Carrying the Fire: Bullies in School

You have to carry the fire.

I don’t know how to.

Yes you do.

Is it real? The fire?

Yes it is.

Where is it? I dont know where it is.

Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.

–Cormac McCarthy, The Road

This week, I was at a conference and…

  • before a keynote speech, a grieving teacher shared that he’d just learned one of his students took his own life.
  • I learned about the Ctrl + Alt +Delete Bullies Club, where some amazing students in Celeste ISD are combating the problem on the front lines.
  • I attended a session about the sexting/cyber-bullying epidemic that’s raging through every young adult population, regardless of socio-economic status or background.
  • I saw the picture of a twelve-year-old boy who committed suicide last year after relentless teasing finally drove him to depression and despair.
  • I cried when I heard about the aftermath of a humiliating prank at my own son’s school.

All of these things…they just hit too hard. Too close to home. And the older I get, the more I’ve worked in schools, the longer I’ve been a parent; the more I realize…it’s hard to tend the fire, even in the hearts of our own children.

Yes, I’m one of those people who believe there’s a spark in all of us that makes us human and fragile and vulnerable and strong all at once. That flame is the capacity for grace and kindness and greatness within us.

And as I watch my boy go to school every day, I am more and more convinced that this flame–that essential piece of our humanity–is easily extinguished. By gossip. By pranks. By teasing. By physical cruelty. By careless words and images uploaded onto screens. By what’s become the ordinary, garden variety savagery of childhood in the 21st century.

Yeah, I’m talking about bullying. I know it’s a hot topic, and that you’re probably numb and cynical and wary of witch hunts and imaginary epidemics. But before you shrug off this post, consider:
– as many as 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.

– in US schools today, there are approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million victims.

– 56 percent of students have witnessed some type of bullying at school.

– 71 percent of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their own school.

– 1 out of 20 students has seen a student with a gun at school.

– 282,000 students are physically attacked in 7-12 grade schools each month.

– 90 percent of fourth through eighth graders report being victims of bullying.

– According to bullying statistics, 1 out of every 10 students who drops out of school does so because of repeated bullying.

–Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.

–Harassment and bullying have been linked to 75 percent of school-shooting incidents.


You see, the game has changed. The occasional kid isn’t just getting shaken down for lunch money on the playground. In our tumblr/twitter/facebook/instram/insta-shame world, young people are routinely exposed to the worst kinds of torment–the kinds that tear away their soul and puts out the fire of kindness in their developing, growing, tender, all-too-vulnerable hearts. And too often, this is happening, not because we are terrible parents and teachers and role models, but simply because we are not actively, whole-heartedly and purposefully tending the spark.

We have been passive for too long. We haven’t had enough conversations about how to treat one another. We haven’t modeled how to treat each other with enough respect. Instead, we’ve been passive. We’ve left things to chance, feeling certain the worst would never touch our solid, stable lives. We assumed that since we survived school, that our kids would, too.

We were wrong. So wrong. And we’ve got to do something about it:

We can keep the fire burning.

About Jenny Martin

Librarian, Writer, Beatlemaniac
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8 Responses to Carrying the Fire: Bullies in School

  1. Powerful post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jenny Martin says:

    Thank you, Laura. All week, I kept hearing the same things, the same kinds of stories and statistics. I just couldn’t put it out of my mind. Maybe we can do small things, spread the word, and change our little corner of the world.

  3. Jessica Capelle says:

    Thank you for sharing this post, Jenny. I’m sad you had to write it, but it was beautifully said. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, trying to heal some old scars that echo in my brain on repeat so many, many years after the fact. I’ve been making an effort with my tutoring students to keep an open dialogue that will hopefully make them feel comfortable to say something to me if they’re too scared to say something to their parents. So far, none of my students seem to be having this issue, but they have told me about what they’ve seen with other students and how they’ve reacted. I don’t have influence over a lot of kids, but for those I do, I am trying to do what little I can to remind them of how awesome they are and how much they add to the world. I think you’re right that if each one of us does a little bit we can have an impact.

  4. Very touching post. I have small children, one in grade school, another who’s about to start kindergarten and has me terrified because he has anxiety and OCD. And this is also why I have shared your post with Less Than Three (<3), an upcoming YA Lit/Anti-Bullying conference organized by Heather Brewer. I'll be moderating one of the panels, and the issues you're addressing are exactly the kind we are hoping to talk about.

  5. Jenny Martin says:

    Sarah! Thank you for passing this along to Less than Three. I’m so glad you’re stepping up to stand up for bullied kids. We have to band together.

  6. Tony Esposito says:

    I forwarded this link to the Asst. Director of Information Services as we are engaged in developing software systems that help identify student at-risk of dropping out (K-12). Bullying is one such indicator. Thanks Jenny.

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