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MA waits until horse has left, closes barn door

April 30, 2010

Here in Massachusetts, we’re known for many things, including a lack of pronounced R’s, countless weathered historical plaques, and kids who get bullied so much by classmates that they kill themselves. But don’t worry! Lawmakers have done something about that last one just in time. And by “just in time,” I mean way too late. From the Boston Globe:

Lawmakers moved a step closer Wednesday to approving a bill designed to crack down on school bullies in the wake of two recent suicides of students whose families and friends said were the victims of intense bullying.

The bill prohibits bullying on school property, on school buses or at school-sponsored activities. It outlaws so-called cyberbullying by e-mail or through social media networks such as Twitter or Facebook.

The bill also requires school staff to report episodes of bullying to the principal, who must investigate each incident and take disciplinary action. Under the legislation, schools must add bullying prevention programs to their curriculum.

–snip–

In January, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince killed herself after being bullied by a group of South Hadley classmates who used text messages and Facebook posts to add to their in-person intimidation, authorities said.

Last year, 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover hanged himself in his family’s Springfield home. His mother, Sirdeaner Walker, said her son was bullied relentlessly by classmates at his charter school. She said they made fun of how he dressed, called him gay and threatened him.

This law is good news for everyone (except maybe Prince, Walker-Hoover and their families, for whom the legislation is probably something more like rueful, insufficient and just plain late to the party), not because it’s going to stop bullying–it won’t–but because it certainly won’t hurt, and in any event, everyone will by hyperaware of bullying after all this. What’s frustrating about it, I suppose, is that a horrible, unspeakable tragedy has been turned (the cynical might say) into another opportunity for lawmakers to be reactive rather than proactive, which really just amounts to exploiting the victims to make themselves look tough and effective.

Critics (including the Boston Herald, which has hysterically led the charge, in its usual even-keeled way, to jail all the kids involved in bullying Prince, fire and publicly flog the staff of her high school, tar and feather all the bullies’ parents, and, just to be extra sure that justice has been served, impeach Barack Obama, outlaw taxes and dissolve Social Security), argue that the bill doesn’t go far enough because there are no criminal penalties for bullies, but the fact is that nothing will ever stop bullies. You know why? Because people are terrible animals, and kids, with their half-formed brains, are the worst of the bunch, or at least they can be. Texting, Twitter, Facebook and the internet generally may have created new ways for bullies to operate, but the need to dominate other people is hard-wired, and always will be.

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