What Lessons Can Be Learned from the Carmel High School Bullying Story?

by Kent Sterling

A comment on the last post about the Carmel High School Bullying Story that is currently dominating the news in Indianapolis brought back memories of high school.  Here is the full comment:

“They were swiping freshman asses with credit cards…It is serious, but in regards to everything going on, this should be a minor story. Actions are necessary but they do not need to be publicized. You’re right Kent.”

The part that caught my attention is, “…in regards to everything going on, this should be a minor story.”  When I was in high school, there was an endless supply of bizarre incidents that parents, teachers, administrators, and media of which they were either ignorant or more comfortable not acknowledging.  But if the kids threatened a walk out to protest the layoffs of several popular teachers, everyone went bananas.

My interpretation of the comment is that there are things going on at Carmel (and likely every other high school in America) that would make parents cringe at the minimum, and likely march with torches in search of someone to be held accountable.  Adults know about this thing, and so we are waving our arms all over the place and shrieking about the injustice of freshmen being abused by seniors.

For the kids inside the halls of high schools, we look like complete idiots.  We are giving authority figures the bad name we deserve.  When I was in high school, it was kids and drugs.  Students were heading to their cars by the hundreds and getting high during lunch.  The school responded by hiring a security guard.  He was five-foot nothing and weighed a metric ton.  He wore a uniform for a couple of weeks, and the kids adjusted their schedule a little.  The guard then began wearing tie-dyed shirts to try to fit in.  A 38-year-old cannonball in a tie-dyed shirt was more obviously out-of-place than a cop.  Our response was, “Really?  Are you people this damn stupid?”

The kids who enjoyed getting stoned continued to sit behind the tinted windows of their cars and do what they had done forever because they understood what we all knew – if we kept everything quiet, the people in charge would let the students get away with anything.  There are 4,000 students at Carmel High School.  It’s not easy to control 4,000 kids who have not learned anything about real-life consequences yet.  It’s all done with smoke and mirrors, and the more the kids get to see behind the curtain, the less control the administrators have.

Parents want to trust that they made the right choice in sending their kid to a school.  That is our end of the bargain.  Without it, we want someone’s head.  The kids and the administrators form an unspoken alliance to keep the parents in the dark.  Everyone gets to do what they like, and the parents are none the wiser.  If principals look hard enough for kids engaging in evil, they will surely find it.  Then what?  With 4,000 kids, God knows how many complications you might find.  Better to control it – keep it under wraps, than spend the rest of your life suspending kids and meeting with parents. 

These kids aren’t tools.  Above all else, they get the push and pull of authority.  When I was a senior, some kids threatened the walk-out I mentioned a few paragraphs ago.  The principle problem was the layoff of the athletic trainer – a good guy named Rex Sharp.  The athletes had gotten to know Rex, and wanted to show their support for him.  The principal of the school called several of us into the office the morning of the walkout, and asked what we knew and what could be done to stop it.  I was the only true subversive in the group, so I spoke up, “You don’t have anything to worry about.  There won’t be any walkout.”

Mr. Renshaw looked at me with some doubt.  I said, “There isn’t going to be any organized walkout.  If there are ten guys, I would be surprised.  I can’t stop ten guys from running out the back door to the football field.”  By letting him think that I would stop it, I earned some grace.  Later in the year, I needed him to look the other way, and he obliged.  That’s the way high school works.  Help the principal look good, and he’ll give you a pass when you need it.  Nice little allegory for dealing with authority in the real world too.

Maybe I’m a vigilante, but if my son had been one of the abused freshmen, my first visit would not have been to the principal, and it wouldn’t have taken me a month to get some justice.

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