By Jane Hayes
Bullies! The very word strikes a chord of fear in young and old, especially if you have been bullied in the past.
As teachers, we are told to recognize signs of bullying in our schools so we can prevent this dangerous form of abuse. As adults, we think maturity makes us more invincible from this practice of terrorism, but often memories are fresh because of intense emotional scars.
Thankfully, the media have called attention to cyber-bullying, excessive rites of initiation, sports baiting and bashing, and abuses done to children, women and those who risk being different.
Both my son and daughter left their college fraternity and sorority because of their personal stance against hazing.
Finally, public consciousness is being raised to recognize the ultimate cost of this unacceptable and demeaning practice. Now, there are even some legal repercussions for bullies, punishing them for their dangerous acts against humanity.
However, what if the bully is your boss and you need your job? What recourse do you have for righting the wrongs done in the workplace? What if the legal department in your school district amplifies their bullying tactic by exiling you from your classroom, school building and school events? What recourse do staff members, who have been disgraced by this inhumane practice, have to be reinstated and to clear their names and reputations?
Putting a professional on administrative leave without warning and being walked from your classroom to your car can be a humiliating experience that scars you forever. Being denied due process and the right to know your offenses are dangerous practices that District 205’s legal department has done way too often over the past few years.
What recourse is there for those who have been assumed guilty even before knowing the charges? Why are we so quick to presume guilt rather than innocence? Instead of an outcry from colleagues when they witness this ignominy and public disgrace, their objections are silenced by fear of knowing their careers and dignity might be next. Such an atmosphere of fear and reckoning must be exposed so public attention recognizes bullying tactics in the workforce.
Since when has a whistleblower been denied his right to challenge his accusers and tell his/her side? When do we take charge and demand an evaluation of such repressive litigious counsel?
Of course, we realize such tactics are not just rampant in our district. Think back to the political upheaval for state senatorial candidates whose petitions were challenged. Think currently of the bullying tactics used in political campaign ads and against protesters. Think about the decay of our future society because of irresponsible and unethical practices of the powerful 1 percent over the silent or meek 99 percent majority. It is our responsibility, as citizens, to recognize and refute abuses, even at the cost of our jobs. Our good names and dignity matter far more.
Time to fight back! Address the bullies in our midst, regardless of their subversive power, intimidating tactics and might. Might does not make right! Legal tactics do not absolve the powerful from ethical and humane treatment. Remember the words of Edmund Burke, Irish statesman, “The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”
Jane Hayes is a Roosevelt Alternative High School teacher and a member of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education.
From the May 30-June 5, 2012, issue