Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I don’t know how to write about this, or even if I should, but I’m annoyed and a little sad and don’t know what else to do. What I want to say is this: “Kids, don’t listen to us when we mock you. Don’t listen to anyone who does that. We’re the idiots. Not you.”

Would you wear this hat?
I read a political essay on KQED, the local NPR affiliate, the other day, so naturally as soon as it aired I started reading the comments. They were all fine, except for one snarky one, to which I posted a snappy rejoinder. Bring it on, baby.

So that I wouldn’t feel completely egocentric, I read some of the other essays. They were all thoughtful. The one after mine was by a sophomore in high school who said that in the results-oriented world he inhabits the quest for knowledge for its own sake takes a back seat to careers that make concrete contributions. He's working hard to try to be a doctor or engineer, someone who could see the fruits of his labor in real time. He said he wouldn’t mind making big money too, something he thinks is not possible in pure science.

From many of the comments on his essay, you’d have thought he had revealed a fool-proof way to cheat on the SAT. He was accused of being greedy and of “gaming the system.” He was told by one commenter, in what almost seemed like a threat, that the commenter had friends on the admissions committees of all the Ivy League schools and the boy would never get in.

What the hell! This is a sixteen year old kid who is working hard to get good grades and hoping to go to a good college and succeed in the all-American way, and who, by the way, has taken time out to write an essay for NPR, to join the public discourse on education and its goals. And he's attacked by adult males. I just don’t understand it. Why the vitriol? It makes you wonder whether life has disappointed them to the point that they just can’t see past their cynicism.

Then I leave that website and see a news item about two fourteen year old girls in Minnesota who committed suicide together, apparently because they could see no other escape from the bullying they were subjected to by some of their classmates. OMG, as they might have said.

Bullying by schoolmates is not new. It’s cruel and we need to do the best we can to stop it and to give kids a safe place to go when it happens to them. But bullying of kids by adults is right up there with sociopathic serial killing, as far as I am concerned. And that’s what those comments on that poor boy's NPR essay amounted to: bullying.

Kids think in extremes. That’s why they come up with all the good ideas. And plenty of bad ones too. Trying to corral them into our cultural and intellectual framework like they were domestic pack animals running wild is wrong. Let them run, for God’s sake. Most of them will end up in the pen with the rest of us soon enough. If we’re lucky, a few will discover greener pastures for us all.


  1. I agree with you, Mac! Posting comments has become and acceptable way for adults to bully one another. How shameful that this behavior (under protection of anonymity in most cases) has reared its ugly head in this way. Thank you for speaking up for kids. Can you read this essay on NPR?

  2. Thanks, Elaine. I didn't propose it to NPR because I think it would just infuriate the bullies (to no good effect) and might be seen by young people as condescending to them (and their ability to fend for themselves). Everyone else already knows that's no way for a grown man to behave. It still makes me mad, though. I guess I'm too close to having kids that age myself, wanting to protect them from the sometimes ridiculous ways of adults.

  3. Leaves me thinking male rats eat their young. I don't know why people check their civility at the virtual door when they go online, but its a sad comment on them. Really horrible that some engaged young man has to take it on the chin.

  4. I am so grateful for your anger about this situation, Mac! You are so so right. What the heck do people think they're doing? They can't see past their noses; compassion and empathy have vanished.

    I agree with Meg that online bullying seems ubiquitous; one would hope that grown-ups would at least draw the line at ugliness toward young people, but they don't. Civility is being eroded away, and this is precisely why I am so grateful to the civil discourse of your blog, my friend!

  5. A "Facebook Friend posted this homily today. "My curfew was the street lights and dad didn't call my cell, he yelled "time to come in". I played outside with friends, not online. If I didn't eat what my mom made me then I didn't eat. Hand sanitizer didn't exist, but you COULD get your mouth washed out with soap. Repost if you drank water out of a hose and survived!

    I replied,"I subbed for a second grade class yesterday. A kid threw a chair at me, another one shoved his classmate head first into the wall, almost breaking his glasses, and I was bowled over when I got between two girls who were fight. A couple kids asked if I was okay, but more wanted to tattle on the ones who were laughing and pointing. I'm as old as some of their great-grandmothers. It's a different world."

    Her response was not what I'd hope for. She said, "OMG! Why are their grandmothers, if not their parents, NOT straightening them out!"

    Since when did grandmas become the new scapegoats?

  6. I didn't proofread my comment well . . . chalk it up to being a little upset. :)

  7. I am very grateful you wrote about this topic, particularly yesterday. Don't be afraid to write about matters that move you.