From the Heartland: Hostile Environment

January 25, 2011 Updated: January 25, 2011

[xtypo_dropcap]P[/xtypo_dropcap]ainfully shy, socially awkward, and gifted with a strange name—I was the perfect target for harassment at school. Kids can be cruel, as they say.

While bullies are nothing new, technology now allows for more pervasive cruelty; electronic media ensures that there may be no escape from the torment. Getting pushed or berated by my peers was at one time a predictable part of my day, but at least it ended when I got home. I can only imagine the hopelessness I may have felt had my humiliation been broadcast over the Internet 24 hours a day for all to see. The tragic examples that have ended in suicide are, of course, heartbreaking.

Another case of modern teenage social sabotage recently emerged when an Illinois high school junior distributed a degrading commentary of 50 female classmates online. The contents included insulting characterizations of each victim (reportedly top students), as well as ratings on the young women’s physical traits, and supposed promiscuity.

The subjects of this detailed critique contend that much of the portrayal is untrue, but told the Chicago Tribune that the list writer’s efforts were cheered by much of the student body.

Now that a new breed of school bully wields high tech tools, the rest of society is beginning to take more notice. In the past few years, nearly every state has updated its laws to address electronic harassment, and schools across the nation have begun cracking down on the abusive texts and threatening Facebook posts by implementing task forces, filing police reports, and granting expulsions.

These efforts effectively target a new symptom, but do they address the root cause? What compels kids to be so cruel? Outside of petty political bickering and reality shows, the rest of society manages to maintain a fair degree of civility. Why should school be any different?

Some may argue that the hormonally turbulent teenage years are wired for drama, but Paul Graham disagrees. In his essay, “Why Nerds Are Unpopular,” Graham suggests it is the environment of school itself that causes these problems. He likens secondary school to the savage culture of prison inmates—an insular, hierarchical society with its own peculiar customs and conventions.

“I'm suspicious of this theory that 13-year-old kids are intrinsically messed up,” he writes, “If it's physiological, it should be universal. Are Mongol nomads all nihilists at 13? I've read a lot of history, and I have not seen a single reference to this supposedly universal fact before the 20th century.”

Read More … meaningless existence

 

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