And the answer may very well be “both.”
(There is another Star Wars post coming. Soon, I expect. This will not be that post, but I could not pass up this image.)
A couple of months ago one of my sixth grade boys attacked me in the office. I didn’t mention it here. It wasn’t a big deal. The kid was in the midst of a massive emotional meltdown and he has trouble controlling his temper on the best of days. I wasn’t mad. We had to put him up for expulsion, but when a kid’s special education disability can be found to have caused the behavior that led to an expulsion, that kid is frequently sent directly back to school and everyone involved knew that that was exactly what was going to happen and it did.
(I understand that this policy may prove controversial. I’m not super interested in defending it or denigrating it at the moment. It’s just how things work in our current system. Roll with it.)
At his expulsion hearing, I went over what had happened and spent a few minutes talking with the kid about things he could have done to make the situation work better. I made it very clear to both him and his mother that if he’s in a situation where he feels like he’s about to lose his temper, I want him to come talk to me if he needs to, and that under most circumstances my office door is going to be open to him whenever he needs it to be. Since he came back, I’ve checked in with him on my own two or three days a week, and he’s been referred to me once or twice a week as well.
Basically what I’m saying is I see this kid every day for one reason or another, and I spend a fair percentage of my copious spare time talking him off of ledges. But! He hasn’t gotten into a fight or hit anyone since he came back. In fact, to the best of my recollection he hasn’t even had a day of home isolation since he came back. This represents incredible progress.
He needs a name. We’ll call him David.
So today I got a phone call from one of the special ed teachers that David had been sent to her room by another teacher on a time-out and that he was insisting on talking to me. I went to the classroom and found him in the hallway about halfway to meltdown mode– hands clenched into fists, breathing heavily, pacing around, the works.
I got the story out of him fairly quickly, and this is the part where telling this story gets a bit difficult, because I don’t quite know how to describe this other boy, who we’ll call Jonathan. Jonathan is probably gay. He certainly acts the part; he’s noticeably effeminate and he plays up his effeminacy (is that a word) to a degree I have literally never seen from a twelve-year-old before. He gets picked on by the other kids from time to time, which will surprise no one, but what may surprise you is that we’ve had to deal with him for sexual harassment issues before. For example, we had a big fooferall on Monday just this week because Jonathan was blowing kisses at several of the other boys in the room– a fact that they did not react to with calm equanimity.
Put the pitchforks down. As I’ve said many, many times, bullying is an infinitely more complicated issue than society is ever willing to admit, and frequently what people might want to point at and screech “bullying!” is actually a situation with multiple bad actors. This is absolutely one of those situations.
At any rate, David has gotten into an argument with Jonathan, and rather than punch Jonathan in the face he’s left the room, gone somewhere else, and asked to talk to me. He’s upset with Jonathan because he doesn’t like “that gay stuff” and blah blah blah garden-variety middle-school homophobia. Am I happy about it? No, absolutely not. Am I willing to pass over GVMSH because at this precise moment with this precise young man right now we’re working on don’t punch people in their faces, a lesson that he seems to actually be learning? Yes. Yes I am. Judge me as you see fit.
I get a description of what has happened out of him. As it turns out, what specifically set him off was Jonathan telling him, loudly, in class, that he was going to “do a booty porn” with him.
You read that right. Booty porn. David does not want to be in a booty porn! In fact, he quite badly wants to punch the faces of those who suggest that he should be in booty porns. But he has been told not to punch faces, so instead he left the room.
I deposit David in the office, tell the office to sit on him and let him calm down for a few minutes, and go find Jonathan. I have a problem here; I can calm David down easily enough, especially given a few minutes. What I can’t do is put him back in the classroom with this kid, and if Jonathan really suggested he was going to fuck this boy in the ass and videotape it– because hell if I can figure out what else “do a booty porn” might mean– then we’re right back to sexual harassment issues from Jonathan, and my day, much like an erect penis, has just gotten longer and harder.
(I’m very sorry.)
I talk to Jonathan in the hallway. A bunch of the boys realize immediately why I’m there and a bunch of hands shoot up from kids who want to tell me what happened. I wave them off. Jonathan comes outside. His story is largely the same as David’s in terms of the mutual harassment and name-calling that started the dispute, and then he says something that stops me dead.
“I told him I was gonna do a bully report, and then he got mad and left the room.”
Say “bully report” a few times really fast. Now say “booty porn” a few times really fast.
oh what the hell am I doing with my life.
Now, here’s the thing: Jonathan is just clever enough that he could be lying. And David, as much as I like the kid, is just volatile enough that he could have put the worst possible spin on what he thought Jonathan was saying.
Do you see where this is going?
I had to pull, one by one, and at random, about half of this poor teacher’s class into the hallway, to ask them if they heard the words bully report or booty porn.
The results? 50/50.
And then I had to go talk to my boss, and say the words booty porn to him a bunch of times, and explain to him why I was resigning immediately and refusing to deal with any of this nonsense any longer.