When we visit the local PS playground and the kids come out for recess or lunch break, I am continually saddened by what I see. There are about 50 kids running around with only 1 or 2 adults in supervision. They are there for the major incidents, but the myriad little travesties occurring all around them go unnoticed.
First there were 3 girls, around age 8 or 9. Two were up top of a play structure, informing the third girl that she was not allowed to come up right now. Apparently, this girl really wanted to join the other two, and followed them around the whole time. The other two would make her perform tasks, saying things like “you can come up with us but first you have to climb up the slide to pass the test”. Basically this one girl really wanted to be part of their small group and the other two were not interested, but taking advantage of her desire by abusing her and playing power trips on her.
In another scene, a group of girls age 9 were on a see-saw. DS wanted to play and one of them came over and said they’d make room for him. They were sweet girls and very kind to DS. A boy ran screaming past and said “shutup” to one of the girls when she said hello to him. She turned to me and said “he hates me, but I don’t mind”.
While we were on the see-saw an overweight girl, probably the same age, came over and started talking to the girl at the end of the see-saw. I didn’t hear exactly what she said but her body language was disturbing. She had that Jerry Springer thing going, with the wiggling head, hip thrust to the side, and finger pointing attitude. She was laying into this other girl, who seemed to be doing her best to ignore it. I could see how this large girl was exerting a lot of power over the other one, and from the perspective of a 9 year old this girl must have seemed very intimidating. I didn’t hate on the girl – her weight for starters, combined with who-knows-what sort of emotional issues, were obviously warping her ability to relate to others in an empathetic way. But tell that to the victims of her agression.
I saw boys being bullied by other boys. I saw kids being taunted and teased. To an unwary eye, it might be easy to dismiss this as “normal kids stuff”. The nature of the teasing is so childish to an adult that its easy to forget how much it hurts when you are, in fact, a child.
It’s true that many of these kids come from immigrant families who have recently experienced war (many Bosnians and Serbs). It’s true that many of these families are poor. There is a large after-school care program, a testament to how few hours these kids get to spend with their families each day. But I don’t think anything I see on that playground is different from any school in the country, with a few very minor exceptions.
It frustrates me that so much lip service is being given to “anti-bullying” campaigns in the schools, with nobody recognizing that the very structure of school creates the unnatural social dynamics that lead to peer culture, bullying, and cliques.
Of all the reasons not to send my kids to school, these factor high on my list.