The Bullies on the Bus–End of innocence?
by Elizabeth Yore
“‘We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English, and the English are best at everything.'”
–William Golding, Lord of the Flies.
What happens to a society when children become savages?
In case you live under a rock, the 68 year old bus monitor bully video Making the Bus Monitor Cry – Karen Klein Bullied by Kids on Greece District School Bus topped nearly 2 million hits on YouTube and the savages were fully on display.
Not unlike the marooned boys in the 1954 classic novel, Lord of the Flies, the Greece Middle School bus bullies relinquished their humanity, banded together to verbally savage a kind and sweet grandmother. Their conduct turned innocence on its head; instead of children exhibiting innocence, an elderly woman is the innocent victim of youthful brutes.
After a week of the media incessantly replaying the video while superficially discussing punishment options for the hellions, the story abruptly ends. The bad boys are now disciplined, the elderly bus monitor is going to Disneyland and the generous public appeal endowed grandmother with over $650,000. Happy ending, folks, all nicely tied up. End of story, and let’s move on to the next breaking news alert.
Not so fast…This incident signals a new generation of children lacking empathy which bodes disaster for society. Empathy is the primary civilizing factor in a society. It is the glue that binds together communities in a civilized society. Otherwise, chaos and violence reigns with citizens coveting their neighbors’ goods, homes, children, and spouses. Not surprisingly, our prisons are full of criminals who had no empathy for their victims.
In his book, “Born for Love, Empathy is Essential and Endangered,” Dr. Bruce Perry, renowned child psychiatrist and foremost child trauma expert advises that the roots of empathy begin early in childhood. Perry counsels that “babies cannot develop the foundations of empathy without frequent, nurturing contact with a few consistent caregivers. Social development requires multiple, repeated face to face interactions.”
Children learn to be social beings through the loving and caring interaction of significant adults in their lives.
The lessons of empathy start early in infancy and must be nurtured throughout childhood. Ironically, Karen Klein, the bus monitor, is just the sort of kind grandmotherly type that exudes the prototype of kindness and empathy.
In an attentive family, children learn that hurtful words and actions cause pain by seeing the painful reaction on a human face. They learn to feel the discomfort of pain when they hurt someone. By feeling another’s pain, they develop empathy. Sadly, the bus bullies saw, but didn’t feel Grandmother Klein’s pain, as she wiped away her tears. Otherwise, they would have stopped tormenting her.
The value of empathy goes beyond feeling another’s pain. It is the primary building block in a civilized society of compassionate citizens. Children are taught rules at home, in play, and at school. Spontaneous play imbues children with the value of rules, negotiation, team building, and imagination–all critical skills which are essential to empathy.
Oddly, communities ban lemonade stands and sidewalk chalk writing, yet ignore x rated video games and pop-up porn websites. Perry’s cautionary admonition that the “brain becomes what it does” is a wake up call to parents and schools when boys play the violent video game appropriately named, “Dark Souls.”
Today’s child plops in front of an uncensored television screen, violent video games, inert social media networks, and computer monitors, for nearly 7 1/2 hours a day. That leaves little time for human face-to-face interaction, instruction or direction. Dr. Perry often cautions, “Children aren’t resilient, but children are malleable.” Technology, rather than human discipline, is shaping children by teaching violence, sex, and cruelty without consequences.
An inanimate LCD screen cannot replace the human face. No computer monitor is going to teach a child thoughtfulness, kindness, or empathy. Sadly, there are no consequences if you kill, maim, or bully, in the virtual world.
Finally, Dr. Perry points out “that consideration of others is a cornerstone of morality. All of these ‘Golden Rules’ show how greatly morality depends on empathy and our ability to see the world from other points of view.” He finds that most schools are designed to be “relationally impoverished.” In other words, students are lacking quality relationships with caring adults. Schools focus almost entirely on cognitive development and leave values education at the school door.
Are public schools or parents teaching the “golden rule” anymore? Not likely.
The school curriculum insists on sex education, but eliminates character and values based education.
Instead of teaching the values of kindness, courtesy, discipline; schools teach children how to put on a condom.
Instead of teaching value of the elderly and oral history, they teach the value of oral sex.
Instead of the search for truth and honor, schools must search for guns and drugs.
Throughout human history, the aged were revered for their knowledge, experience and wisdom. The death knell of elderly respect is apparent in Greece, New York when 13 year old boys relentlessly taunt an elderly woman and take glee in her pain. This portends the death of the golden rule.
William Golding wrote at the end of his allegory on good and evil about the main character, a boy, “Ralph, who wept for the end of innocence, and the darkness of man’s heart.”
Are we going to sit idly by, in horror, at the end of innocence?
© Elizabeth Yore-2012 All Rights Reserved.
Elizabeth Yore served as Special Counsel and Child Advocate to Oprah Winfrey at Harpo, Inc. Previously, she was General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the General Counsel at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.