This semester I have had the privilege of teaching an honors class in sociology at Suffolk County Community College. I have been an adjunct faculty member in the Social Science Department for more than 29 years. I ve never had a class of students that I did not enjoy. Educationally, I believe Suffolk County Community College is probably among our best-kept secrets in higher education in our larger community.
My honor students are an extraordinary group of learners. They are among the best of the best. They are excellent critical thinkers. They listen attentively and respond intelligently. Their writing skills are above the norm, and probably their most endearing quality is that they are open and excited about learning new ideas and thinking outside the box!
In a recent class conversation about immigration, health care reform and criminal justice issues, I realized that there are real gaps in their learning. Some openly admitted that they were regurgitating what they heard their parents say concerning these specific issues or what a teacher they valued said on a specific issue.
Our class conversation brought to light that there is a lot of important information relative to some of the very volatile and explosive social issues confronting us today that is missing from our knowledge base. In other words, people are peddling their own ideas as facts and are either leaving the real facts out or amending them to support their particular perspective.
This particular class conversation raised the concern that students need to be more astute. It raised pointed questions, challenged subjective opinions that are being masked and promulgated as the facts. What was exciting about this conversation was their legitimate desire to know the truth and respond accordingly. They verbalized their awareness that we all don t have to agree on a particular issue, and we have a right to form our own perspective, as long as it is grounded in factual information and marketed accordingly.
One of the conversations that emerged was around the issue of bullying and how presently, it is out-of-control. These college coeds started to discuss from personal experiences, situations that they observed in their former high schools and on different college campuses.
Their stories were deeply troubling. The level of denial and social tolerance of this outrageous behavior borders on the scandalous. In most cases, my students indicated that they made school personnel aware of what was going on, and it fell on deaf ears. In the examples presented, students indicated that most school authorities minimized and dismissed the issue as no big deal.
Unfortunately, we all know that teenagers tend to tease and engage in a variety of social behaviors that are not positive or socially acceptable. Oftentimes, it starts out very innocently with no malice intended, but quickly escalates to very abusive behavior that is deeply offensive and troubling.
Most teenagers in America want to be socially accepted. A growing number of teenagers suffer intense anxiety around self-esteem and self-worth issues. Those issues too often become the excuse for why teenagers act out with drugs and alcohol or act out with abusive, aggressive behavior toward others.
As a nation, over the past few months we have been shocked at the senseless deaths due to suicide, but fueled by cyber bullying and old fashion, verbal name-calling and gossiping about another. The ultimate result occurs, a vulnerable teenager, who is struggling to feel accepted and wanted by his or her peers is profoundly wounded or destroyed.
What my students have expressed is that a growing number of students are being victimized by bullying. They are afraid to come forward because of shame, because of guilt, because others will use that as a weapon against them to further bully them.
School administrators, teachers and all support staff must move beyond the denial and realize this is a very lethal weapon being used on school campuses across the country. Every district must have a zero-tolerance policy regarding bullying. It must be clear that no complaint or allegation will be summarily dismissed without a reasonable investigation. Students rights need to be respected and protected. No student should ever be afraid to come forward, if he or she is being harassed or bullied by another. We must acknowledge that students can be cruel and vicious toward each other in ways that are clearly socially unacceptable. No one should ever be afraid to attend class because other students are going to harass and threaten them. As teachers, no matter what our subject area, we need to communicate that that kind of behavior is unconscionable and totally unacceptable in our classrooms.
No one has the right at any age, to harass, ridicule or demean another person because of their look, their sexual orientation, their religion, their social status or because of the people that they hang around with. The violence of our silence is no longer an acceptable response to this tragic behavior.
The Suffolk County Legislature is presently considering legislation that would ban bullying, along with another bill banning cyber bullying. If these bills are passed, our school administrators will be held to greater accountability.
My concern is that we are a crisis community that must be driven by senseless tragedy before we seem willing to act courageously on behalf of protecting the quality of life of all of our citizens. In recent months, bills have been proposed to address the heroin epidemic, lack of treatment for those battling addiction and giving parents greater authority over their teenage and young adult children who need treatment and are resistant.
All of this rhetoric is well-meaning, but if it s not enforced it is a waste of time and energy. We need action and not more bills that collect dust and never get implemented. Too many innocent people are getting lost in the bureaucracy of social indifference. We need to give voice to real changes in our social policy, and put quality human life before political gains.