Schools Push Back Against Bullying

When I was 14 or 15 years old, I was bullied by a classmate. I do not recall his name or many of the details surrounding his hurtful behavior, but I very much remember one particular incident and the feelings engendered by such. We were in a class taught by a younger female teacher, seated toward the rear (no doubt due to the whims of alphabetical fate). For reasons I either cannot recollect or simply do not know, this classmate who sat adjacent to me and was to become my tormenter had taken a disliking to me. On this occasion, he had grabbed my hand and was bending my fingers in such a way as to cause me a good deal of discomfort. He had one eye on the teacher—who was oblivious to what was going on—and one eye on me. He whispered a warning not to speak up or rat him out. Eventually, he let go of my hand, and life went on its less than merry way. I never told the teacher or an administrator or my parents what had taken place. I felt ashamed. And hurt. And bewildered. After a time—perhaps the end of the term when class schedules shifted—the bully and I parted ways, and I do not believe we ever crossed paths in any significant way again. But, in some small fashion, he stayed with me and is still with me now. The sting persists.

Back then, there were no formal programs addressing bullying. Indeed, there was not much recognition on the part of schools that bullying was a major problem. But times have changed, and many schools have come around to the reality that children are regularly tormented, both physically and psychologically, in their midst. And efforts are being made to remedy the situation, as reported in the New York Times:

Pushing Back at Bullying

GREENWICH, Conn.—This past November, the Greenwich High School principal, Alan J. Capasso, greeted an early morning assembly of more than 800 freshmen about to begin a mandatory anti-bias, anti-bullying program called “Names Can Really Hurt Us.� He told them, “This is the most important day of your school year.�

In Greenwich, where diverse doesn’t begin to describe the pan-cultural buzz animating the school’s hangar-size cafeteria, “Names,� as the program is known, is cool — as in “Hey, you doing ‘Names’ this year? It rocks.� After five years, “Names� day is assured a place on the school calendar, along with homecoming, SAT prep and the prom.

Farther north at New Milford High School, Jonathan Henion, a senior, stood before a “Names� assembly of sophomores to share a story he insisted was no big deal, except that it suggested how one small action could make a difference:

“I was standing in the rotunda with friends of mine, about 30 kids. I noticed this small girl walking by. She had on a big backpack filled with heavy books, and she fell. I just stood there watching and thought to myself, ‘What a loser.’ She just lay there trying to get up. The girl’s face kept getting redder and redder listening to the relentless taunting by my friends. Something clicked. I walked over and lifted her up, picked up her books and brushed the dirt off her arms.�

Jonathan’s little moment was greeted with huge applause; he looked surprised. New Milford’s principal, Greg P. Shugrue, sharing pizza with Jonathan and other student panelists afterward, told them: “This is the best school atmosphere I’ve ever worked in. And it’s because of the commitment to this program.�

“Names,� which requires two months of preparation and training by students and staff members, is not a program that any participant or observer can easily forget. There is straight talk. There are tears, hugs, high-fives, laughs, applause and some astonishing apologies.

“I went to observe it at Weston High School in 2000,� said Carol Sutton, a social studies teacher and the catalyst for bringing “Names� to Greenwich. “What I saw was astounding. I was impressed by the student panelists and the kids who got up in the open-mike segment. I was amazed. I came back and said, ‘Let’s get it done.’ �

Over the last 11 years, some 65,600 Connecticut high school students have participated in “Names,� which is sponsored and supervised by the Connecticut Office of the Anti-Defamation League. Guided by teachers, trained student volunteers and league facilitators, students talk with the unflinching candor of children about topics most adults would prefer to avoid: gossip, rumor, physical harassment, racism, homophobia, depression, eating disorders, self-mutilation, drinking, drugs, suicide — the full range of bullying behavior and its consequences. [full text]

How Low Can You Glow?

Here’s a word to the wise for those who travel, attend events like the Super Bowl, or even visit federal buildings, as reported by Reuters (via the Boston Globe):

“Hot” patients setting off radiation alarms

When 75,000 football fans pack into Dolphin Stadium in Miami for the Super Bowl on February 4, at least a few may want to carry notes from their doctors explaining why they’re radioactive enough to set off “dirty bomb” alarms.

With the rising use of radioisotopes in medicine and the growing use of radiation detectors in a security-conscious nation, patients are triggering alarms in places where they may not even realize they’re being scanned, doctors and security officials say.

Nearly 60,000 people a day in the United States undergo treatment or tests that leave tiny amounts of radioactive material in their bodies, according to the Society of Nuclear Medicine. It is not enough to hurt them or anyone else, but it is enough to trigger radiation alarms for up to three months.

Since the September 11 attacks, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has distributed more than 12,000 hand-held radiation detectors, mainly to Customs and Border Protection agents at airports, seaports and border crossings. Sensors are also used at government buildings and at large public events like the Super Bowl that are considered potential terrorist targets.

At the annual Christmas tree-lighting party in New York City’s Rockefeller Center in November, police pulled six people aside in the crowd and asked them why they had tripped sensors.

“All six had recently had medical treatments with radioisotopes in their bodies,” Richard Falkenrath, the city’s deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, told a Republican governors’ meeting in Miami recently. “That happens all the time.”

Radioisotopes are commonly used to diagnose and treat certain cancers and thyroid disorders, to analyze heart function, or to scan bones and lungs.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission first recommended in 2003 that doctors warn patients they may set off alarms after being injected or implanted with radioisotopes. That came after police stopped a bus that set off a radiation detector in a New York City tunnel. They found one of the passengers had recently undergone thyroid treatment with radioiodine.

In August, the British Medical Journal described the case of a very embarrassed 46-year-old Briton who set off the sensors at Orlando airport in Florida six weeks after having radioiodine treatment for a thyroid condition.

He was detained, strip-searched and sniffed by police dogs before eventually being released, the journal said in its “Lesson of the Week” section. [full text]

Lieberman Disapproves of Disapproval

Joe Lieberman may fancy himself as some sort of majestic hawk soaring boldly above the vast territory he defends, but, in truth, he seems much more akin to a squawking vulture elevating himself simply to detect carrion. Last week, during the confirmation hearings for General David Petraeus, the junior senator from Connecticut sought to suck the general into the political debate over the war in Iraq. Specifically, Lieberman asked whether a “resolution of disapproval for this new strategy in Iraq would give the enemy some encouragement, some feeling that…the American people were divided.â€? Such a question is beyond insulting, in that it infers that those who register their disapproval are, in effect, aiding and abetting the enemy and that any public dissent—rather than demonstrating the strength and majesty of American democracy—highlights a divisiveness that is somehow unacceptable. In case Boltin’ Joe has yet to notice, the American people have been divided for quite some time about the war in Iraq. It is only more recently that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle—an aisle that Lieberman currently straddles like a playground pony—have begun to take exception to this foolhardy endeavor and the policies that perpetuate it. Nonetheless, Joe is stubbornly sticking to his cap guns and smearing those who won’t play nice. One can only imagine what he must think of the latest Newsweek poll (below). Perhaps he believes that the significant majority who registered their disapproval, not to mention the pollsters who dared to gauge public opinion, were giving the enemy “some encouragement.” More likely, they were just giving Lieberman and his fellow carrion-feeders the bird.

A Sorry State

President George W. Bush concluded his annual State of the Union address this week with the words “the State of our Union is strong … our cause in the world is right … and tonight that cause goes on.� Maybe so, but the state of the Bush administration is at its worst yet, according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll. The president’s approval ratings are at their lowest point in the poll’s history—30 percent—and more than half the country (58 percent) say they wish the Bush presidency were simply over, a sentiment that is almost unanimous among Democrats (86 percent), and is shared by a clear majority (59 percent) of independents and even one in five (21 percent) Republicans. Half (49 percent) of all registered voters would rather see a Democrat elected president in 2008, compared to just 28 percent who’d prefer the GOP to remain in the White House.

Public fatigue over the war in the Iraq is not reflected solely in the president’s numbers, however. Congress is criticized by nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans for not being assertive enough in challenging the Bush administration’s conduct of the war. Even a third (31 percent) of rank-and-file Republicans say the previous Congress, controlled by their party, didn’t do enough to challenge the administration on the war….

With Bush widely viewed as an ineffectual “lame duckâ€? (by 71 percent of all Americans), over half (53 percent) of the poll’s respondents now say they believe history will see him as a below-average president, up three points from last May. The first time this question was asked, in October 2003, as many people thought Bush would go down in history as an above average president as thought we would be regarded as below average (29 to 26 percent). Only 22 percent of those polled think Bush’s decisions about Iraq and other major policy are influenced mainly by the facts; 67 percent say the president’s decisions are influenced more by his personal beliefs. This perhaps explains why only about half (49 percent) of adult Americans even bothered to watch or listen to any of the State of the Union speech as it happened. Of those, less than half (42 percent) think his energy, health care and other domestic policy proposals are likely to be seriously considered by the new Democratic-controlled Congress. Overall, 61 percent are unsatisfied with the way things are going in America; just 30 percent are satisfied. [full text]

Molly Ivins Fighting an Even Bigger Fight

One of my favorite progressive columnists, Molly Ivins—who has long possessed the singular ability to write with equal parts humor, eloquence, and outrage—is battling breast cancer, and, as reported by Editor & Publisher (via Common Dreams), is not doing well:

Molly Ivins Hospitalized in Ongoing Battle With Cancer

AUSTIN — Almost three weeks ago, Molly Ivins wrote that she would dedicate every single one of her syndicated columns from now on to the issue of stopping the war in Iraq — until it ended. But she has managed to finish only one more column since.

The gravely ill Texas columnist has been hospitalized again this week in her ongoing battle with breast cancer.

Her assistant Betsy Moon says she may be able to go home Monday. She adds that those close to Ivins are “not sure what’s going to happen, but she’s very sick.”

The 62-year-old columnist had taken an earlier break from her syndicated column, but resumed writing earlier this month.

Last October she had suggested this headline to an E&P interviewer: “Molly Ivins Still Not Dead.”

E&P wrote then, “The third recurrence of the breast cancer she has been battling since 1999 (and which recently claimed her good friend, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards) has left the 62-year-old Ivins with precarious balance, minimal hair, and no illusions about the redemptive quality of life-threatening illness. ‘I’d hoped to become a better person from confronting my own mortality,’ she laughs. ‘But it hasn’t happened.'”

In the Jan. 11th column, which opposed the troop escalation, Ivins wrote “We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war….If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, ‘Stop it, now!'”

But this was the last newspaper column she has been able to write. [full text]

My thoughts and prayers are with Ms. Ivins and all those who love her.

Out of Foster Care and Into the Abyss

Slowly, there is growing recognition among state and local authorities that the needs and challenges of children in foster care do not magically cease to exist when they turn 18. Today’s New York Times addresses this topic:

For Former Foster Care Youths, Help to Make It on Own

DETROIT — When current and former foster children formed a group to help youths who had turned 18 and were “aging out� of the system, one of the first things they did was hold a luggage drive.

“We saw that a lot of the kids were taking their clothes out in garbage bags,� said Chilton Brown, 23, a former foster child who spent ages 3 to 18 as a ward of the state, bouncing around 15 family homes or group residences.

A life contained in green plastic bags: it is the kind of humiliating detail that hits home hardest among foster youths themselves. It is also a telling sign of how unprepared many of these 18-year-olds are to live on their own, without families, jobs or school diplomas to shore them up.

In part because of the increasing advocacy by foster youth groups like Mr. Brown’s, many states are expanding efforts to help young adults prepare for life outside the system, offering transitional housing, education, medical care and mentoring as they step out on their own. States are also extending aid for extra years, in some cases to age 21 or even beyond.

“We’re finally seeing a recognition by public agencies that they have a responsibility to this population beyond the age of 18,� said Gary Stangler, director of Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a foundation in St. Louis that is helping to organize foster youth boards and offers matched savings accounts as well as job aid in 10 states. “In our society, most 18-year-old kids aren’t ready to be thrust into the world.�

Long in the shadows, the plight of aging out foster youths — some 24,000 a year nationwide who fail to be adopted and usually leave court-monitored care at 18 — is gaining new attention, as youths speak out and research reveals the numbers who end up in homeless shelters, jail and long-term poverty. [full text]

A Controversial Truth

Just curious, but how tolerant should one be of alternative points of view when such views would seem to clearly emanate from those who have their heads jammed to the shoulders up their behinds (and who encourage others to assume this position)? In other words, at what point is it acceptable to call a reactionary wingnut a reactionary wingnut and then cover one’s ears and sing showtunes?

From the Washington Post:

Gore Film Sparks Parents’ Anger

FEDERAL WAY, Wash., Jan. 24 — Frosty E. Hardison is neither impressed nor surprised that “An Inconvenient Truth,” the global-warming movie narrated by former vice president Al Gore, received an Oscar nomination this week for best documentary.

“Liberal left is all over Hollywood,” he grumbled a few hours after the nomination was announced.

Hardison, a parent of seven here in the southern suburbs of Seattle, has himself roiled the global-warming waters. It happened early this month when he learned that one of his daughters would be watching “An Inconvenient Truth” in her seventh-grade science class.

“No you will not teach or show that propagandist Al Gore video to my child, blaming our nation — the greatest nation ever to exist on this planet — for global warming,” Hardison wrote in an e-mail to the Federal Way School Board. The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who says he believes that a warming planet is “one of the signs” of Jesus Christ’s imminent return for Judgment Day.

His angry e-mail (along with complaints from a few other parents) stopped the film from being shown to Hardison’s daughter.

The teacher in that science class, Kay Walls, says that after Hardison’s e-mail she was told by her principal that she would receive a disciplinary letter for not following school board rules that require her to seek written permission to present “controversial” materials in class.

The e-mail also pressured the school board to impose a ban on screenings of the film for the district’s 22,500 students.

The ban, which the school board says was merely a “moratorium,” was lifted Tuesday night, subject to rigorous conditions. Still, the action has appalled the film’s producers and triggered a ferocious national backlash. [full text]