There’s no excuse for bullying in schools in 2017

By Kevin Canessa Jr.

I’ll never forget one day in my classroom during my teaching days back in 2005. I was covering a class for a colleague who called out sick. I gave out the assignment and for the most part, the students were rather quiet. Out of nowhere, one of the kids says to another: “Hey fa**ot, give me the answers.”

The class erupted in laughter and I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. After taking corrective measures, I had a talk with both kids.

Never again were those kinds of words used in my presence.

But they were uttered again in other classrooms.

A few weeks later, I was passing by a classroom where both of the aforementioned students were “learning.”

I couldn’t believe what I heard. It was a colleague of mine using the same word, “fa**ot,” toward, guess who … the same boy who was being bullied just days earlier.

As teachers, we were required to report all instances of bullying to the school’s administration. When I did, the headmaster didn’t believe my report and he said I was making it all up. He knew I had no tolerance for bullying of any sort, but the truth is, as headmaster, he looked the other way at bullying in two types of scenarios: when the bully came from a well-off family that donated to the school’s annual fund or when the person being bullied was unpopular or from a family that didn’t give to the school.

It was something I carried with me for a long time, though I did report this to the higher-ups.

But at the school, very little changed. Kids continued to be bullied.

That year, I stepped foot in a classroom as a teacher for the very last time. I knew there was no way, in good conscience, that I could return to that school knowing that blatant bullying was being ignored by the administration.

I didn’t want to be part of a faculty where some felt it was perfectly fine for teachers to call students derogatory names.

It been my experience that there’s little hope we’ll ever see a complete eradication of bullying in schools. Because I had little support from higher-ups, I had to handle any bullying I ever witnessed on my own. And the truth is, I believe I had a good eye for noticing when a kid was a victim.

How could it be that in 2017, kids are still being bullied at schools?

I realize how difficult it is to keep an eye on every single student, especially when a school’s enrollment is large. Yet there are countless stories on the news about teenagers being harassed because of their skin color, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their weight, their social status, the way they dress and so many other classifications.

How is it that in so many bullying cases, there wasn’t one teacher, one counselor – someone, somewhere, who noticed when a kid was being bullied? I know this is not the case everywhere, but are teachers and school personnel just sleeping through things most of the time?

It’s just way too much to stomach. Any time there’s another bullying story, I can’t help but wonder just exactly what it is that causes so much of it? Perhaps it’s just the climate in many schools that allow for bullying?

In Kearny, there’s one major initiative to combat it at Roosevelt School – Buddy Benches. These benches are on the school’s courtyard and are a place where lonely kids, bullied kids, etc., can go when they’re a “victim.” Other kids are responsible for visiting with these kids – and for making life easier.

This is just one way schools are working to try to combat bullying.

But nationwide, clearly, not enough is being done.

There have been too many teenage suicides.

There have been too many instances where kids have no will to live.

There have been too many cases that could have had happier outcomes had just one person been aware.

I couldn’t even imagine what it must be like to be a parent and to send a child to school. And unless something major happens to change things, I fear we’ll continue to hear more and more cases of teenagers killing themselves because no one understood. Because no one listened. Because no one cared.

That, unfortunately, is just unacceptable – and it never will be.

Odds & ends

• CNN reports there were 762 murders in Chicago in 2016. This is a staggering number, one that no one takes any pride in whatsoever because it represents nearly 300 more than 2015 – and a good number of them were gun-related. In total, the city also saw 4,331 shooting victims (in 3,550 shooting incidents) in 2016, more than 1,400 more than in 2015.

However, I’ve just about had it hearing from people who point to Chicago’s tight gun laws and say, “See, what difference do such gun laws make?”

The answer is simple: The guns don’t come from Chicago.

They instead come from neighboring states that have entirely too lenient gun laws. In fact, CNN reports that of all the gun violence in Chicago last year, 60% of all incidents involved guns that were purchased in either Wisconsin and Indiana.

That’s 60%! Six in 10 incidents.

“We know that people from Chicago go across the border, fill up gym bags with illegal weapons from gun shows and things of that nature and they come back here and sell them to the gangs,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told CNN. “We border Indiana and Wisconsin, which have really lax gun laws.”

This notion is not discussed enough. In fact, this is the first time I’ve seen it quoted in a national news story in well over a year. Until it does get a more vocal discussion, people will continue to erroneously point to the city’s gun laws and say they don’t matter.

They do. It’s only a shame the laws nearby aren’t as stringent. Maybe that heinous count of 762 murders in one year wouldn’t be so high if lawmakers from Indiana and Wisconsin had a clue.

That’s all for now. Have a great week, one and all.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the writer, Kevin Canessa Jr. Canessa may be reached by email at kc@theobserver.com or @kevincanessa on Facebook and/or Twitter. Your feedback is always welcome – and encouraged.

Kevin Canessa | Journalist & Webmaster

Kevin Canessa Jr. is a journalist and webmaster at The Observer. He is responsible for the editorial content on the newspaper's website, the production of the e-Edition, covering the Nutley Police Department and more behind the scenes. From 2006 to 2008, he served as the editor of The Observer, where he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video for the very first time. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Fla., for four years until February 2016 and in 2016, moved back to Kearny to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.