My first experience with bullying came in Mrs. Burleson’s 3rd grade class at Lockney Elementary School. My father was in the feed commodities business at the time and moved our family to the tiny panhandle town during my grade school years. That is where I met Fatsy Patsy.
Mrs. Burleson was a real stickler for alphabetical order, so I seldom found myself more than a few feet from Fatsy Patsy. In those days, they still weighed and measured students at the beginning of the school year. I was about average size for a kid my age and weighed in at a lean and mean 65 lbs., while Patsy tipped the scales at an impressive 118 lbs. She was also at least 6” taller than me and built like a linebacker in pink polyester. Her short tightly coiled hair gave her the appearance of a love child born of the unlikely romance between a lumberjack and a bathmat.
Fatsy Patsy got right to business that year when she gave me a wedgy so severe that it almost jerked me right out of my Toughskins. My Superman Underoos were stretched tighter than a guitar string, making Lockney the unlikely birthplace of the thong. The attack was unsolicited and brutal, and it had lasting effects. For weeks I couldn’t raise my hand in class without kicking the desk in front of me (and guess who was sitting in it). Even worse, I was in high school before I could pass gas without waking up every dog in a 2 mile radius.
Once I could finally ‘put up my dukes’ without getting high-centered, I knew a showdown was eminent. As my sisters and I walked home after school one day, we found Patsy and one of her heavies waiting for us. For a couple of minutes we just walked along and called each other names, but by the time we had reached the Carthel’s front yard we had exhausted that strategy. Patsy calmly rolled her lunchbox over to the curb and raised her sticky fists.
Patsy’s incessant torment had caused me to imagine this confrontation a thousand times; when I was done with her there would be nothing left but a stain and a bad memory. We sized one another up, jabbing in a clockwise circle. And then it happened. I landed a haymaker that caught her on the chin, causing her to stumble and fall to the ground. When the dust settled, I saw Mr. Carthel’s Lockney Beacon lying next to her in the grass. I’m not sure what possessed me, but I picked up the newspaper and began the long ascent to the top of Fatsy Patsy. Bleeding and exhausted from the climb, I began wildly beating Patsy with the rolled up newspaper. Eventually, fatigue and her husky screams forced me to stop, and I lowered myself back to the ground. It was there, sitting exhausted in the shadow of Fatsy Patsy, that I learned that words have power. Patsy learned that bullying has consequences.
Of the numerous stories about bullying in the news lately, none received more attention than that of Casey Heynes. Casey was the young man captured on cell phone video body-slamming his tormentor, but only after he had been repeatedly punched in the face and abdomen. I’m sure many of you shared my cathartic response; it feels good to see a bully get what he deserves. Unfortunately, even after enduring years of bullying, the schools “zero-tolerance” policy mandated that Casey be expelled from school along with the bully.
A day later I saw video footage (again captured on a cell phone) of an attack on a 16 year old “special needs” student in Union County, Mississippi. The victim, who reportedly functions at the same level as a 10 year old, walked innocently across a gymnasium until a much larger student blocked his path. When the victim hesitated, an 18 year old junior rushed in and cold-cocked him. A third student filmed the attack. The victim’s father learned of the attack and reported it to the principal after a relative advised him that the video had been posted on Facebook. Each of the little weasels involved in the attack have now returned to school after a short suspension; meanwhile the victim’s parents are left to search for a school that might be “more suited” to their son’s needs. If this had been my child, I would pray for the grace that this young man’s parents have displayed. The bully had better pray that God grants me that grace.
Inspired in part by 9-year-old Montana Lance, who hanged himself in the school nurse’s restroom after being relentlessly bullied, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) recently introduced comprehensive anti-bullying legislation (SB 245). Having not read the bill I would hesitate to endorse it, but my understanding is that the bill does address cyber-bullying and allows administrators to send the bully to a different school (current policy calls for the victim to be sent to another school). I applaud the Senator’s efforts and hope the bill will also address our failed “zero-tolerance” policies, which too often punish victims forced into defending themselves.
This legislation may be timely and necessary, but it will at best provide improved protection for the victims. It will not cure bullying - as bullying is only symptomatic of a more systemic problem. If we intend to “cure” this problem, we must recognize that it is not academic, but a crisis of values.
Those of you who read my column regularly (Brenda) will recognize this soapbox. As parents, it is imperative that we stop confusing self-confidence with self-importance. In fact, the difference is simple; it is the distinction between entitlement and achievement. Unfortunately, you can only give your child one of these - and it’s the wrong one. They must earn the other. It is our failure to differentiate that most often leads to bullying. Despite what we tell them, these kids eventually learn that they are not the smartest, or prettiest, or most athletic; and they see no reason to achieve the things that they already feel entitled to. These are our “bullies.” Insecure and unequipped to achieve their goals, they must elevate themselves by attempting to reduce those around them. Instead of bringing themselves up, they must bring others down.
As parents, we must recognize that each time we pass down an eroding system of values, it is the subsequent lack of conscience that puts them in danger of disappearing altogether.
Jon Koonsman is a local builder and rancher and 6th generation Erath County resident. He is married with two sons and resides on his family's ranch near Duffau. He is also a member of the Empire-Tribune's community columnists. His column appears on the second and fourth Sunday of every month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.