2015… Time to make some kind of difference.
On bullying: I work with kids that are different, that don’t fit in. Kids with history. The bullied and the bullies. Teen moms, gang members, kids with learning problems, social issues, family dynamics that break your heart… academic failures, pot smokers, wash outs, people with physical difficulties and health problems and probation officers. They show up late. They miss school. They cuss. They mouth off. They break rules. They text in class. And still… I teach them. That is what I have chosen to do and who I have chosen to teach.
Not rich kids. Not kids of breeding and privilege. Not the AP class. Not the Ivy League and UC bound golden kids, or star athletes, or the kid who sits quietly and obediently. Not the future valedictorian or student body president. The other kids. Those kids.
And every day I try to tell them as a history teacher that their life matters. That they matter. That they are someone and they haven’t failed until they quit. No matter how rude or disinterested or turned off, the message is the same. And no matter how unlikeable and unteacheable they may be… I try to teach them and to like them.
And I think of my own school experience. Academics were never hard- in fact I usually excelled… but I really really didn’t fit in. I had a speech impediment and I stuttered. I was half Asian in a school that was 90% latino. I was dorky and un coordinated. I didn’t dress “right” or act “right” and I thought I knew everything. And as easy as it was to interact with adults, relating to my peers was often difficult. And yes, I was bullied.
But I wasn’t thinking about that today. I was thinking about John Mayer. A tall pale kid with curly hair from Junior High 37 years ago. I found at some point in band class that if I teased him he would turn bright red and chase me. Since I wasn’t very fast, the fact that I could out run him gave me some sense of joy. During that semester, my teasing not only crossed the line into bullying, it became cruel and homophobic and ugly. And I was good at it. I would create cartoons and songs and short poems to make his life hell. And these would be picked up by other kids. And I don’t think at any point in my bullying career did I feel any regret or sense that the game had gone too far or had gone on too long.
And I wish I could tell you why I did it… to get the heat off of me? To fit in? I wish I could tell you I realized how ugly this behavior was and stopped… or that I apologized to John and we became best friends. I wish I could say that it never happened again. But none of that happened. I don’t know and don’t remember what happened to John… And in High School, I probably played that role of clever bully more than once. And the ugliest thing is that I had no regrets and gave it so little thought that I can’t actually recall who the victims were.
But I remember John. I know by the time I had “matured” in college that what I did was wrong… and I considered how much hell I had put him through in his early teen years. But I never sought him out. Never apologized. Never tried to make it right.
John Mayer… if you are out there. I am sorry for the pain and anger I put you through. I apologize. What I did was wrong. You were always a decent person and your life matters.