, and yourdaughter?” “Oh, Katie, she’s so quiet and shy, not outgoing at all. But she’sfriendly if approached kindly. She has the most beautiful brown eyes andwhen she smiles, well her smile lights up her whole face.” I was feelingmore comfortable, gesturing and smiling--a proud mom fluttering like aproductive hen. “She’s very smart too. She likes working on her own andshe’s really very organized. Her room is always tidy. Unusual for a girl onlyeight years old, don’t you think?” The principal stood up. “Please bring your children here next week sothey will have two weeks to familiarize themselves with this school beforesummer break,” he said and gestured towards the door. “Make sure youmeet with David’s teacher early in the school year,” he said.
  14. 14. “Bullies” 14byNancy Knight A few days later, I walked over to Kilbride School with David andKatie. I was filled with doubt. Am I making the right choices for my kids? Iwondered. When we reached the main road, the crossing guard greeted us with ahuge smile. He gave a deep bow as he removed his cap—to reveal acompletely bald head! We all laughed politely. Any worries I had weregone. David and Katie started talking about their new school. “It even hasa real gymnasium,” David said. Katie was placed in grade four. Marina, her friend from the Montessorischool, was also starting out at Kilbride School and was in the same class.Their new teacher was a lovely young woman with a bright disposition. Shewas a perfect teacher for a shy, quiet girl like Katie. After a holiday from Ritalin during the summer, David started takingone pill in the morning and another at lunch. He said the medication washelping him concentrate. Then David told me that his new teacher, Mr.Barnett, yelled at him to pay attention and to do his work. David said thathe had felt embarrassed and cried. “Don’t worry David, we’ll have ameeting with Mr. Barnett and explain why you might have trouble payingattention, but you have to try hard to do your work,” I told him that day. Within days, Michael and I met with David’s teacher. Mr. Barnett wasa young teacher—one of the best in the school, another mom told me later.The three of us discussed the difficulties David would have because of hisADHD and the classroom strategies Mr. Sanders had suggested. Though Iquickly realized that the teacher hadn’t read the information I’d given theprincipal to put into David’s file, I knew that Mr. Barnett understood what layahead. After our meeting, he helped David to focus by casually mentioninga fact or idea to David directly or asking him a question. He told us that David was making friends with two boys in the class.Not surprising, I thought. David had a bright mind, an entertaining sense ofhumour, a great reservoir of general knowledge, and an eagerness to sharethis information with others. It was no surprise to me that his new friends,Stanley and Aaron, were two of the smartest kids in his grade five class. Ithought that was just wonderful. What I didn’t understand, however, washow the other children, who had been raised in the casualness of the smallhamlet and on the nearby farms, would react to David. There would be academic challenges, too. David was behind. Mr.Barnett suggested we ask the vice-principal to flag David’s file so that hecould get extra resource help. I phoned the school and arranged a meetingfor the end of the following week.
  15. 15. “Bullies” 15byNancy Knight Meanwhile, at home, I started to help David catch up. It was hard.My vision hadn’t been good those last five years, but with some help from afew workbooks, multiplication tables printed on the back of the suppertimeplacemats, and a little creativity with pieces of macaroni to demonstrate longdivision, David made progress. Early that week, Katie told me that some of the boys had been callingher names. A few days later, I asked her if the boys were still botheringher. “No Mom, they stopped,” she looked at me as if she was the mightiestgirl in the world. “Why do you think that is, Katie?” I inquired. “I told Mrs. Patterson when she was helping me in the resource roomand she talked to them about it.” Mrs. Patterson, one of the school’sresource teachers, had been giving Katie extra help with multiplication. A day after Katie told me about that, I asked David and Katie aboutthe grass stains. I had first noticed the green patches on their clothing inearly fall, but because the play area behind the school was a grassy field, Iwasn’t worried at first. But David and Katie told me that some of the olderboys were pushing them. I phoned Mrs. Patterson and asked her to takecare of it. She had been able to stop the boys from hurting Katie so Ithought she would do something right away. But David was not as lucky. I started to ask him about what had been happening at school.He told me that weeks before, he had seen one of the older grade sixstudents assaulting a young child who was too small to fight back. “Pick onsomebody your own size,” David had called out to the bigger boy. The olderboy immediately left the younger child alone and turned his attention toDavid. The bully and his friends soon discovered that Katie was David’ssister and started pushing her, too. “Who are these kids?” I asked David. But I realized that, because mychildren were new to the school, they hadn’t learned the names of many ofthe children, especially the older mischief makers. I was getting worried as David continued to come home after schoolwith bad news, but I wasn’t sure what I should do to help. I decided to waitfor our meeting with the vice-principal, and to give David a chance toresolve the problem in his own way. But while we were waiting, David’sproblems got worse. “I was in the washroom,” he told me one day after school. “I finishedgoing and that kid who keeps pushing me was near the sinks. I asked himhow you use the towel.” I had seen the metal towel machines that werehung on the walls in each of the school’s washrooms. Their continuouslengths of white linen curled below each one. “Then the kid pulls the towel
  16. 16. “Bullies” 16byNancy Knightall out of the box. There was a whole bunch of it on the floor. The kidwraps it around and around his legs, all around his waist, and over hisshoulders. He put it over his head and his neck, too,” David twirled andmade circles around his body with his hands. “He was laughing,” Davidadded. Then his brow furrowed. He frowned. “Mrs. Patterson came in.” “Who is this kid?” I asked David, not expecting an answer. “His name’s Stewart Martin,” David told me. He lowered his voice in atone of authority. “Mrs. Patterson says, ‘Get right down to the office StewartMartin!’” David illustrated by pointing and shaking his finger at an imaginaryStewart Martin. But David’s fingers reached for his upper lip and startedpulling at it. “That kid Stewart, he said, ‘I’ll get you for this.’ He’s a prettybig guy, Mom. Why does he want to get me?” “Some people like to blame others, because they don’t want to takeresponsibility for their own behaviour,” I said. What sort of child couldStewart Martin be? I asked myself. I set David to work on his handwriting at the kitchen table while Isipped a cup of tea. I imagined Mrs. Patterson, the resource teacher whohad helped Katie, and who I had spoken to about the playground assaults,must have been working in the resource room just across from the boys’washroom. She must have heard the laughter and rushed inside. I started to find out more about Stewart Martin without even trying.Rumours about him had been circulating around our community. It wasn’tlong before one of the townspeople told me one of them. At the age of eight, Stewart walked into the small variety store thatserved the tiny hamlet, pointed a pellet gun at the owner and demanded allthe money in the cash register. The owner promptly went to the phone andcalled the community police officer. Stewart was taken home to his parents. I needed only the rumours to understand that my son had somehowattracted the attention of a troubled young man. I knew there was dangerbut I had no way of knowing what to do about it. Thank goodness ourmeeting with the vice-principal is in a few days, I thought. I’ll mention it toher then. Michael and I had that meeting with Barbara Mackenzie, the vice-principal. We talked about the psychologist’s reports and asked her to flagDavid’s file. We told her about the assaults and taunting on the playground,too. Mrs. Mackenzie wouldn’t agree to flag David’s file. She didn’t seemtoo concerned about the playground assaults either. She wanted to see ifthings would improve as David continued to take his medication, she told us.But days later, there was another problem.
  17. 17. “Bullies” 17byNancy Knight Kilbride Public School is set back from the hamlet’s main road by anacre of grass field. A residential street runs out from the front of the schoolpast several ancient maples that edge the field. The street crosses the mainroad and continues south. Jerry Woolcott, who was one of Stewart Martin’s closest friends, livedon that street. He had already participated in much of the playgroundbullying. David was by then the main target. That afternoon, Jerry waited on the driveway, at the far side of hishouse, hidden from David’s view. When David passed by, Jerry jumped ontohis miniature, but very real, motorcycle, revved up the engine, and spedtowards David. He came within six inches of David’s heels and chased himall the way home. By the time David bolted into the house and slammed thedoor behind him, he was gasping for breath. As soon as he could explain what had happened, I phoned BarbaraMackenzie. “He’s terrified,” I told the vice-principal after I explained whathad happened. “I’ll look into it,” she said. “It’s ok now, David. Mrs. Mackenzie’s going to look into it,” I told him.But then the problems with Christine began. Christine was taunting David on the way home. At first, I wondered ifhe was bringing any of the trouble upon himself. I started walking over tothe school. Every day, as I got closer, I heard Christine’s strong, projectingvoice repeating David’s name again and again. What I heard was not gentleteasing. “Just ignore it,” I told David. But telling a ten year old boy to ignorerelentless taunts, when the embarrassment was obvious on his crimson-redcheeks, was futile. By Christmas, the strain was frozen onto David’s faceevery time he came into the house. Katie stopped walking home with him. “I’ll take care of it,” Barbara Mackenzie said when I phoned her. ButChristine didn’t stop. Things weren’t getting any better at the school either. Aaron andStanley, David’s new friends, were away at special enrichment classes twodays a week. That’s when David was alone. And that’s when Stewart Martinand his friends bullied David the most. “What are they calling you?” I asked David. “They say things like fag, mother fucker, homo, loser...” “Ok that’s enough.” Those were words that David had never heardbefore, but they were quickly becoming a part of his everyday schoolexperience. The boys were starting to punch and kick him, too.
  18. 18. “Bullies” 18byNancy Knight Years later, we found notes that David had written about the winterdays after there had been a snowfall: “…In the cold weather, when all of thekids are wearing heavier clothing, they seem to think it’s safe to be morephysical. I would open the door to go outside for recess, and someonewould be waiting with a snowball or a fist to hit me with. It seemed thatevery day of my life was both a physical and mental struggle just to getthrough the day without cuts and scratches.” My sense of what kind of parent I could be was quickly diminished bythe pain my children were experiencing and my inability to get it stopped.Fearing that I was being regarded as just another worried mother, though Iwas trying hard to maintain a professional relationship with the school, Iasked Michael to get involved. Michael and I started arguing fiercely aboutthis and the tension between us worsened. I began to wonder aboutwhether or not I was expecting too much of the school. Is that what schoolis like these days? I asked myself. My school days were never like that. Ijust could not imagine a school allowing such aggression to continue. Just before that Christmas, I walked up to the school. Pat Hunter wascoming out of the building after her lunch hour duties as a playgroundsupervisor. “What’s going on and why is David getting picked on so much?”I asked. I was hoping to get more information from her than I had beengetting from everyone else. “It’s not a nice lunch,” she said. Frustration and anger seem tosurround her, I thought.
  19. 19. “Bullies” 19byNancy Knight 4. Little WeaponsWhen I heard the back door open and close, and the shuffling and bangingas they tossed their boots and coats onto the big wooden box in the backhall, I’d know my children were home. I could only hope that myexaggerated cheerfulness, when they came into the kitchen, could hide thedread that I felt. What happened today? I’d wonder. Katie always went right for the warm cinnamon loaf or the bite-sizepeanut butter cookies in the wicker baskets on the counter. Increasingly,without saying a word, she’d go up the stairs to her room. David usuallystood silently at the open refrigerator, looking for juice or chocolate milk.Often, as he started to settle in, I’d notice a quick change in his posture, atightening across his shoulders, and a snap in his voice as he told me whathad happened that day. These after-school rituals became a constantthroughout the years the children attended public school. I becameaccustomed to the daily outpourings of torment. That winter, David came into the kitchen after school and, avoiding therefrigerator, he walked right to me. I was standing at the kitchen sink. Hecarefully placed a shiny, steel blade on the counter beside me. “What’s that?” I asked softly. “It’s a comb,” he said. He was studying my face, staring right into myeyes. I knew there was more to come because my stomach started tosqueeze. I waited. There was a little tremor in his voice when he said thewords, “A kid showed it to me.” “He showed it to you?” “Yea he showed it to me. It was really scary. Then he went away.But he dropped it so I ran and got it. He didn’t see me. I put it in mypocket really fast.” “It sounds like the boy may have threatened you with it,” I said. “Yea, I think he threatened me.” I looked carefully at the knife-comb. It was made of two thin shardsof shiny metal bolted together and locked at one end around a tight wire coilso that the two sections could be jack-knifed apart to create a long, thinblade. The last third of one end was slotted like a comb; the other end wasshaped into a sharply honed point. The last thing those kids need, areweapons, I thought.
  20. 20. “Bullies” 20byNancy Knight The next day was cold with a strong, cutting wind. That morning, Iplaced the comb into an envelope. A little after noon, I tucked it under myarm and walked to the school. I walked past the back corner of the building,through the broken glass, pieces of metal and old newspapers that litteredthe ground around the overflowing garbage and recycle containers, andstarted looking for a teacher or a principal. The vice-principal was standing away from the school on the soft areaof the playground which stretched out from the black asphalt near the schoolto the baseball diamonds and the snow covered fields beyond. She stoodlike a frozen symbol of elegance in a long, fashionable cloth coat, matchinghat, gloves, and winter boots. I handed the envelope to her and explainedthat David had picked its contents up and carried the knife-comb home tome. The vice-principal looked into the envelope with obvious concern. “Ohdear,” she said, “I will definitely look into this and do something right away.” But months later, it seemed, she hadn’t done a thing. Nothingchanged. The taunting and the aggression at the school, and Christine’sharassment on the way home—none of it stopped. We were in the midst of one of the harshest winters we’d experiencedin Kilbride. The last thing I wanted to do was to walk over to the school andback with my children. But other children from the village were starting tofollow Christine’s lead. Soon their taunting, including rude remarks andgestures, were directed at me, too. I phoned Christine’s mother. “Please Lorraine, just tell her to leavehim alone,” I pleaded. When I called the school Mrs. Mackenzie’s answer was always thesame, “We’ll look into it,” “check on it,” “ask about it.” Neither the principal nor the vice-principal would answer me when Iasked them what had been done. “We’re looking into it,” they would repeatlike an overused mantra. But the name calling and assaults at school, andthe harassment on the way home didn’t stop. Katie was starting to withdraw. She’d go right to her room and hardlysay a word. I could see the tortured pain in my son’s eyes every time hetold me what had happened to him. Michael and I had been arguing fiercely.It seemed that every day when he arrived home after work, I had anotherreport of persecution to tell him about. If he could only realized ourchildren’s pain, he would do something. I continued to plead with him totalk to the school. “The school will take care of it. Stop causing trouble,” hesaid. “They’re not doing anything!” I retorted constantly. I couldn’tunderstand why the school was not responding to my concerns. Maybe
  21. 21. “Bullies” 21byNancy KnightMichael’s right. Maybe I am causing trouble, I thought at one point andstopped mentioning the hurt feelings and scraped knees. But things onlygot worse. One Saturday morning Michael was sitting in the study shufflingpapers on the desk. I walked into the room. I tried to convince him to writea letter to the school and ask them to help my children. He kept shufflinghis papers. I fell apart. I threw the cold remnants of coffee that were in thebottom of my cup onto his papers. Some of the brown liquid splashed uponto his clothing. Michael fell apart too. His face went bright red. He looked like anangry animal. He came around the desk and, with his face just inches awayfrom mine, he screamed at me. I screamed back at him, “What kind of man doesn’t protect hisfamily?” Michael wrote the first letter to Mr. Hampton that day.***Dear Mr. Hampton,I would like to make you aware of a problem that is causing considerablediscomfort for my son David...”*** On Monday, I placed the letter in one of Michael’s old businessenvelopes, hoping that the professional looking identification of the Britishcompany my husband once owned would lend authority to the letter inside.I changed into my nicest blouse and a pair of dress slacks, took twoImmodium tablets, and slipped my newest spring jacket on before I left thehouse. My stomach continued to cramp as I walked along the village road tothe school. On my way, I rehearsed what I was going to say. The words I usedwould need to be carefully chosen. Mr. Hampton was an intelligent man,“...from a family of academics,” he had told me one day. Throughout myyears in public school, I had been taught to respect the adults who hadauthority over me. As an adult, I admired and trusted the educators whowere responsible for the care and education of my children. I wanted toensure a good working relationship with them, while I sought to show anadequate degree of assertiveness as the mother of my children. I held theletter tightly.
  22. 22. “Bullies” 22byNancy Knight I met the principal in the secretary’s office just inside the front doors.At that moment, I forgot everything I had rehearsed on my way over to theschool. “Here,” I said, “you’d better read this and do something about itnow.” But nothing happened. Absolutely nothing changed. So, Michael and Iwalked down the intermediate corridor and into Barbara Mackenzie’s tinyoffice. We started telling her what David was going through. She didn’tseem surprised by what we were telling her. Michael and I sat stunned asshe recommended that we enrol David in Karate lessons. “He’ll learn how todefend himself,” she said. We left the meeting feeling completelyinadequate. We had failed to advocate for our son. The vice-principal hadpromised nothing. Pat Hunter approached us just after we got into the car. “They’regoing to be starting Parent Councils in every public school,” she said, “Now,we wouldn’t want a say in what goes on in our school, would we?” sheadded. Oh yes we would, I thought. It took us two weeks to find a karate instructor who we trusted toteach our children the discipline and confidence they would need in order toendure the increasing aggression at school without becoming aggressivethemselves. After that, something strange started happening to me. I was gettingused to David’s daily reports of abuse. Of course, we were working hard toget it stopped. Of course, I could feel his hurt and anger. Sometimes Ibecame very frightened. Sometimes, I ran out of things to say or do. Mymind couldn’t get around it anymore. “Oh, he hit you again, did he? Well did you tell the teacher? Oh, youdid? Well that’s good,” I said, as if ending my sentence with one positiveword made everything all right. For a while, David came home for lunch and that eased the playgroundtrouble. Occasionally, the harassment stopped. For a while we all feltrelaxed, went on with our everyday lives, and trusted that the school hadfinally done something. But soon we were embroiled in another crisis andthe sickening fear returned. We would realize that the school hadn’t solvedthe problem after all and we were crushed once again. There was a respite from all of the taunting during the winter break.After that short reprieve, David was hurt again. When he told me what hadhappened, his eyes were wide and glaring angrily at me. Do something,anything, they silently signalled.
  23. 23. “Bullies” 23byNancy Knight “I was walking in the hall,” David told me. “Christine kicked me in thebum. It made me fall. All the kids were laughing at me.” “Why’d she do that?” I spluttered, stupidly. I yelled the words at him,as if it was his fault. He took a step back, startled. As usual, I felt non-functioning, useless. Maybe if he wasn’t so soft and sensitive these thingswouldn’t happen. Then I was ashamed of what I was thinking. I was tryingto find fault with my son, blaming him for what was happening to him,because I felt so inadequate myself. Of course David didn’t know why. Ihad no answers either. I couldn’t understand why a beautiful and popularyoung girl would kick my ten year old son in the bum. So we were in the midst of yet another sequence of heartrendingreaction, reluctantly polite communication with the school, and pitifullyinsufficient words of comfort for our hurting child. There was another roundof fierce arguments with Michael, but he wrote the next letter to theprincipal much quicker that second time.***“...David was again picked on by Christine Camden. He was calledderogatory names and kicked on the bottom. ...a very upsetting effect onDavid and is making it difficult for him to concentrate on his school work.We are already bringing him home at lunch to avoid similar occurrences withother students....we hope by dealing with it now, it won’t continue toescalate in the future...”*** Again I placed the letter into an old envelope and delivered it to theprincipal. “Please do something about this,” I said to him. But nothingchanged. Finally, I began confronting Christine every day as she walked homefrom school, bolder and more mean-spirited than ever. My eyesight wasjust good enough. I could pick out the tall blonde from the other smallerchildren. After a few days of being told off for her bad behaviour andembarrassed in front of her friends, she finally left David alone. Finally,David could stay at school for lunch again, so he could spend time withAaron and Stanley. That year another strange thing had been happening. David’s redPaddington Bear hat had disappeared almost as soon as school started. TheBlue Jays baseball cap went missing. Expensive sweatshirts were lost.
  24. 24. “Bullies” 24byNancy KnightWhen the weather cooled, he lost winter hats every week, along withscarves, mittens, and even a pair of winter boots. When David told me that some of the boys were stealing his clothes, Ididn’t believe him. I thought he must have been absentmindedly misplacingthings. After all, most of the students were well dressed. Why would theywant David’s things? I wondered. When I finally asked David’s teacher why children were taking David’sclothes, he told me it was all a game of Capture the Flag. The flag wasusually something David was wearing that the other students promptlyripped off of him whenever he left the school building for recess or lunch.The children ran after one another trying to capture the flag. Of courseDavid spent most of the time trying to steal back his clothes before the boyscould throw them over the fence or into the garbage dumpster. In the spring his brand new Nike baseball cap disappeared after onlyone week. These losses were costing us a lot of money and I was gettingdesperate. One evening, at the local team’s baseball game, I spotted one ofthe other boys with a Nike baseball cap on his head. It was exactly thesame as David’s. I was sure that was David’s hat and decided to confrontthe issue straight on. I walked towards the boy, ready to pounce and accusewhen I got there. But on the way, I decided I’d better be cautious. I approached the boy’s mom and tried to sound as polite as I could.“That’s a really nice Nike cap,” I complimented, “It’s exactly like the one webought our son last week. He only got to wear it a few times before it wentmissing.” “We bought it for him at the mall a couple of days ago,” the mom toldme. She looked right at me and smiled. “He’s been losing everything hehas,” she added, “We’re hoping he keeps this one a bit longer than the lastone and we told him he won’t be getting another one if this one disappears.” Not all of the problems were that harmless or ongoing. The violencewas sometimes completely unexpected. A boy we’d never heard of, walkedup to David and, for no reason at all, took a swing at him. David duckedfast enough to avoid being hit and then quickly punched the boy in thestomach really hard. The other child collapsed, gasped for air, gagged, andthrew up. The two boys were taken to the office where the principal yelledat them both. Michael and I drove the children to school the next morning and metthe principal outside. “The other child started it,” he told us, “and justly gotthe worst of it, too,” he said. He laughed as if he was telling us about a cock
  25. 25. “Bullies” 25byNancy Knightfight. “Of course, we’re supposed to have a zero-tolerance policy in effecthere,” he added with just a little more seriousness. Later, I had a more serious talk with my son. Years later, when hewas seventeen, David wrote about this conversation: “My mom was prettyangry. She told me that from that day on that I was never, ever under(any) circumstances to fight back. I listened to her, and that to this day hasbeen the only time I ever fought back.” Over time, David understood why this was important. Schooladministrators were always reluctant to discipline children for fighting.When the aggression was reciprocated, it was impossible to get them to dealwith the perpetrator. Both children were disciplined if school administrationreacted at all. I was also worried about the bigger bullies. The boy who hit David wastall but slight. David was smaller. But many of the older troublemakersbothering David were much stronger. I could only draw on my childhoodexperiences for the advice I offered him. I was fourteen years old, and on my way home from a Girl Guidemeeting. Two older girls forced me against a wall in a laneway. One heldmy head down so the other could thrust her knee upward and into my face.The incident left me partially blind in one eye and changed my life forever.It’s difficult to concentrate on your schoolwork when you can’t see very well. I wanted to protect my son. To avoid severe injury, the wisest thingDavid could do was to concentrate on protecting himself, rather than tryingto match a larger adversary blow for blow. “Do you want to fly airplanes, David?” I asked him. “Yea, Mom.” “Then protect your head and your face, honey.” But not all dangers are the same. Some are completely unexpected. Ijust couldn’t prepare my children for everything. In late spring, David and Katie came home happy for a change. Theyasked me if they could ride their bicycles. “Ok,” I said, “but stay close tohome. The roads are a bit busy right now.” Soon they rushed into the kitchen. “Some of the older kids are atRandy Wilson’s house. Look, he shot me!” “How did he do that?” I said. I checked the small wound on his leg. “They were yelling at us. Randy went inside his house. He got a pelletgun. He hid behind his trees. I thought he was going to shoot me and Iremembered about protecting my head and my face. I was trying to rideaway and he shot me.”
  26. 26. “Bullies” 26byNancy Knight I felt sick. My stomach was upset and I rushed upstairs for anImodium. What if they’d hit him in an eye? What kind of a place is this? Iwanted to scream. “Who was there?” I asked him when I came back downstairs. “Randy Wilson was there, Mom. So was Jerry Woolcott and LukeCarellia,” he said. I called the school. Barbara Mackenzie said she’d handle it as an afterschool incident. “Leave it with me,” she said. I bet, I thought. I called thepolice. About two hours later, an officer was sitting at our kitchen tablelooking at the wound on David’s leg. He asked David who was involved.When David told him that Randy Wilson had shot him, the officer frowned.He looked at the wound again. “That doesn’t look like a pellet gun injury tome,” he said. I assured him it was. “I believe my son,” I said. “Listen,” he said, “Mr. Wilson is a member of the emergency responseteam here in Kilbride. I could be helping out at a fire with him and otherguys from this community. I’m not going to say a word about this one.” Hegot up and left. I kept David home from school the next day and took him to ourdoctor’s office in Burlington. “What does that look like?” I asked him. “It looks like a wound caused by a projectile travelling at highvelocity,” he told me. “Like a pellet gun injury?” I asked. “Yes, but listen, you’ve probably done all you can about this,” he said. When we returned home, I called the school. Mrs. Mackenzie said shewas looking into it. Empty words, I thought. Is this really all I can do? I was angry. I’m not going to wait for you any more, I thought as Ihung up and reached for the police department phone number again.Another police officer was at our door a couple of hours later. “That looks like a pellet gun wound,” he said. He furrowed hisforehead and tensed his jaw. “Who did this?” he asked David. Minutes laterhe left for Randy’s house and was back in our kitchen about an hour afterthat. “Mr. Wilson says there’s never been a pellet gun in his house andRandy said he was just hiding in the trees and having a pee.” “Is that all you can do about this?” I stared at him. “Those boys havebeen harassing my son for months and now they’re turning ourneighbourhood into a duck shoot, and now you’re telling me this is all youcan do?” I wiped tears off of my cheeks.
  27. 27. “Bullies” 27byNancy Knight “Are you all right ma’am? Listen that’s all I can do. If there’sanything else wrong here though just let me know.” No you fool, I thought. But I was silent. It’s just that my poor child isgetting battered and no one will do a thing about it! After I had reluctantly sent David and Katie back to school, I phonedthe principal’s office to find out what they were planning to do. “We’re looking into it,” was all the vice-principal would say later whenshe returned my call.
  28. 28. “Bullies” 28byNancy Knight 5. ExcusesDavid and many of his classmates were eleven years old and still very small.But class 6-7 was a split class, which meant that though David was in gradesix, he would be together with some of the older grade seven students whohad been bullying him the year before. At least one of the boys who hadbeen there when David was shot with the pellet gun was in that class, too. News of the pellet gun incident was spreading. The local childrenweren’t as interested in the fact that David was shot as they were about thefact that we had called the police. Most of the intermediate and seniorstudents were already fiercely taunting David about “calling the cops”. Well,the school wasn’t doing anything to address the problem; I thought when Iheard about the rumour from a little fellow in grade four. Michael and I had been trying to figure out why we weren’t getting aresponse to our concerns. I looked through the Kilbride School Handbook.Its instructions were clear. Parents were to mention any problems orconcerns to the teacher first, and then, if the issue was not resolved, theywere to inform the principal. There were no further instructions that told uswhat to do if the school administration didn’t solve the problem. Maybe weshould solicit the teacher’s help early, Michael and I agreed. We prepared aletter for him and tried to make it as clear and complete as we could. Wewanted to discuss David’s academic challenges as well as the peeraggression issue. Our meeting with David’s new teacher, Mr. O’Leary, was on the sameday as Katie’s tenth birthday. We would rush into town after the meeting tobuy a birthday cake in time for a late dinner. We handed Mr. O’Leary theletter. He read it carefully. “...Peer harassment – This is particularly worrisome to David. Itgreatly affects the quality of his school work. Please document cases ofphysical harassment so that we can take any steps necessary to solve it...” We gave Mr. O’Leary some literature about helping David in theclassroom. “I’ve got at least four other kids like this in the class,” he said.“Have you mentioned this to school administration?” he asked us. “Yes,” we both said. “You should mention it again,” he added as he arranged the notes wegave him into a neat pile.
  29. 29. “Bullies” 29byNancy Knight Soon, David came home with some news. “Mr. Hampton’s going toget a rifle, Mom.” He didn’t often use that tiny little voice of his those daysbut right then he was sounding like a toddler. Why on earth would David beaware of that? I wondered. “I heard him talking on the telephone. He asked someone when theywere going to deliver his rifle,” David said. He picked at his lip. “It’s hunting season now honey. Maybe he’s going hunting.” Davidstopped picking at his lip and took a sip of his juice. After David and Katie went off to school, I turned on the radio. Therehad been a shooting at a school just a few miles away. A young man hadwalked into a secondary school and shot a teacher and a vice-principal. Itseems that someone else has gone hunting, too, I thought. I called Kilbrideschool. When Mr. Harris, the Resource teacher, answered, I was surprised.“Mr. Harris, I just wondered if you’d heard the news today. There’s been aschool shooting. I wanted to let Mr. Hampton know.” “Oh dear. Thanks Mrs. Knight. John isn’t here. He’s away on a retreatbut I’ll contact him and let him know. I’m sure he’ll appreciate that.” “Listen, Mr. Harris,” I added, keeping my voice serious, “Davidoverheard Mr. Hampton talking on the telephone yesterday about thedelivery of a rifle. I don’t think it’s the sort of conversation the childrenshould be overhearing and given that David was shot with a pellet gun inJune, I think it worried him.” “I’ll check on that,” he said. “David’s been having a really rough time at school. The other studentsare picking on him. I think he’s getting more of the abuse than he deserves.Couldn’t you do something about it?” “I’ll check into that as well,” he said, “and I’ll get back to you if I findout more.” I hung up the phone disappointed. He had given me the standardanswer anyone at the school I spoke to always gave me. Is it their way ofdismissing a concerned parent? I wondered. I decided to try talking toBarbara Mackenzie again. It was much easier to walk over to the school, rather than leave amessage with the secretary and risk the call not being returned, so I hadmany in the hall meetings with the school’s administrators. “David’s stillgetting picked on during lunch and recess,” I said. “Now listen Barbara, youand John are telling me that there’s zero tolerance for fighting, but you’renot doing much about all the abuse David’s getting. Why are things sodifficult on that playground?”
  30. 30. “Bullies” 30byNancy Knight She spoke in a whisper, “There’s just not enough supervision and notenough money to hire anyone for the job.” “Then I’ll come and help,” I said. “My eyesight isn’t that great, but I’lltry.” I imagined myself coming to the rescue of a suffering schoolyard,somehow able to arrest the raging tide of violence. Soon, I was helping out at the school as a volunteer lunch supervisor.I helped in the classrooms, in the halls, and on the playground, almost everyday. I started to discover what was happening inside our public school. And Michael and I continued to try to get extra help for David. Weasked Barbara Mackenzie to flag David’s file. His report cards were reflectingthe difficulty he was having organizing his work. “David is progressing,” she explained, “His grades are acceptable.There’s no reason for extra help or identification.” “But he’s not reaching his potential. He’s a brighter child than hisgrades reflect,” I tried again with no success. We mentioned the abuseagain, too, but we knew we were on our own. I started searching for a tutor and decided to hire the girl next door.She was a bit older than David, and an excellent student. With her help,and the better notes he was taking with the laptop Mr. Barnett hadsuggested we buy the year before, David’s work started to improve. But theviolence on the playground did not. It was clear that the principal and vice-principal knew there wereproblems with student behaviour. One day, Mr. Hampton gave me twonewsletters. The articles inside were about the relationship between anabuser and his or her victim: The Cycle of Abuse. Another day, on theplayground, Mr. Hampton moaned, “You know, Mrs. Knight, there are someweeks when at least one hundred students are sent to my office.” Dayslater, he explained that some of the children were so difficult to handle thathe and other staff members were sent on a conflict resolution course tolearn how to deal with them. “You’ll soon get to know the few children whocause the most trouble,” he said. I already knew who some of them werebecause they’d been hurting David. Later, the principal explained, “Mrs. Knight, as employees of the boardwe are required to maintain the strictest confidence about everythingconcerning the school and the children within it. Though this officiallyapplies to employees only, I would request that, as a volunteer, youmaintain the same standards.” “The only way to survive around here is to keep your mouth shut,” PatHunter told me later as we supervised the playground together. I wasslowly getting the message. Everyone knew that there were children at the
  31. 31. “Bullies” 31byNancy Knightschool who were troubled and dangerous but no one was supposed to talkabout them. My first experiences on the playground were harrowing. There wereseveral fights during each lunch hour, with accompanying injuries --usuallycaused by the same students day after day. That playground wasn’tanything like the playground scenes I remembered from my childhood. In all my years attending public school, I never once felt unsafe. I wasshy, yet I always felt welcome on the playground. The games we playedwere inclusive. They required co-operation and teamwork. We quickly and efficiently learned games, songs, crafts—andbehaviour--from each other. There was a communications web of currentevents and safety warnings, sometimes brutally accurate, sometimeshorrifically wrong: Dirty Joe was hanging out in the alleyway behind theschool; don’t kiss anyone with a cold sore; a little girl was killed when shetripped and fell under a bus, so be careful; and if you eat too many applesyou’ll throw up. The city-wide newspaper couldn’t have done a better job. Misinformation, prejudice, fear, and hate also swirled around a schoolunder the radar of adults who, I suspect, may have been the source of muchof it. Those were dangerous times for gay teachers, d.p.’s, yips, krauts,ukes and niggers. Adult debates, repeated through children’s mouths, couldspread like an insidious and unchecked evil. Without the benefit of objectiveand rational information and debate, we learned about fear and loathing asrapidly as the games we played. Though mostly unaware of these youthful communications, ourteachers seemed to be constantly present, a reassuring and clear reminderthat we should behave. A child who misbehaved would find himself orherself carrying a note home which had to be signed and brought back tothe teacher. Our parents were willing to back the teacher up every time.Our teachers treated us with respect. Not once was I ever spoken to rudelyor in a way that made me uncomfortable. Later, as we got older, there were many incentives for good behaviour.A happy teacher often organized extra privileges, and special excursions.These privileges were withdrawn and cancelled at a moment’s notice ifbehaviour was not up to expectations—for the entire class. Peer pressure tobehave could be very powerful when an interesting day away from theclassroom was at stake. At Kilbride School, everything seemed so different. School just wasn’tas nice as it used to be. No wonder David’s having such a difficult time, I
  32. 32. “Bullies” 32byNancy Knightthought as I walked around the playground. Surely there must be someway to deal with the few individuals who are causing so much turmoil andhurt, I considered. The next time I found John Hampton and Barbara Mackenzie togetherin the principal’s office, I asked them if I could speak with them. “I’mconcerned. Such a small group of students really are causing much of thetrouble on the playground,” I said. “Surely you know them, too. You mustknow it’s like a free for all out there every recess. There must be somethingthat will help.” John Hampton became agitated. “Mrs. Knight, what do you mean?” “I’m concerned about the level of aggression on the playground and Iwant to know what’s being done and what can be done to stop it,” I said. “Mrs. Knight, why are you here?” he growled and then added, “Whydon’t you just leave?” John’s candidness during our earlier conversations haddisappeared. I started to cry as I left the office and walked home. Later that day, John phoned to apologize and ask me to go back tohelp. It took me a week. My stomach was upset whenever I started to thinkabout heading over to the school and I had to take a couple of Imodium tosettle it before I could leave the house. It wasn’t long before I went to the principal again. Desperate to stopthe bullying, I pleaded for any help available. I wasn’t really surprised at hisanswer. “Mrs. Knight,” he said in his most knowledgeable teaching voice, “I livein a home that was built years ago by my parents in a farming communitysimilar to this one. Whenever someone new moves into a home that hadbeen inhabited for years by one of the families that first farmed the land,local people still refer to that house as the McArthur’s place, or the Kramer’splace. It is very difficult to meld into a small, rural community like this one.” I tried again with Mr. Harris, the resource teacher I had talked toabout the rifle. “Katie’s okay. Her best friend is here with her from theirprevious school. David’s met two friends from outside of the community,but they’re all having a lot of trouble fitting in with the local kids, or rather,getting many of the local kids to stop bullying them. Is there anything youcan do?” I asked. “Yes actually, Mrs. Knight, I’m thinking of starting up a small socialgroup for the children who are new arrivals to the school. Leave it with meand I’ll get back to you.” Weeks later, I met Mr. Harris in the hallway again. “Any news aboutthat social group?” I asked him. He didn’t stop to talk. He just shook hishead and walked on.
  33. 33. “Bullies” 33byNancy Knight When I started hearing Tyler Harvey’s name, I realized that the newkids might not be the ones David needed as friends anyway. Tyler Harveywas one of those new arrivals. He was a short but well muscled fellow, andvery quick on his feet. He made a bold entry onto the scene by tackling theother boys at lunch. At first, Tyler didn’t have a good idea which studentswere easy targets and which ones to leave alone. Of course, the betterfighters immediately put Tyler in his place. This left just a few potentialvictims--including David, still one of the smallest boys in his class. TylerHarvey was assaulting David relentlessly every recess, tackling him frombehind, or diving head first into his stomach. “David, why don’t you ask Sensei Deluca to teach you some defensivemoves?” I suggested before his next karate lesson. “David’s not a punching bag,” Brian Deluca told us a few days later. “We know Brian, but the school won’t do anything.” I tried Mr. Hampton again. “David’s being picked on constantly.” “You know Mrs. Knight,” he replied, “My own son is also havingdifficulty at the school he attends. He has been taking medication which hasmade him gain weight. It’s worrying, I’m sure, that David is havingdifficulty making friends.” “He’s not having trouble making friends. He has two good friends inhis class. They’re the boys who go to brainers. It’s the local kids who arebeating him up and constantly harassing him.” But the principal was more interested in the term I used to describethe students who went off to their special classes. “Brainers?” he said,raising his eyebrows. “Yes, that’s what the children call the gifted students. The enrichmentclass has isolated those children from their peers. I’m surprised no one hasconsidered the repercussions whenever people, and children, are categorizedand separated from one another. David has befriended two of them. Whenthe three boys are together, they’re ostracized as a group, but when David’sby himself, he gets bullied.” The principal looked thoughtful for a momentand then he walked into his office and closed the door. At karate lessons, Brian taught David how to defend himself againstthe kicks and punches of daily playground activity. But soon I wasmentioning it to the vice-principal again. “Barbara, if this continues I’mgoing to have to give David permission to fight back,” I told her. “David would certainly not be allowed to hit anyone!” She wasactually quite right. Defensive manoeuvres would protect my son. Over time David became quite adept at raising a knee or an elbow tothwart the onward attack of a rushing Tyler Harvey whose own force was to
  34. 34. “Bullies” 34byNancy Knightbe the cause of his own injury. Tyler would eventually learn that David’sbones were a lot harder than he was. Sadly, Tyler would eventually look fora more vulnerable target. At the end of that school year his family movedaway. Unfortunately though, Tyler was only one small part of the problem. Mr. Hampton,” I said to the principal in my most assertive voice as hestood at his office door. He was a rather short man but looked taller in hisusual well-tailored suit and striped tie. “Surely there’s got to be some helpyou can offer my son. There’s no way he should be treated so horribly andno way these kids should be allowed to behave the way they’re behaving.Don’t you have something you can offer us?” John went to the large filing cabinet in the corner of his office andremoved one of the multi-layered requisition forms from the top of it. Hesat down at his desk and began filling it in. “Mary Lou Gibson will call you ina few days,” he said. Mary Lou Gibson was soon sitting at the kitchen table with me and wewere discussing my children. Her first advice was baffling. “Try letting hishair grow longer,” she told me one day, “and he should really stop wearingthose track pants. A nice pair of blue jeans would look much better on him.He needs to work on his tidiness, too. He often looks a bit dishevelled.” Assoon as we could, we went shopping and we began to fix our son. Strangeadvice though, I thought, since the other kids aren’t dressed that muchbetter.
  35. 35. “Bullies” 35byNancy Knight 6. ParentsFor a fledgling Parent Council, that first year, we were doing well. A fewwell-organized and knowledgeable moms had helped initiate the firstmeetings: red binders filled with information about parent councils, meetingprocedures, and copies of government and board policies and procedureswere included. We began to read up on Robert’s Rules of Order. The Parent Council meetings went well at first, but the objectionsstarted coming in: Why didn’t everyone get a red binder rather than just theparents who had signed up and put their names up for election? Themeetings were too formal and it was difficult to follow the Rules of Order.Besides, some said, why do we have to follow the rules the government hadset down for the councils anyway? Committees were formed. I had signed up for the Safe SchoolsCommittee and some of us had added a few touches to the school’s Code ofConduct to make it unique to our school community: we added the name ofthe town to the board’s already adequate document. Mary Lou soon told me that she’d be visiting David’s class once a weekto explain and emphasize the expected behaviour and the listedconsequences for behaviour that was unacceptable. “We’re hoping we canstop much of the harassment towards David by working with the wholeclass.” So the Code of Conduct leaflets were distributed to each studentand for about three or four weeks, once a week, Mary Lou spoke to theclass. But nothing changed for David and much of the abuse got worse. Ireported Stewart Martin’s behaviour. “Some of the other children are givingDavid a hard time, too,” I said to John. “What about the Code of Conduct?Doesn’t that mean anything?” Why’s he shaking his head? I wondered. The next Safe Schools meeting was held in the room at the back of thelibrary. There were several parents in attendance and later on, John andBarbara dropped in and stayed while we discussed the work we were doing.
  36. 36. “Bullies” 36byNancy Knight I spoke up. “I’d like to mention the amount of aggression and theinjuries that are happening on the playground. It’s getting worse over timeand I wonder if parents have any idea how difficult things are.” “Mrs. Knight, what on earth do you mean? There are no issuesconcerning aggression here!” John had raised his voice, his face was red.His forehead furrowed into an angry twist. “There certainly is a problem,” I persisted. “And I think it needs to beaddressed in some way. A few children at this school are causing majorproblems because of their unchecked behaviour.” I tried to stay relaxed andconfident. There was total silence in the room. I could hear the breathing ofthe other mothers. Not one spoke up. “All of the children in this school are doing just fine and I wouldappreciate it if you would be silent, right now!” he shouted at me. I glaredback at him as he and Barbara quickly left the room. I pleaded with Terry. Terry Noble was a paid lunch supervisor and atornado of energy and authority. “They don’t do anything about anything,”she often observed as she led another injured student into the school. “It’s like bringing the injured in from a war zone,” we both said to Johnone day. “Whenever I call parents to tell them about their children’s injuries,they usually ask me why I’m bothering them. They tell me injuries are justpart of a child’s life and we’re supposed to take care of it,” he explained. Barbara McKenzie had a similar view. “Parents are never home duringthe day and if I was to try to call for everything that happened, I’d be on thetelephone all evening,” she said. “Please Terry, if you come to one of our meetings and tell the othermoms just what’s going on here, maybe they’ll believe me. I can’t persuadeanyone as long as John and Barbara keep denying anything’s wrong!” The next meeting was the following week and Terry was there withme. “You know, the behaviour of the kids on the playground is atrocious. Itmay be difficult for you to understand how ordinarily nice children can be soaggressive at school but the behaviour has been allowed for so long, theyare all getting out of control,” she said. One week later, one of the moms joined me on the playground. “ButNancy, everything looks just fine to me,” she said.
  37. 37. “Bullies” 37byNancy Knight “Yes, on the surface it does, but every day there are fights andinjuries. We report the misbehaviour but no one does anything about it.The principal never gives out any consequences and the Code of Conduct isjust a joke.” She looked doubtful. Another day on the playground, I was talking to Katie’s math teacher.“The school’s administration never seems to do anything about theharassment and beatings David is getting,” I said to her. She didn’t say aword. “Mrs. Knight,” the principal spoke to me quietly soon after thecommittee meeting, “I do not like to be embarrassed in a public forum.” About the same time, the vice-principal saw me in the hall. “We’re notallowed to refer to the children in any way, especially in a public meeting,”she said. Still later, the principal spoke to me again. “Mrs. Knight, if we were toopenly refer to anything that occurred here at the school, or even alluded tothe fact that any situation may have happened, it could be understood, in asmall community like this, to be confirmation that a rumour is true. Wedon’t want to risk the reputations of our children, staff, or the school,” hetold me. “Then you have to deal with the problems on your own, but deal withthem,” I replied. “Why won’t they do anything?” I asked Mary Lou next time I saw her. “You know, some parents want some children to be expelled fromschool for every little thing,” Mary Lou replied. “We want the abuse to stop. Why won’t the principal do anything tohelp David? He accuses me of being negative every time I mention there’s aproblem. It’s like hitting a brick wall every time the subject of behaviourcomes up.” “Oh it’s just John,” Mary Lou explained with a toss of her head, “I’veworked with him for years and I pretty well know how to get to him. It’sjust that he doesn’t consider you part of the family!” During one lunch hour, after the halls emptied, I saw Terry standingnear the office door. There was a group of older boys huddled together inthe senior hallway near the science room. I could hear one of the kidssaying, “Maybe he won’t look like such a fag.”
  38. 38. “Bullies” 38byNancy Knight Terry rushed towards the group, angrily gesturing the kids towards thedoor and yelling, “Five on one isn’t fair!” The boys scattered, leaving Davidon the floor, shaking with fright. I hurried after Terry and gave David a hug.“Are you alright David?” I said. I asked him if he wanted to go home or washe ok to go outside. “I’m ok,” he said, “I’ll go outside.” On the way out, hetold me what had happened. The five boys surrounded David and pushed him to the floor. One ofthem took out the metal stud that was in his ear and tried to stick it intoDavid’s ear lobe while the other boys laughed and held David down. Terry walked outside with us. I looked for John so I could tell himwhat had happened but never saw him. “I told John what happened toDavid,” Terry said later that afternoon, “but I bet he doesn’t do anythingabout it. He never does.” She shook her head. Soon after that, things started happening in the change room next tothe gymnasium. Mrs. Ravemsberg was the gym teacher. Her energyseemed to vitalize the entire school. Her thick brown hair was often tied uphigh behind her head and, though she was not a tall young woman, thebobbing ponytail could be seen from all directions as she led her studentsaround the gymnasium or over the grounds of the school. The boys’ change room was a particularly dangerous place. Theyoung, female teacher rarely went inside. After class one day, one of theboys took David’s aerosol can of deodorant away from him. Another boyheld a cigarette lighter close to the spray and used it and the deodorant canas a flame thrower. One of the older students ran out of the room andcame back with the teacher. Mrs. Ravemsbirg asked David what had justhappened and David told the truth. The older boy stared at him and smiled.Mrs. Ravemsberg gave the boys a lecture about safety but David slowlyrealized he had been set up and was going to be accused of ratting on hisclassmates. Outside of school, at their karate and piano lessons, Katie and Daviddid well. None of the other children from the school who were the same ageattended Karate and the music lessons were individual sessions. We hopedthat outside of school, on the baseball team, the boys would get along. In early spring, the baseball practices started up again. That year, theleague was divided into the ‘A’ team and the ‘B’ team which was unofficially
  39. 39. “Bullies” 39byNancy Knightdesignated the losing team. David was hoping that the pressure to winwould not be as great and that the weaker players would be given moreopportunities to try out the more exciting positions, like first base andpitcher, so David stayed on the ‘B’ team. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we received a call one eveningbefore David got home from a practice. David was being picked on, one ofthe coaches said. He told us that during that evening’s practice, the boysteased, insulted and bashed David constantly. There was too muchnegativity, he told the other coaches. It had just become too much. Hepacked up and left in disgust and he took his son with him. He had offeredDavid a ride home but David wanted to stay. “The kids are allowed to dothe same at school,” the ex-coach told Michael. That was the last yearDavid wanted to play baseball. Yet it seemed that the children weren’t the only ones who were out ofcontrol. The early spring sun was starting to heat up the playground andduring one lunch hour the children had left their jackets inside the school.They seemed energized and excited about the freedom the light clothinggave them. I had reached the dome-shaped climber that stood like theskeleton of an ancient reptile on the far eastern edge of the field. I wasstanding close to the skeleton and facing towards the chain link perimeterfence as I distributed animal stickers to a group of boys. One of them, a young fellow with a mop of curly brown hair, sucked ina quick, gasping breath and stared wide-eyed at something behind me. Iturned around fast. A petite woman with blonde hair was walking away fromme in the direction of the school. A young boy walked along beside her.The woman’s hand was around the boy’s arm. I turned to the other boys.“Who is that?” I said. “It’s Mrs. Sutton! She’s got Steven! Is she allowed to grab him likethat?” one of the boys stammered. All of them were now nervouslybouncing around and staying closer to me. “No she’s not, but it’ll be all right. I’ll go see what’s up. You guys stayhere and stay together!” I said. I followed Mrs. Sutton and Steven. “That’snot your child you know!’ I called after her.
  40. 40. “Bullies” 40byNancy Knight “No one else does anything around here!” she shrieked. She was toofar away by then for me to catch up before she disappeared into the crowdof children near the school. I was walking right towards Pat Hunter who was standing, as sheusually did, near the edge of the blacktop. “What on earth happened, Pat?Why was Mrs. Sutton dragging Steven off like that? Do you know where shewent with him?” I asked. “She was talking to me a minute ago. She’s mad as hell. She saysthe kids have been picking on her son and she’s getting fed up. ‘No one elsedoes anything,’ she said.” Pat rolled her eyes upwards. “Why did you let her loose?” I asked. I didn’t wait for an answer. Just as I took a few steps around Pat, Mrs. Mackenzie came towardsme. “What happened?” she pleaded. “Barbara, Mrs. Sutton just assaulted Steven. The other children arereally upset. Pat tells me she let her go over to the boys!” I explainedrapidly. No one said another word. That evening though, Steven’s mom,Linda, phoned me. She had my phone number from the baseball team’scontact list. She spoke in a gentle but quivering voice. “Hi Nancy, it’s Lindahere,” she began politely. “Do you know anything about what happened toSteven today? We’ve phoned the school but they won’t tell us a thing. Mrs.Sutton’s nails have punctured his skin.” I told her everything. “The school probably won’t do anything,” I toldher. “We’re going to call the police right now,” Linda said. When I walked past the principal’s office the next day, he called to me,“Mrs. Knight, could you please come in for a moment?” I went into his officeand watched him close the door. I didn’t sit down. “I’m wondering if youwould be so kind as to fill this police report in for us, please.” I tried not toglare at him.
  41. 41. “Bullies” 41byNancy Knight “Yes certainly. I’ll return it tomorrow,” I said. That evening I calledLinda. “I’m assuming the police are laying charges because I’ve been givena report. I’ll fill it out and return it to the school tomorrow,” I told her. “Thank you very much, Nancy. I’d appreciate it if you kept this quiet.” “Yes, of course,” I said. I wondered why the news of our call to thepolice about the pellet gun had spread so quickly. Of course, I thought,those boys and their parents wouldn’t have kept any confidences. “Wouldthe principal tell you anything?” I asked. “Pat Hunter saw more than I did.They may have found out more from her.” “I spoke to John again this morning. He wouldn’t say a thing. Theynever do. We had to ask the police to lay charges. Thanks to yourinformation, we could get something done ourselves,” she said. I received a Subpoena to Appear form a few months later. Almost ayear after Mrs. Sutton walked onto the playground, Michael and I weresitting in the Burlington court house with Steven’s parents, Linda andRichard. We listened to Mrs. Sutton plead guilty to assaulting Steven on theplayground and later, as we drank our coffee at the nearby Tim Horton’s, wewondered why the school administration was so remiss in taking action. In a way, I agreed with the judge who had told the quiet courtroomthat adults should let children solve their own disagreements and that adultscan often make things worse. But children do not have the same moral and ethical restraints on theirbehaviour and I’d often seen minor disagreements escalate into injuriousbattles. I puzzled for a while about where the fine line should be drawnbetween allowing our children to work things out for themselves, andprotecting them from each other.

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