2009 November 21
by Evan Lenz

I’ve never written publicly about this. I was bullied in school. After a number of years homeschooling, I returned to high school in the 10th grade, as naïve as could be. No one told me not to flinch. This is a painful lesson, and you don’t get a second chance to learn it. Once you’ve flinched, it’s too late. They’ll just keep coming back for more.

Before I go on, if you’re about to enter high school, particularly if you’re coming from an alternative background, such as homeschooling, or if you’re an exchange student from another country, my one piece of advice for you is this: Don’t flinch. They’re not actually going to hit you (the first time). They’re just seeing if they can bug you, if they can put you on their short list of pathetic wimps they can have fun with. If you flinch, it’s all over. Got it? Don’t flinch.

Okay, got that off my chest. I entered 10th grade, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was hopelessly introverted and nerdy, wearing a black, suede leather jacket every day regardless of the weather. I had looked forward to school. I felt pretty grown up (I was 14). But I didn’t expect people to be so mean. So I was blindsided. Fortunately, I had enough self-respect to stand up for myself and seek help with my school’s vice principal, the person traditionally in charge of student behavior problems, a.k.a. discipline. Not so fortunately, she was completely unhelpful. First of all, she tried to talk me out of doing anything about it. She made me feel like I was blowing things out of proportion. She actually tried to shame me out of bothering her. Eventually, she did something nominal, but it didn’t help. It probably made things worse.

I know that some kids had it much worse than me. And sadly, we all know how tragic the ultimate consequences can be, with incidents like Columbine. Thankfully, I was nowhere near that distraught over it. But it still wasn’t fun. This one guy used to corner me in the gym, during PE class, in that little hidden space between the corner of the room and the bleachers. Then he’d jab me in the stomach. Repeatedly. Eventually, I’d be able to find my way out and rejoin the safety of the class.

That’s the kind of thing that bullies do: inflict physical and psychological pain on people weaker than themselves. Bullies also have a strangely powerful effect on the kids being bullied. I found myself wanting to be his friend, wanting to seek approval. Ugh, it’s sick now that I think about it. But that’s the kind of effect bullies can have.

The truth of course is that I had it better off than the bullies. Think how the world must be treating someone for them to treat others so meanly. Bullies have lost whatever sense of self-respect they had. Hopefully, they’ll grow up and rediscover that self-respect, making a better life for themselves.

If you’ve been reading this blog already, you know that I blame problems like these (such as lack of respect) on school’s institutional lack of respect for its “clients”. But I don’t feel like preaching right now. I ask you to just reflect on it. When I was a kid, I actually thought that bullying was something you just had to go through, a necessary part of growing up. Now I realize that it has very little to do with my life as an adult. Sure, there are bullies in the adult world, but there’s a disproportionately high number in school. I fully reject the notion that being bullied is a necessary part of growing up. If I can help it, I’ll do whatever I can to ensure that no one else has to go through that experience, including my own children.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. November 21, 2009

    Evan, nice insightful piece. Good, thoughtful read. Appreciate you putting it out there. Peace.

  2. Elsa permalink
    January 6, 2010

    That’s a very interesting story, and oddly almost the opposite of what I experienced when I transitioned for an alternative program to a public high school. Going in I was very nervous about other kids and what they might say or do… I feel like I may have seen to many horror stories on after school specials. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. Despite the fact that all my classes were with total strangers, I felt very welcomed by my school community. I made new friends, and people were by and large very nice to me. It saddens me to hear about those painful times you went through, but I think you might be giving high schoolers too much of a bad rap. In my experience we are generally a lot nicer than people give us credit for. I was not ostracized when I transferred in from that strange hippy school called options. I hope that your story is the exception rather than the rule. I’ve really enjoyed my high school, and the people I’ve met there

    • Evan Lenz permalink*
      January 6, 2010

      Hi Elsa, thanks so much for your comments. I think you’re probably right that this post could mislead people by painting too negative a picture of high school. It wasn’t as if everyone was mean. I made some good friends in my 3 years in high school. The vast majority of kids were friendly and nice to me. It’s unfortunate that only a couple of people (one in particular) could have such a negative influence on my overall experience.

      I’ll reflect some more on my high school experience. Apart from bullying, I still wasn’t particularly impressed by the experience. I can think of some peak moments, like reciting Hamlet soliloquies for my English class (and happily accepting my teacher’s offer to swap more performances for incompleted book reports). A field trip to Ashland for the Shakespeare festival (with that same class) also stands out as really positive. But these were really hit-and-miss. The majority of the time, I was bored and unimpressed. And there are a few bitter memories, such as when my advisor talked me out of skipping a grade of math, or when my joke of a biology teacher (who later got fired for inappropriate relations with a female student) told me “you think too much”. Or when I got my first B, in traffic safety of all things. Oops, I’m lapsing into negativity again, sorry. :-)

      I finally got through it all and went off to college, where in my first year, I matured more than all those three years of high school combined. When I compare my high school and college experiences, they’re like night and day. I knew I was in for a different experience when my academic advisor in college didn’t hesitate one moment to let me jump right into the upper-level “History of Philosophy” course as a Freshman just because I wanted to! I intend to go back to school one day (and never return, moving into an academic career). For all my love of academia, you have to wonder why I’m so negative on high school and everything preceding it. I think it comes down to the forced aspect of public education. Generally, college students are there because they choose to (although I fear that’s changing too these days).

      I’m glad that you’re flourishing in high school, both academically and socially. And I know that you want to be there. And I’m especially glad that your transition to high school was the opposite of mine (a relief instead of an ambush).

      [Wow, that was a long comment. Don’t be surprised if you see me recycle this as a blog post. :-) ]

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