I am still scratching my head over a situation in Greece, New York that went viral on the Internet.
It started with four middle-school students tormenting and verbally harassing a grandmotherly bus matron. For the most part, she didn’t respond to their nasty comments, but the kids just continued and escalated.
One of the tormenters recorded the incident on his cell phone and, continuing to demonstrate incredibly poor judgement, the kid actually uploaded the evidence of their egregious conduct to YouTube:
Despite the abuse to which she had been subjected, Karen Klein indicated that she didn’t want criminal charges pressed against the kids, which was especially gracious under the circumstances.
The Internet responded. Massively. Trying to show that not everyone is a bully, a fundraiser raised over $400,000 for the bus matron in the first day and she received an outpouring of support from all over the world.
The Internet spoke and collectively said that we abhor what happened and want to show you that there is kindness in the world.
But the Internet also made death threats against the students and their families.
Those threats are no better than what the kids did – indeed, they are even worse.
Two of the student bullies have already apologized. One of them raises a point we need to remember as we go forward:
The seventh-grader who shot the cell phone video and posted it online said the taunting was all an attempt to attract some attention online.
“I see kids recorded bullying all the time on YouTube, so I thought why would this be a problem,” he said.
If kids look to the Internet or YouTube to see what behavior is acceptable, that’s fodder for those who want to clamp down on the Internet. No, I’m not saying it excuses the kids’ behavior. But it may help explain it and we need to pay attention to what the kids are telling us. As hateful as the comments were, was this really a hate crime or discrimination against obesity – or was this, as I hypothesize, simply kids being unkind and saying whatever they could think of to make a video for YouTube to be cool?
I suspect the whole world will be watching to see how the school handles this. Back in the day, if you misbehaved on a school bus, you were suspended from the bus and had to walk to school. And while that may not satisfy the blood lust that some feel towards these kids, a brief suspension, a required apology and reparations, and having to walk to school should give the kids time to think about their behavior.
And I hope that the school makes counselors available to the students’ parents to give them some guidance on how to handle this and how to talk to their kids about what happened. I’d bet some of the parents are thinking, “Where did we go wrong?” But they may not have done anything wrong – they may just not have as much influence as peers and the Internet. And that’s a lesson all parents and educators need to learn so that we can figure out how to teach kids to resist some of these influences.