Wednesday, September 27, 2006

God-Mad Junior Jihadists

OK, I probably ought to give an explanation to anyone who is wondering about the message I posted last Thursday. There is history, so I’ll do this chronologically.

When Spawn was in 7th grade, he was having a bad year. We all were. That was the year that my Dad and Stepmom had their geriatric meltdown, I was working in my husband’s office, and finishing up degrees. I was busy, my husband was busy, and to be brutally honest about my own shortcomings, I was not paying as much attention to the kids and their problems as I would wish I had. It was also the year I began my endurance crusade to get Spawn a 504 plan for his ADHD with a district known for its reluctance to even serve kids with very serious disabling conditions.

The school year started off badly for Spawn. He was baldly resistant to putting any effort into his schoolwork, his handwriting was awful, he was a snotty boogerhead at home, and it’s a good thing I couldn’t shoot daggers out of my eyes. He also had one of the nastiest teachers I’ve ever met in my entire life, who was arrogant, petty, and oblivious. This was a person who should never be in charge of children for any reason, and he had her for four classes. Inevitably, Spawn wound up in the assistant principal’s office, as did I. I began my quest for a 504 for him that day.

Fast forward to about 10 months later: Spawn’s been denied a 504, I’ve been to at least 20 meetings with respect to the matter, written a letter to the editor regarding the behavior of the nasty teacher (and gotten wonderful phone calls about it), I’ve filed complaints with the state BOE, the Office for Civil Rights, and we’re one week away from a mediation hearing. My sister is looking after my parents and bulldozing them into a rehab center to get properly assessed, but we all know they need assisted living care, it’s 4 million degrees outside, and the district caves. I get a call from the director of the SPED cooperative; we come to a meeting of the minds, meet and draw up a 504. I bring it home to share with Spawn.

And he hits me with, “I probably should have told you about this before, but there was also a group of kids in my gym class who bullied me.” I ask more questions and what distills out of our conversation is that he was repeatedly being physically backed into a corner, in full view of his gym teacher (also a rotten piece of work, but not as bad as Nasty Broad), screamed at, taunted, pushed, kicked, and abused…all because in one summer honors class the year before, when they were discussing evolution, some other kid brought up creationism, and Spawn said he didn’t believe in God. The bullies were screaming at him about not believing in God, threatening him with going to hell, and raining brimstone and fisticuffs on him with equal ferocity, all in full view and with the tacit approval of the gym teacher. My head exploded.

I called my husband, then I called the assistant principal, and all four of us, Spawn, hubs, AP, and I all met in hubs’ office. Hubs and I sat by, visibly simmering with rage, as Spawn and his AP discussed the matter. When he mentioned that the gym teacher had been in the vicinity each and every time, the AP’s head exploded, which was extremely wonderful to see; a great relief for hubs and I, that someone else would be as upset as we were. Spawn was also immensely relieved, and perhaps delighted, that his problems and concerns were, really and truly, going to be taken seriously for once.

I have no idea what went on behind closed doors. I do know that the gym teacher did not return to work in our district that year or since, and the NB teacher left midyear for a position elsewhere, much to the relief of many more than my family and myself. She was not well-liked by the district either, and I provided enough ammo for them to can her, if the grapevine is correct.

So, over time, Doodle meanders his quiet way up into the middle school. Sixth grade, he has a nice 504, everything goes pretty well. Seventh grade, much the same – a few quirks and twiddles along the way, but everything seems to be in place. Then, last Wednesday, the phone rings at the same time that Doodle comes in the front door from school. It’s the AP, who wants to discuss an “incident” wherein Doodle punched a kid on the playground during after lunch recess.

This is so unlike him, because he’s really a very quiet, smiley, cuddly person that my eyebrows go up and my antennae start to twang lightly. As she continues, it becomes clear that she feels she has not gotten the entire story from Doodle, and she thinks there may have been some provocation and would like me to talk with him further. Doodle walks by while I’m still on the phone, and I notice he has a bruise over one eye, which I tell her about. She stops cold and says, “There’s definitely more to this. Let me know what you find out.”

As Doodle snorks up cookies and Kool-Aid, out comes a familiar story. He’d been asked by some evangelizing tweenie about his beliefs; he stated he does not believe in God, and the next day he’s surrounded at lunchtime by kids yelling at him about not believing in God. He yells back, manages to get away from them and reads his book and doesn’t think anything more about it. Until the next week, when there are more kids, they start hemming him in, the intimidation level escalates, but they break up, probably due to getting the attention of a monitor. And finally, on the day of the “incident”, there’s a crowd of ten surrounding him, hemming him in, making it impossible for him to escape without coming into contact with one of them, the ringleader is screaming into his face, emitting spittle, and Doodle cracks, punches the kid in the shoulder, a bystander makes tracks for a monitor, and it’s Doodle who winds up in the AP’s office. Go figure.

While Doodle was relating this story, Bunny and Spawn were drawn in. Spawn in particular began to look mad as hell, and I was so proud of both of them – when I offered to go sit with Doodle during the next day’s recess, so did both of them – they were eager to do so, to stand by their kid brother and protect him from bullies and the mob that had cloaked themselves in false Christianity as an excuse for appalling behavior. Doodle looked amazed, relieved, and delighted all at once. I fired off an email to the AP, including adding in that I would be there the next day, possibly bringing the entire family along, to protect him from this crowd of bullies.

When I told hubs about it, he went ballistic. After we all cooled down, we decided to give the AP a chance to do her thing, and that I would go in, as promised, and watch over my Doodle. I did. The AP came out to let me know that she was conducting extensive interviews, that the culprits, as many as could be identified, were being dealt with, and that I was welcome to come and stay with him whenever I wished, as long as I let her know in advance. Doodle was glad to have me there, and there were no incidents. Doodle has not been assigned any “consequences” for defending himself, so far, and the culprits have been handled. I asked the Doodle if he wanted me or any other family member to come sit with him each day since, and he says he’s fine.

It’s a nasty, bad world when children think they can use the excuse of being missionaries or God’s warriors to abuse, intimidate, humiliate, and harass other children. If I had the names of the children, I’d be calling their parents and their pastors to have some Large Words with them about the true meaning of Christianity and appropriate behavior for children.

But really, it’s not, nor has it ever been about religion. It’s about bullies finding new excuses for the inexcusable. My son’s AP has my heartfelt gratitude and, even more importantly, the well-deserved trust of my children for handling this matter, and the one that Spawn had, with ethics, professionalism, dispatch, and honor.

Rock on, Ms. P. Long may you prosper.


Geo said...

It's shocking, but sadly, not unbelievable. My heart hurts and my fists clench when I hear about such stuff.

I am Christian, but one of the basic tenets of my faith goes like this:

'We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

I can hear the implied "or not" in that, and I respect that too. Mostly, I simply agree with you that your children's awful school experiences were not ultimately played out because of religion, but because of an early thirst for force and domination, which in my book, constitute the anti-religion.

Anonymous said...

Aye, if only everyone stood up to the pseudoXtian bullies, we'd have a much better world (and this has been true for what? 2,000 years now!).

BoS said...

Being a Christian myself, it makes me furious. This is not the Christianity I grew up with; it's some strange, overstrung, mutant version of an otherwise gentle, compassionate religion. I'm sure there are many, many Muslims who can sympathize!

Swimming Kangaroo said...

You are lucky that the school was responsive. About 15 years ago we went through a similar situaiton with our daughter in which she was being bullied by the other kids in her class. Her teacher tried to stop it but did not get the support she needed from the principal, who used various versions of the "blame the victim" technique. ALL of the teachers who worked with my daughter agreed that she was not the problem, however, the parents of the kids who were doing the bullying were prominent in the PTA. I finally snapped one day and withdrew my daughter from school. We home schooled her for a couple of weeks while we considered our options and finally transferred her to another school in the district. The staff at this other school was absolutely terrific-- the teacher gave me her home phone number; they called the teachers at the first school to get more information, and any time something happened, they jumped right on it and instantly disciplined the child in quesiton. The kids at the old school actually called their friends at the new school to incite them to continue the bullying, but the teacher caught wind of it and all of those kids were transferred to another class.

Thanks for writing about this and good luck to you and your family.