Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bullying Policies: New School or Old?

After two years of public school, my 12-year-old begged me to return him to yeshiva where he felt he'd be surrounded by like-minded children and have an opportunity for a more robust social life. My assessment--not his. He just said, "I really want to go back." So I sent him to the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy.

Religiously speaking, JKHA is a Conservadox enclave (though they market themselves as "Orthodox") located kitty-corner to the prestigious Newark Academy in Livingston, NJ. Two of my sons had already graduated from JKHA, so I knew pretty much what I was getting myself into: an amalgam of mild-tempered, black-hat teachers who are serious about limudei kodesh (religious studies) filtering their right-wing Judaism through the prism of JKHA's "we're only in it for the money" bottom-line mandate and catering to a constituency of upper-middle-class moderdox kids from West Orange, as well as a swarm of moneyed brats from Livingston's uppercrust--children raised by nannies who boast of bringing trefos to school. Better this than public school where the drug problems are even greater than when I attended schools in a nearby district. Better this than the random violence my relatively quiet and gentle boy would be subjected to by the unwashed masses.

Or so I thought.

Beginning in September, my son began returning home a little more despondent each day. "What's wrong?" I'd ask. "The work too difficult?" That was certainly easy to imagine: A dual curriculum is challenging enough for a boy that finds school easy, let alone one who struggles. "No," he'd say, eyes downcast. "Is it a teacher?" I asked. "Was someone nasty to you?" He'd just shake his head. Weeks of this. Months. I chalked it up to his being the new kid. He was just feeling overwhelmed.

Or so I thought.

My boy's mother caught the first glimmer of what was really happening. Like me, she'd been fishing for months, even going as far as calling the school. One evening, while she studied with him, he admitted that he'd become the target of the class bully. Imagine my chagrin as the information reached me. I ascertained that the incidents--which began with one boy but had now spread to this boy's associates--had been confined to verbal abuse. Not that this hurt any less, but verbal is, after all, just verbal. You're too stupid to be in this class... Why are you here? No one likes you... You don't have any friends.

It wasn't entirely true. My son did have friends--two of the newer boys befriended him on day one. But as the charismatic bully's reign spread, these other little boys had been coerced away. "They're on his side now," he told me. "And who is on your side?" I asked. "Just me," said my boy.

I called the school and spoke with the rabbi in charge of discipline. I warned him that he was sitting on a time bomb--that it was just a matter of time before things escalated. "Fear not," he assured me. "I've already spoken to the boys." "I have no fear, rabbi," I said, "but not because you've spoken to the boys." "Please," he said, "don't worry about anything. Everything is under control."

Or so he thought.

A week ago, push came to shove. The verbal taunts devolved into physical abuse. A trip here, a shove into a locker there. When I discovered the escalation, I gave my son a facts-of-life sitdown. "This won't end," I told him, "unless you end it." "How?" he asked. "You have to take out their leader." He looked down. "Are you afraid of him?" I asked. "No," he said. "Then what are you afraid of?" He thought about it. "I'll get suspended," he said. "And everyone will hate me." "They already hate you," I said. "They hate you because they think you're weak." "I'm not weak," he said. "I'm stronger than he is." "But you've let him turn you into his entertainment. That makes you weak in everyone else's eyes. Once they see a wounded animal, the sharks begin to circle. Even littler kids will start taunting you." "That's already happening," he said. "Take out their leader," I said.

That afternoon, my cellphone buzzed. My boy had sent me an instant message. "Done," it said.

I jumped in my car and drove to the school. Without announcing myself, I walked straight into the principal's office. There was the principal, the school shrink, and the rabbi I'd spoken with a month earlier. I looked at my son. "Not a mark on you," I said, looking him up and down. "Guess you won."

"Mr. Meth," said the principal, "do you have any idea what just happened here?"

"I'll take an educated guess," I said. "There's either another boy in the nurse's office or he's on his way to the hospital." No one smugs like a father scorned.

"This is a very serious issue," said the principal.

"I couldn't agree more," I said. "Your administration is guilty of gross negligence. That's about as serious as it gets." I wasn't posturing--my pal Leo Klein of the New York Bar Association had secured a solid criminal lawyer for me out of Morristown, a former county prosecutor who saw so much merit in my son's story that he was willing to take the case for a piece of the action. I was ready to hit the yeshiva in the belly with a serious complaint if they pushed me too far.

"We can't condone fighting, Mr. Meth," said the rabbi--the one I'd put on notice four weeks earlier. "We're going to have to suspend your son for a day."

"That's what I was hoping," I said. "It will give him time to play with his new X-Box--the one I'm buying for him as a reward for taking out your bully. I'm not going to let my son feel punished for even one moment."

"We need to understand why he did this," said the shrink, a pretty little gal that I wouldn't have minded knowing under other circumstances.

"Look no further," I said, suppressing a wink. "I am the reason. I and no angel. I and no seraph. It was I who struck down the bully."

"We thoroughly abhor violence," said the principal, a middle-aged woman with delusions of eloquence.

"You're actually speaking to someone who knows what that word means," I said.

"But Jews can't behave like this," said the rabbi.

"Thus spake six million lampshades," saith I.

It went on like this for a while as I waxed alternately literate or badass for the tri-lateral commission of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil. A Mexican standoff. Or more accurately a Jewish one. Eventually, I grew bored with their company and took my son home, assured--by his actions that morning, not this administration's nattering, hand-wringing, politically correct, cover-their-own-asses, COMPLETE fucking lack of understanding of schoolyard politics--assured that the world was balanced once more. My son had cut the leader from the herd and knocked the bejezus out of him in front of his accolytes. Problem solved.

That evening, as my son sat playing with his new X-Box, my phone rang. "I know you, Meth!" said Harlan Ellison, the greatest writer of the 20th century, third greatest pool hustler in Sherman Oaks, and my pal. "You're sitting there wallowing in that Russian Jewish guilt of yours." "I'm a Polish Jew," I assured him. "Listen to me," he said. "You done good. This will always be remembered by your son as a pivotal moment in his childhood. He'll be proud of himself. And he'll be proud of you. He stood up to the bully and his old man had the balls to back him. Now stop feeling sorry for yourself or I'll have to come over and slap you and I don't want to do that because I'm already dressed for bed! Your son is golden and you my friend are peaches!"

Two days later, my boy returned to school. It was a fast day so he got out early and called me right away. "How was it?" I asked. "I had a good day," he said. "A few kids that I never spoke with before told me I did a good job. And two of the kids who used to bother me want to be my friend now. And the other two are really scared of me. And one girl who never spoke to me before said, 'Good job.' And I'm going to the mall with Mommy to get a new game for my X-Box. Can David sleep over this Saturday night so we can play it?"

Will Rogers once noted that diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock. I say school bullying policies are only as good as your power to enforce them.

© 2007, Clifford Meth


Anonymous said...

What will you do if The Bully comes back with a knife? gun?


Come back with a howitzer.


"What do you do it the bully comes back with a knife...?"

The EXACT thinking that kept Jews huddled in fear after Krystalnacht. "Don't do anything--it will just make things worse."

Anonymous said...

Nice blog.
I'm not so sure about the whole Howitzer in school thing...

Put that said: I think that bullies are usually nasty people but not career psychopaths.
So a good punch in the mouth is probably corrective therapy.

Rick Ollerman said...

Yourself and your son are my new heroes for the day. If my son is ever unfortunate to find himself in the same situation I only hope it can work out as well. I hope it continues, and thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Captain Kosher rides again!!!
You tell Jesse, NAZEL TOV from me! I used my horse to teach a bully a sharp lesson when I was in high school. He straightened up and made a success of his life... and he still crosses the street to walk on the other side when he sees me coming down it. Fear is the prime motivator...and a preemptive strike sometimes teaches an important lesson even to stupid bullies. If you let people use you as a doormat, they will continue to do so until you rise up and bite them in the ass. better to teach them a lesson early and save yourself grief.
Works for me! You're a MENSCH , Jesse!

spacklepants said...

You rock. You're like a god to me.

Out-o-curiosity, HOW did your fine son take the bully out?

Did you give him some coaching?
Some tips or techniques?
Firm proof that his father
Knows whereof he speaks?

A kick in the tonkers?
A flurry of fists?
A wall-eating arm-bar?
A nice Glasgow Kiss?

spacklepants said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I wandered my way over from the Art Deco Dining Pavilion...

Good for you! And good for your son!

I don't have kids, but I managed to last 3 months teaching high school (I'm surprised I lasted that long, really), and kids are way out of control.

Personal responsibility rocks!


Paty Cockrum! Rufus Dayglo! Sheesh--and I thought knowing Stan Lee made me a celeb by association!

Good to hear from you two -- and thank you for the nice words.

I can't imagine where Jesse got his moves... G-d knows *I* don't know anything about fighting.

Anonymous said...


Another Ellison Deco Pavillion reader here. . . I used to be bullied myself in school, so I am full of respect and admiration. I know of no school anywhere in the world that actually has a useful or effective anti-bully policy. All they do is disarm the victim and protect the bully. And the way you handled the limp wristed school board? Priceless!
Bully victims everywhere salute you.

-Steve Evil

Anonymous said...

Schoolyard bullys will be forever with us. I had to deal with one in Rockaway in 7th grade, my oldest son Jacob had to deal with one when he was in 3rd grade(he's now a HS) Last week Jesse had to deal with one.
The one thing we all have in common is the lesson learned that when you stand up to a bully they back down. They don't come back with knives or guns, that only happens in (bad) movies. Bullys are, for the most part cowards preying on who they suspose to be weak. It's the same in the school yard as the office, and anywhere else you'll find a coward..they're out there.
Jesse learned a great life lesson we as parents should ALL teach our children. Screw being politicaly correct, and stand up for yourself!
(It helps to have a good Friend by your side, but do it alone if you must.)

Alex Jay said...

When I got to the "Jews don't behave like this" line, the space behind my eyes went red.

Bar Kochba.
Moshe Dayan.
The Maccabees.
Max Baer.
Your pal (or "Yr. Pal") Harlan.

Jews have been striking back at bullies since the Amalekites.

(And hey; you're in Jersey? Dude. We've gotta get you down to Philcon next year--even if it's only for the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon after the Shabbes.)


Thank you -- but please don't post anonymously. I'd like to know who I'm speaking to.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I am a parent who is totally disgusted by the typically blind and/or hypocritical response to bullying most schools give (including my daughter's nursery school!) But what if your kid did not come out of the confrontation victorious? What if he had gotten creamed? How is physical confrontation a guaranteed solution? Shouldn't we be pressing (maybe through lawsuits to use a more stereotypical Jewish solution) for more active/responsible school policies? Look at the Virginia Tech situation -- the admistration just let that one ride too.


Responding to, "But what if your kid did not come out of the confrontation victorious? What if he had gotten creamed? How is physical confrontation a guaranteed solution?"

It wasn't about winning or losing. It was about standing up to the bully. I'm sorry you missed that point "Anonymous" (is that Mr. Anonymous? Ms. Anonymous?)

Shouldn't we be pressing (maybe through lawsuits to use a more stereotypical Jewish solution) for more active/responsible school policies? Look at the Virginia Tech situation -- the admistration just let that one ride too.


Responding to:
"Shouldn't we be pressing (maybe through lawsuits to use a more stereotypical Jewish solution) for more active/responsible school policies?"

There are new laws being written as we speak, which are PRECISELY why my attorney is so eager to sue this school. But that has ZERO to do with how a child--my child or yours--needs to handle and process a situation like this. A child must be taught to defend him/herself against a bully REGARDLESS of any laws, which are enforceable once they've been violated.


Unless I'm mistaken, this BLOGGER tool won't allow me to edit a comment once posted...

which are enforceable once they've been violated.

Should read:
which are ONLY enforceable once they've been violated.


Alex Jay:

Add to your list Meir Kahane, Sensei Rick Lenchus and tens of thousands of their students...

Everything that I know of value I learned from the Rav, my sensei, and our pal Harlan.

Anonymous said...

Law suits!? What ever happened to standing up for yourself and teaching our children how to stand up for themselves too? If Jesse had lost the fight he'd have also learned a good lesson(or 2). When you stand up and fight the good fight you can NEVER loose. Self respect and (self) honor can not be defeated by a bully or any other means unless you allow yourself to be beaten.
Win or loose he also learned that his father was willing to stand up for him no matter what. What price can you put on that...A son’s trust.
My son's trust and respect means everything to me. My knollage that he's grown to be an honorable and trustworthy man is one of my life’s greatest accomplishments.
When a bully used him as a punching bag, I stood behind my son, as Cliff did. I went to his school and his teachers as Cliff did. Different time, different school, different town, same result. They did nothing.
With my support, the next time that bully hit Jake, Jake hit back, hard, fast, and a lot more than once. Like it or not, problem solved. Like Jesse learned last week, Jake learned years ago, their fathers stand behind them. As this life lesson helped shape Jake into the honorable man he is today, this lesson will also shape Jesse. I count my blessing that I will be able to watch Jesse grow into an honorable man as I have been able to watch my son Jake.
Law suits to settle what a father should teach his son? I don’t think so.


Allow me to ammend my earlier comment:

Everything that I value I learned from the Rav, my sensei, our pal Harlan and MY BROTHER DAVE.

Anonymous said...

In an upcoming Papercutz Hardy Boys graphic novel (#12 "Dude Ranch O' Death"), Frank Hardy has to deal with series' bully, and makes short work of him. It's a seen with great impact, not unlike the tale of your son's recent battle.
In my official capacity as Supreme Marvel Zombie Emeritus, I take this opportunity to bestow upon you a special Kosher No-Prize for being a responsible father in a world gone mad!

Daniel Best said...

You did damn good. Luckily for me I had three older brothers who used to protect me when the bullies arrived, and eventually I learnt to handle myself. The advice you gave, and the way you handled it was damn perfect.

I like running into bullies now as they generally leave me alone. However, on the odd ocassion when I see them (usually at work) I remind them, "You're a bully. Never forget this, when it comes to bullies, I'm a bigger bully."

Kudos Cliff, kudos. Congrats to your son - he sounds like the kind of kid I'd have hung around with at school.

Anonymous said...

You both done good. It's nice to hear about a dad willing to go to bat for his boy. Makes me wonder where my old man was when I was being punched in the face once a week for defending my friend, Chris, the redheaded beanpole and major attractor of bullies (enjoying three fingers of Chivas with Chris' dad, no doubt). 'Course going into a meeting de facto Lawyer-ed-Up can instill all kinds of crazy confidence ;)

Michael Netzer said...

What a wonderful Story Clifford. A man shouldn't start a blog without such an experience. Gongratulations on the birth of your new child and a big Mazel Tov to the entire family!

I myself have been been bullied since I can remember. I was a small kid who walked funny and we all know how little kids like having fun, so you can imagine the hilarity I grew up with.

When I was your son's age, and upon arriving into a new neighborhood on the seam between a predominantly black housing project and predominantly white regular houses, closer to the inner city of Detroit, during my first few days there, I was stopped by a big black boy who wanted to take my neighbor's bike which I was riding. I told him it wasn't mine and I couldn't give it to him. He then warned me that if I didn't give it to him, he'd have to punch me out. So I repeated that it wasn't mine and that he could punch me out if he wanted to, but I couldn't give him the bike. This must have truly bewildered him because as he cocked his arm for the punch and let loose, he lost all the staged umph he had been posturing and landed a soft punch on my belly which wouldn't have awakened a dosing mosquito. Frustrated from the situation, he just turned around and went on his way.

I believe that when the story of this incident spread into the neighborhood, all the kids, black and white, realized that it doesn't behoove anyone to mess with me. Within a few weeks, the black bully and I became the best of friends. and for some strange reason, I became the only guy in that neighborhood who was able to play with both the black and the white kids.

Now I know if this was a Jewish neighborhood, the Yeshiva kids might not have let me off the hook so fast for such an erratic and unconventional display in the face of bullies. Thank God for small favors.

The main thing is that your boy has gained one fine experience to teach him about the life and intestinal fortitude... and you have a blog that is gathering together the exiled and dispersed of the Marvel Bullpen and comics community from the four corners of the Earth.

Congratulations and remember that we're keeping tabs on you, so keep it lively and always stand up like a hero, as I did, and don't let anybody take your bike!

Anonymous said...

Cliff, sometimes I wish you were my dad.

Also, make sure your son kicks the crap out of the assholes that are bullying Leo's kid too.


Cliff, sometimes I wish you were my dad.

I might be, Mark.

Also, make sure your son kicks the crap out of the assholes that are bullying Leo's kid too.

Leo doesn't believe in fighting. He'd rather sue and own them.

Brian (a.k.a. Hellstorm) said...

Congrats! I dealt with a bully much the same way in grade school, only it was my (teen-aged) neighbor who taught me how to fight, rather than my absentee ex-father.

The value of taking out a bully (preferably in front of an audience) cannot be over-estimated.

Just ask Ralphie from 'A Christmas Story'.

Anonymous said...

Great story, Cliff. What grade is your son in?

Anonymous said...

Powerful subject. Obviously Jesse is not the only kid that has been put in that position. Greg has had similar situations and I've given him the same advice, even if he'd get his ass kicked, he'd be more respected then if he'd done nothing. Fortunately for Greg, things didn't end violently. Most bullies just push people around because they think they can. Once someone stands up to them or confronts the cause for the treatment, they back down. I told Greg I didn't care if he ever got suspended defending himself. I told him I'd be proud. Greg is taking Jujitsu and Boxing now...he's pretty good at the Jujitsu. Needs more weight behind him for the boxing though. Anywho, we should get together.



Tell Greg his Uncle Sensei will be happy to give him some pointers. Tom told me about his boxing--bravo!--I'm happy to fill in the gaps. -Cliff


Great story, Cliff. What grade is your son in?

My boy is in 7th grade, Yudi. And I miss your smiling face.

Anonymous said...

No one messes with the METHS. METHS = Maccabees
METHS = Striking arm
I am so honored to be a part of the Meth Tribe's history



Stand up, people: Sensei Lenchus is in the house!

Oos, Sensei. We're honored by your presence here.

Anonymous said...

Ooss Sensei (Say's Uncle Dave as he bows with Respect.)

Anonymous said...

Hey Cliff:

Now *this* is the Meth I know. The white hat rides high in the saddle again, only this time, it's the next generation. Good for your boy. As much as you abhor violence (wink, nudge), sometimes hard decisions have to be made. Just try to make sure the boy uses his new-found powers only for good, just like Daddy.

So when are you going to publish my war stories about you?

David M.


Now *this* is the Meth I know. The white hat rides high in the saddle again, only this time, it's the next generation. Good for your boy. As much as you abhor violence (wink, nudge), sometimes hard decisions have to be made. Just try to make sure the boy uses his new-found powers only for good, just like Daddy.

Good to hear from you old friend... And I *do* abhor violence. I'm just good at it.

So when are you going to publish my war stories about you?


David M.

Anonymous said...

Cliff: You have done the impossible! No, not the wonderful craziness you are now imparting to your kids, but the fact that you have not only gotten me to read a blog, (yes Cliff you're my first!), what a way to lose your cyber blogging virginity!, but I am actually responding and posting my message!(they said it couldn't be done!) I'm happy Jessie prevailed, I don't condone frivolous lawsuits or unneccessary violence! For the record if Jessie and you are pleased with his actions...I support you both! I don't think I would sue the school, and I wouldn't condemn a fine institution because of one student who was a bully! I hope all involved, including the bully, Jessie and the school have all learned an important lesson, and in the future stop an incident like this from happening again! PS can I sue for you using my name twice without my permission. I could use the dough! Fondly,Leo the Lawyer!

Anonymous said...

A true dialogue of the human experience here. Your fatherly advice was just, 'righteous' and, most likely, measured (is the bully in the hospital?). Score a point for the good guy. Kudos to you both ... well done, indeed!

Anonymous said...

Next time, send Jesse to my website. Stand by for the shameless plug (drumroll):

Anonymous said...


I think you took care of the situation sweetly, concisely and in the end boosted your son's self esteem immensely. I see bullying as much a parents fault as the kid. What are the "bully's" parents like? It's good that any child knows how and when to stand up for themself and you just taught Jesse an invaluable lesson.

Now...will you adopt me and teach me to stick up for myself????

Jesse...5 star rating from this corner.

MCF said...

Times certainly change. 23 years ago I'd often find myself in my elementary school principal's office, where both the principal and my teachers would be telling my parents, "If he'd just hit them back once they'd leave him alone." Looking back, I always thought that irresponsible and unprofessional, like instead of looking out for the kids the staff was saying it's the victim's fault. Your tale lends support to the analogy that school is more like prison than people realize, a primal environment where your place on the food chain is determined by taking out the Alphas.

I never fought back BECAUSE of the fear of escalation, and these days weapons are a legitimate concern. But learning to defend ourselves at an early age is a key survival skill, so it seems like you've imparted a valuable lesson on your son.

Anonymous said...

When I was in Grade 8, I went through a similar situation, and my father gave me similar advice.

As has been suggested elsewhere in this comment thread, it is a turning point in a young boy's life and it does serve as a source of great pride, both personally and in my father.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about it, as I look back now, was the fact that my dad, anticipating I would stand up to the bully after school, had left work and as waiting for me in his car after a teacher had broken up the "fight."

Anonymous said...

Bully's are ultimately cowards, and a cowardly leader is almost certainly a bully. What I don't get is why the school either (a) refused to see that or (b) saw it and did nothing - THEN BLAMED THE VICTIM for standing up for himself.

"Take out the Leader" could be a t-shirt that the Hebrew Hammer wears if Jonathan Kesselman ever makes a sequel*.

(*no, I don't know the guy, but the movie rocks!)

Duplez said...

Thank You Mr. Meth

Your son's adventure has given me some hope. I've been seeing signs in my son's school of like-treatment by some of the kids and an equal amount of ignorance from the school.
My son is five and has just finished junior kindergarten. He attends an international school here in Indonesia. I teach at the same school ... so I see the administration's foolish-posturing from two very frustrating sides.
The school pays lip service to the problem of bullies,but offers no real solutions.
Your solution was eloquent and timeless.
Having dealt with bullies as a kid, and as a teacher, I know the best way is for the kids to sort it out ... in an 'as socially-acceptable" way as possible'.
I'll try to keep an eye on my son's progress and step in when I'm needed.

Keep well