A crazy American high school culture of bullies and the bullied.

Jessie Klein

The book “The Bully Society” by Jessie Klein shows that some of the school shooters of recent years were motivated by revenge against bullying. She also paints a picture of a rather nutty society where students are called “gay” who are not “gay”, and she describes the competition for buying the right (and expensive) items among girls to stay popular. She has done some good research, and her conclusions are sometimes convincing.
Here are some highlights of the book that illustrate the nuttiness of school society. Some of the items are mild, some are very serious.

  • Ryan Patrick Halligan, a boy with speech and motor coordination difficulties, hanged himself in his home. He had been exchanging “instant Messages” on his computer with a popular girl. But when the eighth-grade school year began:
    “Ryan approached his new girlfriend in person. In front of her friends, she told him he was just a loser and she did not want anything to do with him. He found out that her friends and her thought it would be funny to make him think she liked him and to get him to say a lot of personal, embarrassing stuff, in the IM messages, which she then sent to her friends.
    Ryan also was cyber bullied and bullied by others, and perhaps that drove him to his suicide.
  • Shantique, from an impoverished southern rural area, talked of what occurred in her school bus. The powerful girls sat in the back, and controlled the whole bus. They were particularly horrible to one girl because her family had even less money than those of the other girls on the bus. “They picked on her mercilessly, extorted money from her…”
  • Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold became famous for killing many fellow students in a massacre at Columbine High School. Brooks Brown, who was a friend of Dylan Klebold’s said that Eric and Dylan were seen as weak, nerdy, and weird. Eric had a slight deformity so when he undressed in gym class, the bullies were ready to mock him for that. In addition, “At lunchtime, the jocks would kick our chairs. or push us down onto the table from behind. They would knock our food trays onto the floor, trip us, or throw food as we were walking by….In the hallways, they would push kids into lockers and call them names while their friends stood by and laughed.”
    One female student recounted how some jocks spotted her talking to Dylan Klebold in the school hallway between classes. After she walked away from him, one of them slammed her against the lockers and called her a ‘fag lover’. (Dylan was not gay).
    One member of the football team explained that “Columbine is a good, clean place except for those rejects. Most kids didn’t want them there. Sure we teased them. But what do you expect with kids who come to school with weird hairdos and horns on their hats? It’s not just the jocks; the whole school’s disgusted with them…If you want to get rid of someone, usually you tease ’em. So the whole school would call them homos.”
    As revenge, Jessie Klein points out, Eric and Dylan decided to be the biggest bullies of all.
  • At Anderson High in Austin Texas, one girl explained “Everybody’s really close-minded about who they will and will not associate with,” said one girl, “and if you’re not wearing these clothes and driving these cars, and if you don’t have Mommy and Daddy’s credit card and your own little Structure card, then you can’t hang out with us, you know?”
    My own feeling is that these types of cliques are inevitable, and that the outsiders can form their own bands of friends, in theory at least. Its known as freedom of association, and kids should not get their feelings hurt too badly by being shut out of a clique.
  • In upper-middle-class Glen Ridge, New Jersey, a group of High School students raped a seventeen year old developmentally disabled girl–a classmate who idolized them–with a broomstick and a baseball bat while others cheered them on. Boys were teased for being unmanly if they were unwilling to participate. This is certainly an odd idea of masculinity – to me, being a man means having characteristics like courage and responsibility.
  • In numerous of the school shootings, young boys shot girls who rejected them. This impulse can start at a young age, in 1998 thirteen-year-old Mitchell Johnson, angry after his eleven-year-old girlfriend, Candace Porter, “dumped him”, targeted Candace in his shooting massacre; five others were killed, all of them female.
  • Lola, from a white upper-class suburban school, said that “Boys refer to you as bitch, slut, whore, every day.”
  • Overweight Natasha, from a middle-class suburb, was called “fat” and “cow”. When she walked into class, she said, some students would “moo,” and others would say, “Hold on, earthquake.”
  • Michael Carneal

    Michael Carneal was called “gay” because he wouldn’t be mean to the girls.” He later killed three of the girls–presumably to prove a point.

  • In the Mepham High School football team hazing case, in Long Island, the male victims were anally raped and forced into simulated enactments of gay sex.
    Another incident, this time post-graduation, happened at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, where naked prisoners were forced to simulate gay sex and were sometimes photographed doing so by their American captors.
    Two things strike me here – First of all, if gay sex is disapproved of, why do these bullies force it on their victims, and secondly, we have produced people who can cause an international incident that puts American soldiers in danger, by this strange behavior.
  • Phoebe Prince, a girl from a small town in Ireland who attended a high school in Massachusetts, was bullied so unmercifully that she hung herself in a stairway. After her death, some bullies posted vicious remarks on her facebook page. (I have an entire post on what happened to her in this blog.) Interestingly, part of her problem was that she was too popular with two boys that were claimed by other girls. At least that was one of the factors that started the bullying. She was not fat, not ugly, did not wear big glasses etc. In fact, one study says that none of these factors are what attracts bullying. Just being weak is the common thread.

If evil is to feel pleasure in the face of other people’s pain and to feel pain in the face of other people’s pleasure, then Eric and Dylan’s smiling and giggling as they caused their peers–and countless others–unspeakable pain and loss — fits the definition. Everyday bullying, though of a much different magnitude, may also fit the definition.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were said to be obsessed with Nazi history, shouting “Heil Hitler” periodically and wearing swastikas; they planned their massacre for Hitler’s birthday. Perhaps they identified with dominators, (such as Nazis) and not with victim status.

I should say at this point that not all schools have bullies, I went to one suburban highschool near New York, and despite being very bullyable, can remember only one incident where I was targeted. At another school, I was indeed targeted, as was my twin. He fought back, I did not. His fighting back actually worked with one bully, who after being caught in a headlock left us alone from then on.
Jessie’s book convinces me that some of our high schools have a culture that would shame a Neanderthal clan, and the culture has to be made more humane. But from my family’s experience, other schools are supportive of their students, and produce very good-natured graduates.

Jessie Klein’s leftist notions do come though sometimes, such as when she blames Ronald Reagan for contributing to bullying in the schools (I think the argument is that he created a more capitalist society with a lesser safety net, which puts parents under stress, which affects kids. My feeling is that Reagan did not shred the safety net, and our payments for everything from food stamps to medical care have helped lead to current trillions of dollars of debt. If you don’t like stress, don’t vote for those who ruin our economy). There are limits to the therapeutic state, though Jessie does describe a program in Norway that cut bullying by 50%. I think though that no matter what we do, that other 50% of bullying will be with us – bullying even occurs in other primates, and it seems to go with a type of personality that takes pleasure in it.
(In fact, it occurs in adults, but not as openly as in school. It was after graduating school, and college, and grad school that I really attracted the attention of all sorts of bullies, who found a way to attack without paying a penalty. I am still amazed that these people are out there.)

The Bully Society by Jessie Klein (2012)

A reader forwarded this link to me: http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/bullying-phoebe-prince-teens.htm
which has some interesting insights on bullying


2 thoughts on “A crazy American high school culture of bullies and the bullied.

  1. Patriarchal society that we are, its dependent on diminishing others to elevate the self to some sort of status. Pathetic as it is, its a plague on all humanity. To break away from patriarchal social order, is to risk threat of non-protection. The price we all pay for this is assessed by taxation, because it is taxing to everyones health and well being to be under siege. Nonetheless, evil knows the arrangement and abuses its power – resulting in harm regardless of assessments paid. The result of abuse of power is profits and social inequality along with the propaganda necessarily controlled by those who are invested in maintaining the system. Being a spiritual, fair and just person is not valued, instead Fear Mongering or the ability to instill fear is viewed as achieving respect even if this view is not in agreement with the actual definition of respect. To put it bluntly, generations of minds know no other way of coping with abuse than continuing to engage in it, therefore the best hope for a future without violence and degradation is to change educational system to value women and girls as the 50% actual representative that they are in the population. Doing so does not signify devaluation of fathers or their social standing, it simply means that men themselves must acknowledge the harm caused by neglecting to mention that not everything on this planet belongs to them alone and that in the past they have failed to make it clear that partnership includes both genders which must be represented equally for societal morality to develop in balanced manner.

  2. Unfortunately bullying is not limited at all to males. Women can be big offenders. It is true of course that many societies exist that oppress women, but I don’t really think ours is a good example of this. There are women in powerful positions in government, in business, etc. I’ve bicycled with men and women across half the US, and there was mutual respect etc. I think there is a danger in the sexualization of society – that this devalues women.

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