In the car on the way home from school the other day, Chicago-based third-grader Scout Carol Murray went on a tirade.
"These teachers!" she said. "They put all these posters all over the school saying, 'Stand Up to Bullies.' Then when you tell them about some bullying that you see, they say, 'Mind your own business.'"
I'm glad teachers talk about bullying now, but like Scout, I am skeptical about the difference it is making.
When I was in third grade, there was a kid named Ed. He was overweight and, by my preppy hometown's standards, unkempt. Everybody made fun of Ed. I had to sit next to him a lot, because his last name began with N and mine with M.
But that was 35 years ago—back before we agreed as a society that bullying was not only wrong, but was something we should, and could attempt to banish from the earth. Poor Ed, wherever he is, must surely be glad—as I am—that we have found our consciences.
But the same day Scout issued her noisy lament, a now forty-something classmate had posted on Facebook a school picture of young Ed, without comment. When a number of others piled on gleefully, I wrote, "What is wrong with you assholes?" The original poster told me I ought to watch who I was calling an asshole, and took the post down.
Would I have exhibited such courage face-to-face, in third grade? Hell no I wouldn't have.
Do the posters do any good? It's hard to know. I imagine that a society that collectively decides that bullying is an important problem does not eradicate bullies, or create heroes who come to the rescue. But maybe it limits bullying to bullies, and tells bystanders they shouldn't encourage them.
It's not enough, Scout.
But probably it's better than nothing.