Customer Reviews: Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy
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on March 10, 2013
As a former teacher, I find myself struggling tremendously with Sticks And Stones, which has received quite good reviews.

One thing that is quite confusing is the "great equalizing" of bully and bullied. Yes, I imagine many bullies are depressed themselves, and I'm sure many are also suffering from other issues. But the notion that a bully and a bullied child suffer equally is simply wrong. A bullied child learns fear, dreads school, comes to believe that no one can help, and often becomes socially withdrawn. The fact that a bullied child may recover from this (which Bazelton seems to suggest) is nice, but why (in a society where every kid has to win a trophy and every child has to have an equal part in a school play) is protecting children from bullies that one thing that seems to make so many people talk about "equalization?"

Moreover, I found Bazelton's notion that most buillies "grow out of it naturally" is completely wrong. Not sure how many workplaces she's been in, but there are always plenty of grown-up bullies on display. Did they just suddenly decide to become bullies for their 30th or 40th birthday? Probably not -- they probably learned many lessons of intimidation on the playground.

While I was teaching, I found myself in meetings with parents of bullies, and 80% of time those parents said one of two things: "My child is not a bully" (no matter how many notes or proof a teacher offered) or, much sadder, "I know he is a bully but I have no control over him." The idea that parents are not involved in how their children grow is bizarre, and unless a parent of a bully steps in to assist in guiding his or her child, school alone simply cannot help.

But the hypothesis that is truly unsettling to me is the idea that children should somenow not be protected by bullies so they can develop "problem solving skills." Throughout history, there have always been people who have suggested that the only way to deal with a bully is to actually punch them out in public, but other than beating up your bully, exactly how is a child supposed to "problem solve" a bully away? If parents or schools can't stop the bully, and the bully will not stop himself or herself, how exactly is the bullied child supposed to do it?

One thing I do agree with: the idea of "mediation" -- putting the bullied and the bully together to try to talk it out -- is absurb. Again, why is the bullied child forced to carry so much of this burden? Why can't more be done to stop bullying and phase it out of school life?

Bazelton's book is readable and has some interesting insights, but I'm just terribly uncomfortable with some of her research.
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on March 31, 2013
If only there was a way to give this book ZERO stars. In spite of her research, the author seems to have no idea what bullying is about. She begins with a personal anecdote, wherein two friends dump her over the summer. Her feelings were deeply hurt but eventually she found a new friend. Although this is NOT bullying, the incident seems to inform the rest of her report. So reviewers need to tell her: Bullying is about the abuse of power, and about relentlessly degrading/harming another person. When is that ever OK?? Why would that ever be acceptable behavior?? And yet she reaches the weirdly cautious conclusion that "maybe we should not hover, and let children work out their own problems; or maybe bullying teaches children resiliency." This summary is consistent with parenting practices seen throughout society: parents are afraid to be grown ups and take on the hard work of shaping their child's character. Apparently parents no longer say, "Our family values kindness and tolerance, and what you are doing is wrong. You will stop immediately; you will apologize and make amends." Heaven forbid! Acknowledge my child is in error? Not my precious snowflake. The author's conclusion says more about current parenting wimpy-ness than she realizes. THIS is the book's take-home message: children who are being bullied, you are on your own, because the bullies' parents are once again encouraged to avoid their responsibilities not only to their child, but to society.
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Emily Bazelon is apparently interested in bullying because (a) her friends "fired" her in the eighth grade and (b) her new best friend after that, Allie, was bullied by her former friends and their allies, although Bazelon admits she has no memory of Allie's worst experience of bullying, even though she must have been there at the time. To her credit, Bazelon does admit that her experience did not qualify as bullying, but her prologue just serves to give us a hint that perhaps Bazelon isn't really tuned in to what bullying is all about. And she spends the rest of the book proving it.

The next six chapters are alternating stories of three teens who experienced bullying. The first is about seventh-grader Monique who inadvertently got the same hairstyle as a cousin of one of eighth grade mean girls on her bus and was harassed and humiliated mercilessly for it for months afterwards. Her mother and her grandmother took their concerns over Monique's treatment to the school, but didn't receive satisfying responses or resolution, so they took their grievances up the food chain to the police, the superintendent, the school board and the local government, all without receiving satisfaction. Bazelon's conclusion seems to be that the mother and grandmother were largely responsible for Monique's problems because they made such a stink over it (although she certainly doesn't fault their protective reasons for doing so). Bazelon further concludes that Monique's later problems weren't so much bullying as just "drama" because the second group of girls to harass her were her same age, and that Monique was also partly responsible because she escalated the situation by retaliating. Monique's problems were finally solved, according to Bazelon, in large part by joining a boxing program where she learned to stand up for herself.

The second story is that of Jacob who was bullied for being gay. Again, his school was almost completely unresponsive to his father's complaints. While Bazelon seems more sympathetic to Jacob (although there are hints that he too brought it on himself by being "flamboyant"), she still seems to think that bullying is not such a big deal because most kids - like Jacob - eventually get over it and lead satisfying lives without sinking inexorably into depression or suicidality (although that does happen, and even those who survive carry lasting scars, as Bazelon admits). Nevermind that Jacob was basically forced from his school, it all came out okay in the end and that's all that matters.

The final story is entitled "Flannery", which you might think odd as you realize that it's the story of the "bullycide" of Phoebe Prince in South Hadley, Connecticut and that Flannery was one of those accused of bullying Phoebe. So how does the story of an accused bully get mixed in with stories of kids who were bullied? The discrepancy becomes clear as we read on and learn that Bazelon doesn't believe in "bullycide", especially not in the case of Phoebe Prince. Phoebe wasn't bullied to death; she was a troubled girl with a history of problems who hit on other girls' boyfriends and who, at most, suffered a few days of admittedly unpleasant retaliation. Killing herself had little to do with the treatment she received at school and online, but was rather due to her own psychological problems. At least, that's Bazelon's story and she's sticking to it.

Bazelon knows all this because (a) that's what all the kids at school told her, especially Flannery and the other unfairly accused kids whose lives were utterly ruined by a bunch of normal teenage drama and (b) because of a raft of confidential, personal documents regarding Phoebe and the criminal case that just happened to end up in her possession. Needless to say, Bazelon dismisses the very notion that Phoebe was harassed and attacked for three straight months - it pretty much boils down to a few incidents of rude name calling and one girl throwing an empty soda can at her. And whatever harassment there was couldn't account for Phoebe's problems since such problems predated her arrival in South Hadley (the idea that Phoebe's prior problems might have made her a more vulnerable - and hence appealing - target for the bullies (thereby making their predation even more malicious) never seems to occur to Bazelon). Furthermore, no mention is made of the gang rapes that allegedly happened at the party at Phoebe's house - allegedly instigated by the poor, maligned Sean. The fact of the party itself is just further evidence of Phoebe's instability and attention getting.

Bazelon then flits through some chapters on bullying "solutions" and interventions - especially the Olweus method which she spills a lot of ink promoting but very little actually describing. She throws in a few more examples from her personal research on bullying incidents to show how such methods "work". Most of the interventions sound very behavioral and frankly rather cheesy for high school students, focusing on rewarding kids for good behavior rather than looking at the underlying dynamics and motivation of bullies themselves.

And then we take a trip out to Facebook headquarters (where the representative believes that Facebook has given her a great deal because she gets to leave every day at 5:30 to be with her baby, as long as she works from home from 8:00 to midnight - talk about bullied) to discuss the issue of online bullying. Bazelon is adamant that schools simply can't be expected to deal with bullying and monitoring students' every interaction, but apparently online social network providers can be.

Overall, the book is a disorganized jumble of utterly unhelpful musings and polemics from someone who has clearly never experienced the ongoing hostility, degradation and intentional cruelty of bullying or the powerlessness to respond, nor does she have a great deal of sympathy for those who have. She admits that bullying involves an imbalance of power, but she seems unable (or unwilling) to grasp the significance of that. Expecting bully victims to stand up to their bullies and work out the situation for themselves is rather like expecting rape victims to stand up to their rapists and work it out. I do agree with Bazelon that punishments such as suspensions and expulsions should be the method of very last resort, but still, the focus must be on the perpetrator and it must be made clear that the behavior will not be tolerated; the school will maintain a safe environment for all students and any who cannot or will not respect that are not welcome.

One of the biggest problems with bullying is the lack of adult response, or even adult response which favors the bully. A girl at my school (nearly 30 years ago now) who was harassed (sexually and otherwise) by several boys was told by our vice principal to "kick them where it counts". She actually took the advice, only to find that she was the one suspended for it (by the same vice principal, no less) while nothing ever happened to the boys. Things have gotten better for bullied youth precisely because more adults recognize the problem and do their best to intervene. But to Bazelon, adults getting involved seems to be part of the problem. I'm afraid that Bazelon's book gives - albeit not quite intentionally - fuel to the fire of those who believe that bully victims need to learn to "man up" and fight back, while offering very little - or even scaring away - those who want to support bully victims but who don't know how or feel that their hands are tied.
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VINE VOICEon March 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
We all know the doggerel verse about sticks and stones is just a crock of bull manure. A heaping mountain of manure. Words can build or destroy esteem. Words are infinitely more powerful than any tangible weapon such as a stick or a stone.

Bullying is an issue that is very trenchant for me personally. I came across this book and while the topic is one of great interest to me, I was glad I was able to get it without buying it. I got it simply to go over some of the salient points that were raised.

There were a lot of things that bothered me. One was what sounded to me like condoning the bully. As one who was bullied, I know all too well how it feels to have adults condone the bully; blame the victim; dread school and become one who tried to keep under the radar and by no longer saying anything in class. I know all too well how bullying can kill or maim one's self image and how blame the victim comments are just as harmful. I say, NEVER blame the victim. NEVER condone the bully. NEVER make light of what a bully is doing. Ignoring bullies is poor advice and it usually doesn't work. Bullies refuse to be ignored. They just step up their campaign against the peers they have targeted.

A side issue that I'd like to speak to is that we, as a society have reached a point where by creating the false impression of a "level playing field" which doesn't exist. In so doing, we reward mediocrity at best, poor performance at worst by giving everybody a trophy or a certificate or a prize for every little thing (some schools have been known to give out awards for completing routine tasks!) Although well intentioned, many children are not fooled by this effort and many feel that such prizes don't count. I was one who felt this way and whenever I received a "level playing field" prize, I invariably disposed of it. I found such "prizes" condescending. They were insulting. The message I got was, "you can't win a real prize in a real competition, so just settle for this." I was either going to win a real prize that I earned justly and honestly in a real competition or I would do without. Simple as that.

The sad thing is even in this case, bullies will use these fake awards as yet another way of targeting and taunting and tormenting their victims. They can mock what the prize is for; how "pathetic" their target is to the point that the only thing they can win is some piffling trifle being passed off as a prize.

As another reviewer on the U.S. boards stated, I just don't agree that most bullies naturally outgrow their bullying ways. Not so. The internet is full of them. I have learned from others that there are authors who stalk people who pan their works. In some cases, the authors hound the reviewers and say cruel things. Work places also have them. I had one job wherein a clique (yes, cliques do exist among adult groups) would pressure others out of their assigned seating row during a training class. The clique would deposit people's things in the back of the room and refuse to allow anybody to sit in their territory, their turf. There have been instances of people blocking the path of others; of cruel negative comments and trying to get others in trouble. The behaviors follow some into adulthood, sad to say.

Stalkers are major bullies. Internet bullying can include but is not limited to the following:

*flame wars
*trying to out people's identity
*publicly identifying people online
*airing people's business from other sites
*posting embarrassing pictures and rude comments online
*spreading hateful rumors and gossip about people online
*people who own discussion boards who allow and in some cases encourage flame wars
*people who own discussion boards who allow members to attack another or others

Bullies, like pimples can pop up anywhere. They don't disappear once a person graduates from high school. Their venue is not limited to playgrounds and classrooms. From the playground to the work place; social groups; classes; meetings; trips; any group you can think of. I also agree with those who feel that putting the bully and the targeted peer together sounds good in theory, but seldom if ever works in practice. Again, the onus is placed on the shoulders of the child/ren being bullied. All too often bullied children feel they have no recourse. I'm still having trouble with a lot of the hypotheses presented in this book.
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on August 31, 2013
Quite well-written and journalistically professional/balanced as a book-- Emily Bazelon is a good journalist-- but that's also its problem. Her take is too shallow (in large part from low experience and too much integration of the big picture like an in-depth news story) for a book about bullies and stopping their behavior. As such, it takes too much "expert" input for granted. For an expose about what was really going on with Phoebe Prince-- that she was far less mentally well than anyone thought and adult neglect there was just about criminal-- this is the book to get. For discussions of specific anti-bullying programs (e.g., Olweus and PBIS) in real life and how Facebook actually deals with such behavior in cyberspace, it's pretty good and illuminating too. She knocks it out of the park there. No question. However, the unstated and unexamined assumption is the morally ambiguous one that bullies are misunderstood and kids are helpless without expert adult input to solve this (which underlies "conflict resolution" and the like). Other things may get some attention as worth a try, but either whuppin' a bully's butt ("conflict management," properly) or punishing him so that dosn't abuse other people definitely don't. She pre-emptively dismisses such punishment up front a deceptively easy and too hard to really do. And it's only "bullying" if there's no resistance still going on (that would be mutually-aggravating "drama," which could be anything from a disagreement to gang warfare, as we're told kids and Olweus differentiate in the book) and the bully is simply exploiting his target for kicks (although some lowlife abusing someone helpless IS pretty bad). Pretty much, it reduces bullying to Snidely Whiplash tormenting someone screaming "Leave me alone!" for the fun of it and that we can stop it by learning (with the proper adult expertise and patience) to be nicer to and more considerate of each other ("Kumbaya," not moral absolutes, need apply). Need a book about how to stop bullies? This isn't it.
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VINE VOICEon April 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The other night I was watching the Discovery channel and they had a program about a pride of lines. It was birthing season and some herd of beasts was giving birth, hundreds of calves popping out, struggling for balance on wobbly legs. Although fully sated,the lions killed the babies just for fun. It got me thinking that perhaps had the author watched some nature shows, she would have gotten a clue about predation. An attorney and journalist, she adopts the contrarian position that efforts should be made to understand and reach out to the bullies and that the victims somehow triggered these attacks. She even goes to the trouble of including a sympathetic portrait of one of the defendants ultimately responsible for the tragic death of Massachusetts teen Phoebe Prince. Predators target the weak and vulnerable, the ones that can't fight back. While I understand cruel instinct in animals, I am unwilling to give humans a free pass.

It is time to move from the grey to black and white, right and wrong. Bullying is wrong, period. There may be explanations but not excuses. Instead of forcing progressive agenda that many may find objectionable, the focus should be on the act of of the bully, not the persona of the bullied. Assault, for instance, is assault, it is the act of causing physical injury. To me, it is irrelevant who the victim is, male, female, gay, straight, old, young, black, white. It is the act and the intention to cause harm that is criminalized. No one says you have to befriend someone who is weird, ugly or picks their nose. But you have no right to hurt them. Leave them alone or face the consequences when you don't.

There are so many criminal laws in this country, no one can give you an exact count. But there are only ten commandments without exceptions or defenses. We don't need any more laws, especially divisive ones that suggest harm to one class of people is somehow worse than the identical harm to another.

I take issue with the author's contention that bullying victims are glorified. People are correctlly outraged and upset when they actually witness bullying, such as the incident in western New York where an elderly attendant was mercilessly mocked by a group of punks. No one is perfect and last I checked mental illness isn't voluntary and it isn't criminal. I would be surprised if this author wouldn't be offended if someone suggested that a victim of sexual attack asked for it because of the way she was dressed or danced or drank alcohol or did drugs. Shouldn't the bullied be afforded the same consideration?

I understand the argument that the bullies in the Prince case, for instance, did not actually kill the victim. Perhaps they were not phsyically present but the tragic consequences were certainly reasonably foreseeable. They made her life hell and she had to escape. Their unrelenting sadism drove her over the edge and I, for one, have no sympathy for the devils.
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This book made me uncomfortable. I sensed far too much sympathy for the perpetrators, and they are entitled to none of it. There seemed something dishonest in this presentation, in my humble opinion. I have known bullies in my childhood. I have known them as an adult in the workplace. Those with strength can move on and enjoy their own successes, allowing the guilty to continue wallowing in their own poison -- perpetually building a stairway to nowhere.

Sadly, not all intended victims have that strength. Are they to be held responsible because they find it impossible to move on?

Victims need champions. Perpetrators need no apologists. Therefore, I do not recommend this book.
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VINE VOICEon May 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
We try and teach our grand kids empathy, respect and responsibility for their actions. I do not agree with the author that it would be a good idea for a bullied child to meet with the bully to mediate the situation. The bully is responsible for his actions, either because he/she has an innate evil/mean streak, or he/she is being raised with no guidance or moral compass ,because no one cares enough to stop the bully activity, or they are being bullied and just passing on what they live. In all those situations, it should not fall upon the bullied child to Fix It.

The author speaks about having hurt feelings and being left out in grade school. That, in my opinion is just kids stuff and should be left to the kids to figure out. Being picked last for the sports team or being called a geek or worse, always happened and probably always will. It is a part of growing up. When our kids are in that situation we have talks about compassion, empathy and how to get along with all types of people.
However, if our kids are being constantly threatened, physically attacked or stalked, we will advise them to call an adult for help, and if on one is not near enough or willing to help, we will tell them to use all the self defense techniques they are learning in Kung fu school. I believe that will do more to help them survive then reading this book for advice. It is time to add personal responsibility to the mix.
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on May 20, 2013
I read this book because my child's school's PTA was using it for a book discussion, coincidentally while my son was being bullied. I was eager to see what common truths we could talk about and what take-aways there might be for our school. I was horribly disappointed. While I did like that Bazelon could also look at the bully with empathy, I was shocked that she appeared to be supporting statements from educators like "let some of it just roll off his back, which kids have to learn to do...Sometimes we have to let kids experience some pain and some help shape them." (page 252). And she presents the happy Jacob who "had learned the best lesson that adversity can teach: most of the bad stuff isn't bad enough to mow you down, not if you don't let it." (Page 166). So if only the one who is being bullied would "not let it" get to them, there wouldn't be a problem? Bazelon is right that that the bullying situation does need to be handled on both ends - the bully and the bullied. But I was hoping she would speak much more about the power imbalance that is, as she repeatedly pointed out, an inherent part of what makes the situation bullying. Where does the power come from? What benign behaviors telegraph this power? How can the power be re-balanced amongst the students? Shouldn't the power imbalance be discussed explicitly with the students? This book gives no help. I wish I had spent my few available free hours to reading someone who could speak to the power issue.
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on December 1, 2013
Reading Emily Bazelon's book, Sticks and Stones from the perspective of Phoebe Prince's loving Latin teacher (9/2009-1/14/2010), I have to admit that I was hoping to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. For once, I hoped someone might capture the genuine spirit and comportment of the affable young lady named Phoebe Prince, who was indeed tormented by the bullying she faced: the purposeful and persistent "shaming" in the halls, in the library, in the classroom, gym; by messages on sign-in sheets, and on posters outside of classroom doors; cell phone text messages; and, cyber-bullying. What I wholeheartedly desired to find in Bazelon's book was some justice for Phoebe.
I was eager as well to read my previously twisted words `untwisted.' To set the record straight, Bazelon never interviewed me, but has quoted me as saying things that she paraphrased from other sources: e.g., I would never call any students "dumb," nor would I call any "attractive" or "less-attractive." She alleges that no faculty member reported anything about Phoebe. I did report Phoebe's `light going out': i.e., my concern for her, at ninth grade meetings (especially since she was a freshman being influenced by seniors in a Latin I class--a mixture that I vehemently protested, as guidance was turning away freshman who wanted to sign up for my Latin I class in lieu of seniors who just wanted to have Latin on their transcripts). Nonetheless, my insight into and reports about Phoebe's emotional/behavioral state were, according to reliable sources, deleted from the ninth grade ("Tracks For Success") meeting records. This was no surprise to me, as vice- principal Evans, along with some of the faculty at those meetings, considered my information and my questions about how to handle the situation nugatory. After all, they had real business to talk about: e.g., one faculty member taught a ninth-grade subject and she needed to share her success stories. In addition to being eradicated from the meetings' minutes, since she wasn't failing, Phoebe's name was not added to the chart of ninth-graders being closely observed by all their teachers.
Further on, Bazelon is curious as to why no faculty member spoke to Phoebe about her essay on "Cutting." I never saw the essay, but I had taken the book, "Cutting," out of her hands in the first couple weeks of school, because she was reading it in Latin class; consequently, when she panicked and shouted out that she wasn't doing that (getting the attention of the entire class), and that she was reading the book for English class, I responded that I wasn't accusing her of anything and reassured the entire class that if I thought any one was having any sort of trouble (stressing they were all special to me), I would approach them; but, in private. At the time that I pulled the book away, I had noticed old scars on Phoebe's arms; hence, Phoebe and I did have conversations about cutting, as well as many other chats, and we kept the line of communication open. Phoebe, even so, was not one to speak much about her problems; she was more likely to want to help others. In addition, the senior boy in my class, James, was my aide and an AP Latin student. He did not have time to just sit around talking about drugs, as Bazelon alleges. I had thirty students in that class (a mixed class of freshmen to seniors). He was there to help out with the seniors, not Phoebe.
Phoebe was already an excellent student. She was mocked even for that. In the beginning of the year, when she would get her quizzes and tests back with a perfect score, other students would say, "You suck," "You're too smart, you bitch. " Imagine walking into a new school, wanting to do well, and then being called a bitch. (I had the same problem with the South Hadley lingo when I started teaching there, and it remained a problem because, as many students said to me, "It's just the way we talk to each other." It was not acceptable in my class; however, discipline was almost impossible. There was no administrative support; not many coaches would follow the "bench" rule; and, some kids just wanted to sit in the "Planning Room," or internal suspension, all day rather than go to classes. Moreover, when they returned, their behavior was worse.) So, Phoebe stopped answering questions in class, started failing the quizzes, and wouldn't always hand in homework (academic suicide in my class, since it counted as 1(one) point, if done, or 0(zero), if not: i.e., 50%, or 100% for daily homework grade). Phoebe, however, was not about to let her grades go; she just let the other students think she was, so they wouldn't insult her. She wisely took advantage of my make up policy--since I wanted the students to learn the material, not just worry about being tested, they always had a chance to retake a quiz within a certain amount of time--by retaking quizzes and doing extra work to make up for missing homework. This change in Phoebe's class work I was, thus, not concerned about.
What did begin to concern me was Phoebe's affect beginning mid-November: she seemed numb, unresponsive, or uneasy. I wasn't sure. I had a "Study Hall" duty, and amongst the students there I overheard Phoebe's name and I heard party. I heard giggling. In other classes there were whisperings of a party. This was right before Thanksgiving break. I asked if she would stay to chat a bit; but, she said she was fine; she had just had a fight with her mom, and had to get home to get her sister before she got in trouble again. But, she wasn't herself. I asked again if she was really `fine.' Her response, "I miss my dad." When we returned from break, Phoebe didn't. I became so stressed that I ended up in the hospital myself for a week. In the meantime, Phoebe returned to school a couple days before I did. On December 10th, 2009, when I did return, I found Phoebe with her arms wrapped and immediately went to speak to her guidance counselor, who assured me that everything was under control. Under control? I couldn't imagine what that meant; but, nobody was letting me know anything about Phoebe; so how, I asked myself, could I help my Phoebe?
As a result of Phoebe's tragic passing and the ensuing harassment that I received from South Hadley's administration, the symptoms of my MS, seizure disorder, and major depression were exacerbated to the point that it took only ten months to go from fully functional, wearing high heels, teaching six different classes a day, to totally disabled, alone, unable to drive, having multiple seizures per week; then, wheelchair bound, homebound, and feeling totally worthless. (Yes, Bazelon, even teachers diagnosed with depression are negatively affected by the torment of bullying!) However, it did give me time to become friendly with the Prince, Moore, and O'Brien families, et al., put together the many bits of conversations I overheard at school, and talk to many of my students whom I missed.
The party that Bazelon refers to in her book, as Bazelon knows herself, was one at which Phoebe was gang-raped--it could explain the ensuing overdose. Some fleeing party-goers told the downstairs neighbor that the party upstairs was "out of control" and asked her to call 911, which she did (but, the 911 tape was erased); two South Hadley policemen did arrive, told all the kids to leave (and allegedly said, "Consider this an early Christmas present."). They then took all the drugs and alcohol and left, leaving behind a fourteen-year-old, gang-raped, drunk, and drugged Phoebe curled up in a corner of her house alone. A third policeman arrived as all partygoers were departing. Following that, there was, first, a missing police report; then, magically, a report--although an inaccurate report, which reliable sources say protects the well-connected. (Many of the attendees were football players and the big game was coming up.) One police officer also met with football players in the parking lot of the school. I'd still like to know what that conversation was. No one is saying; but, then again, in South Hadley, sticks and stones don't just break bones, sticks and bricks break windows. So, silence seems like a safer, barring morality, way of life.
Anyway, after all this and the heartbreak of her father returning to Ireland earlier than expected, Phoebe returned to school after Christmas break only to face the regeneration of the old name-calling by the same three main bullies, plus two more (because another boy, Flannery's boyfriend, had met Phoebe over the Christmas break and had become attracted to her). Austin was a student of mine (pre-Flannery) and he was a great kid that showed a lot of promise. He was a talented writer and had worked hard to get a local biker ramp opened. In other words, he wasn't helpless, needing to be saved by anyone. I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt Flannery's or Phoebe's feelings; Phoebe is just very sweet and intelligent and easy to talk to. She was as confused as Flannery by Austin's behavior, but she didn't go around calling Flannery names. (Parents need to warn kids against forming "exclusive" relationships in high school. That would take care of so much drama. Remind them that marriage is for after college sometime.)
I guess what I was hoping was that, after reading Sticks and Stones, I would feel that Phoebe could finally rest in peace, and her family could finally breathe knowing that their sweet Phoebe was vindicated. I didn't read that. Not at all. What I read were two chapters: "Monique" and "Jeremy," in which Bazelon is very sympathetic to bully and victim alike, and a third chapter: "Flannery," whereby she furtively introduces Flannery, one of the girls who later joins in the tormenting of Phoebe, as an "outsider," because of choosing not to play lacrosse and due to the fact that her mom is lesbian. Believe me, that is not unconventional in South Hadley, or its environs! (In this way, she could say that Flannery and Phoebe were both outsiders; thus, both had equal power. They didn't. Flannery was a townie. Phoebe wasn't. That is what matters in South Hadley.)
Promptly, following on the heels of Flannery's sad (privileged) existence, Bazelon instigates her character assassination of Phoebe Prince by disclosing that Phoebe's parents took her out of a private school in Ireland and publishes every private detail--the more salacious the better--that she can get a hold of. I have to say that, prior to Phoebe being sent to private boarding school, she and her dad, Jeremy, had a nightly ritual of burrowing by the fire in the living room, reading, discussing and debating any and all types of musings--from a philosophical debate over the style of her new dress to a discussion about world politics. In fact, Phoebe had grown up immersed in literature of all genres. Both her mom and dad were lovers of academia, and she thrived in that environment. Her dad had even read the entire Harry Potter series to her when she was too young to read herself. I do not claim to be a psychologist but, I do know that, while she was at South Hadley, she missed her father every single day and yearned to return to Ireland (more as the year progressed)--which could explain why she was reaching out to older boys.
On the first day of Latin class, I have my students fill out a card with their name, address, anything I should know (e.g. "I hate going to the board."), any sport or club they are in, etc., and I ask a question: "What is the greatest act of kindness anyone has ever done for you?" Phoebe's response was, "when my friend...comforted me and took care of me when my parents were talking about getting divorced." That was her greatest fear: losing touch with her dad. So when I read Bazelon's book, and analyzed the way she presented Phoebe as a boy chasing whore from the onset, it made my blood boil. Just as there are many reasons kids bully, there are many reasons young girls attach themselves to older boys--other than sex. It is up to the older boy not to take advantage of the situation, as I taught my own two sons, and they've always looked after their own sister. It is possible for a high school boy to control his urges around troubled young girls. We can raise gentlemen even if their brains aren't fully developed.
Emily Bazelon's book is just one more example of how to unashamedly humiliate: i.e., bully, a young girl using public media. Her goal in doing so, just the same, I cannot begin to fathom. She does write that she was looking for a forum to do research on cyber-bullying; so maybe she thought the connection to the bullying of Phoebe Prince would at least secure a primed audience for her new book. There are definitely others who should have been charged with cyber-bullying, in addition to the six who were charged with insidiously tormenting Phoebe on-line and at school. They might not think it was a big deal, but "gutta cavit lapidem, non vī, sed saepe cadendō," (the drop hollows the stone, not by force, but by constant dripping). Day after day, on and on, eventually the constant `battering' (which Bazelon considers more harmless--like `dripping') wears a person down. I just don't understand why Bazelon downplays Phoebe's abuse. Is it because she felt so strongly that Scheibel overplayed the charges?
There were also some faculty members that made derogatory remarks about Phoebe at professional gatherings, or in their classrooms in front of other students both ante and post mortem. Bazelon insists (p.109) that there was no evidence of cruel postings written about Phoebe subsequent to her death, because she couldn't find them. Many people, as well as, I, myself, can verify that it is an "unimpeachable truth" that a webpage went up and was filled with so many disgusting comments that it was removed very quickly. Someone should ask Ms. Bazelon, "If a tree falls in the middle of the forest and she doesn't hear it, did it fall?". For some reason she has this aloof, almost cynical tone towards Phoebe and all she suffered. However, with the other children in the other chapters (including Flannery, et al. at SHHS), bully and victim alike, she displays kindness and compassion.
Thus, Emily Bazelon, without a doubt, has earned the title of bullying expert, or, more fittingly, expert bully. Bazelon, via her book, Sticks and Stones..., just re-victimized a victim, a child, Phoebe Prince, post mortem, as well as re-traumatized her family and friends, who were not even aware themselves of some of the truths and untruths she wrote in her book. She cut a gaping bloody hole in their hearts.
It was actually quite lewd and immoral of Bazelon to make public any of Phoebe's private medical records, her psychological burdens, or the fact that she had tried to mask her depression with drugs. From whom did she get them? Whose children also attended those parties? Bazelon mentioned that Flannery did, because she saw Phoebe at a few of them (p.84). She doesn't, however, disclose what Flannery texted to her friends? Did she like the strawberry vodka too, or was she drinking tea? Why was Phoebe the only one vilified with revolting invective that, assuming she did none of the things (which Bazelon so kindly exposed in her book) alone, others shared in? Why did the "big, strong" football player have his girlfriends doing his dirty work, when he was the one to accost Phoebe in the first place? He knew that Phoebe was vulnerable without her dad. In fact, she told four separate senior boys about her dad (only James stuck by her side without expecting "benefits"). Phoebe felt shame ("positive" shame: i.e., recognizing she'd harmed somebody else and feeling sorry for having done so) when she found out that Mr. FB player had a girlfriend; thus, she went straight to his girlfriend and apologized for her involvement (although ignorant at the time) with him--the freshman girl hit on by the senior boy, who was cheating on his girlfriend, apologizes to the girlfriend. Now, who is the target of whose odium; who gets bullied? Well, of course, the freshman girl, because after all, as Ms. Bazelon so dispassionately points out, Phoebe had a pre-existing condition of "negative" shame: i.e., shame that is accompanied by guilt and self-denigration. Kayla, at first, accepts Phoebe's apology (that`s the Kayla I know and taught); then, she turns on her. Again, was Mr. FB player using her to do his dirty work? Bazelon points out Phoebe's previous attempts at suicide as if this somehow makes it seem that Phoebe finally succeeded on that dreadful day in January. It isn't true. She was a young girl feeling so worthless that she thought the world was better off without her--but she didn't want to commit suicide. What she wanted was to know she was worthy enough to be alive.
Bazelon's references to Phoebe are not about Phoebe--or the other adored young children and adolescents like her--who was blessed to be a compassionate and gentle soul, and who was ecstatic whenever someone complimented her on her sensitive and loving nature. She didn't even require a program like "Rachel's Challenge (p.217)" to notice when a child was sitting alone in the cafeteria to go over and sit with him or her. She just naturally did it. Assistant Principal Mike Roy witnessed this himself and commended her on her graciousness. Her date for the "Cotillion" was also someone whom she overheard say that "no one would want to go with me (him)." Phoebe piped right up saying "I will!" He was a boy in my Study Hall. Phoebe had made his day! It's unfortunate that in this society of conspicuous consumption, "keeping up with the Joneses," it is too often about what is on the outside, not the inside that counts.
While South Hadley students were rushing around after school on January 14th, 2010, in preparation for Saturday night's Cotillion, and I was sitting at my desk waiting for Phoebe to come to the appointment we had made, Phoebe was at home, frantic. I had not seen her all day because G-Block (her Latin class) was dropped that day. She had just had expletives barked at her for fifty-five minutes in the library and was then tailed, stalked from the library right out to the parking lot. Did she ever think to just turn down towards my room at the end of the hall? Why wasn't I just in the hallway? Could I have saved her? I should have saved her. She went home. Ashley threw a can at her like she was a piece of trash. Why? How many times have you gotten a break from me, gotten help from me, Ashley? In Bazelon's book, she printed an entire thirty minute text message that Phoebe had with Chris, a "protector" of Phoebe. (I felt like vomiting.) Of course, Chris knows who Chris is, as do I, as do many people in South Hadley. So, now we know that "Chris" never called for help. He just left Phoebe with her phone and went to get his tux. Was that Bazelon's point--to shame and bully another kid?
My point is that Phoebe (or `Vita,' her Latin name meaning `life') didn't want to commit suicide. Bazelon shows that in the appalling text she has such depraved protocol to put in print. Every person, every nasty word, every whisper, every shout, every mean name, every nasty look, every single act: conspicuous or discreet, by anyone: child, or adult, harmed that sensitivity within her, her self-worth, who she was, which she measured by the reflection of the Phoebe she saw from everyone else's perspective. Phoebe's sense of worth was gauged by the opinions of all of the "friends" who led her to believe deep in her soul that she was worthless, that she was nobody, and that she didn't matter to the world. These people, her peers who pretended friendship, the boy who made her feel like the cheater (Remember he was the one cheating on his girlfriend!), and the one who pretended to be her "protector," all are guilty of committing a nefarious and egregious offense. Together they hacked out Phoebe's heart and slashed her soul, wrenching `Vita' apart, killing her `anima,' or life-force, thereby committing soulicide. Phoebe was gone long before her body was found in the basement stairwell.
Emily Bazelon did NOT know Phoebe. She never met her. She never talked to her. She didn't look into her sparkling eyes. She didn't know what she was thinking, or how she was feeling. She never felt Phoebe's energy, laughed with her, cried with her or for her. She didn't watch the sparkle in her eyes going out, or try to hug her light back on. Bazelon says that she wept when she read Phoebe's records. Why, or HOW, could she then so cold-bloodedly publish only every disgraceful, degrading, or disreputable detail about Phoebe's last days for the whole world to pore over and judge? Phoebe (my "Vita") wasn't in the cell phone texts, where she is trying to be as cool as her peers (and is drunk). She wasn't in the hospital records, or anywhere that she talked to someone with whom she didn't feel safe.
Phoebe ("Vita") is in her writings; she is in the hearts of her family and friends; she is a giggle and laughter that she brought to so many; she is the sparkle in an impish eye; she is a little girl's smile as she listens to her dad read her bedtime stories out loud; she is a hop and a skip and a jump; she is a four leaf clover; she is a pair of ruby slippers. Click three times. "Vita" was life itself; but, only when she was allowed to be. Her anima (soul) was beaten out of her. She is no longer allowed to be. Now, please, just LET PHOEBE REST IN PEACE!
In my opinion, Emily Bazelon's book is a compendium of ideas to deal with bullying. However, she hops around until your mind is swirling. You really just need to use the `Resources Page,' if you are looking for an anti-bullying program, which Bazelon did a great job compiling. I have a couple suggestions for her lest she turn out to be the bully herself (as I find many insidious, ruthless insertions aimed at different people throughout). By taking her animosity for D.A. Scheibel, for the prosecution of the six South Hadley students who tormented Phoebe, out on Phoebe, Bazelon becomes a bully herself--shamelessly bullying a young victim post mortem. Also, she needs to be kind to others who are also trying to help stop bullying in the schools: i.e., just because she may think some experts are better than others in the field, she shouldn't trash talk the people whose programs or ideas she may not agree with (e.g. her criticism of Barbara Colorozo, et al., who have helped many schools facilitate programs to combat bullying and ensure safety for their students). Bazelon just shouldn't be mean. She should be professional, and also remain unbiased and consistent when writing: e.g., if posting nasty things online is cyber-bullying for some kids, it can't be called just "venting" (p.221) for Flannery Mullins. Lastly, think about donating some money you make from this book to a foundation for teenage suicide prevention, because school bullying is also psychological and emotional. Mean, dispassionate people and the lack of feeling worthy and accepted, on top of people turning their backs, leaving you out, insidiously invading your mind, body, and physical environment, driving you crazy with derogatory names, cannot be discounted as a cause of a child's suicide.
I am at my wits end. I'm so sad to know that Phoebe is still being bullied; now, due to Emily Bazelon's book, in perpetuity.
Very sadly,
Deb Caldieri
Vita volat
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