Trickle Down Economics May Not Work, But Trickled Down Hate Surely Does
Today is the last day of school and two teenage girls are sitting in my living room waiting to go to Six Flags. We’re skipping school on the last day of what has arguably been the worst year of school in their lives. You see this year, their school has been plagued by incredibly high amounts of sexual harassment, sexual violence and good old fashioned violence. This was not the case last year. This year seems, somehow, different.
In January of this year, my daughter began texting me from school, “Mom, I don’t feel safe.” All in all, she’s told me a couple of times a month in the last 5 months that she no longer feels safe at school.
On Monday, a mom reported in an online FB group that WHILE IN CLASS two boys held her daughter down on the floor and touched her inappropriately. Another boy tried to video tape it. Apparently no one in that classroom, including, the teacher, tried to stop it.
Last week, in this same FB group, it was reported a “prison brawl” had broken out in the cafeteria. It apparently started because one boy told another boy that she should be a slave.
We are apparently up to about a fight a day. And girls are not safe in the school hallways and classroom. Boys taunt them, ask them to suck their dicks, send them pics, or they just reach out and touch them because they think that they can.
This is a small, conservative town. It’s one of those safe, middle class suburban bedroom communities that advertises in Pleasantville like billboards to attract new taxpaying homeowners. The highly rated school systems is one of its major appeals. Along with the green spaces and walking path and splash pad. It is, or at least it was, the American Dream personified.
This is the same school my daughter went to last year. The same kids. But new and worse problems. Something has changed. It’s true, one of those things that has changed this year has been the school principal, and I definitely think that is part of the problem. But I also think one of the things that has changed is our culture. Things that were once hidden are now more out in the open. Hate, racism, sexism . . . they have been on full display of late and I can’t help but look at what is happening at my daughter’s school and think it’s trickle down hatred.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that these things have always existed in our schools. I have worked with teens for 22 years and I have sat in many a room and talked with many a teen and heard about the latest fight or heard them talk about how “boys will be boys”. But somehow, this year has seemed different. Perhaps it’s because I have known these kids since the 3rd grade and have seen a sharp and dramatic change in such a short amount of time. Perhaps it’s because this is my kid, my daughter. But mostly it’s because last year she never told me once that she didn’t feel safe at school.
That’s a powerful statement. “I don’t feel safe at school.” As a mother, your alarm bells will ring and your mama bear claws will come out. As someone who has dedicated their life to working with teens, I see something new and different happening to and in my teens and I despair. I fear that we are poisoning our teens with our hate. It seeping into them and coming out in ways that has intensified everything. Yes, teens have always fought, but are they fighting more? Yes, sexual violence has always been a problem in our schools, but has it gotten worse? Anecdotally I can say that for my daughter in this school, the answer is yes. I wonder if it’s true nationwide, worldwide?
Racism is taught. Kids are not born racist, they are taught it by their parents, their peers, their culture.
Sexism is taught. Kids are not born sexist, they are taught it by their parents, their peers, their culture.
Hatred. Anger. Fear. Selfishness. Greed. Violence. Power. All these negative traits, the very worst of who we are, are rising to the surface in ways that need to be addressed culturally if we love and want to save our children.
This year is over for us now and I will breath a maternal sigh of release. For a few months, there won’t be anymore texts saying mom there is blood on the floor and I don’t feel safe, please come pick me up. For a few months, we get a reprieve. But what happens next year?
As a mom, as someone who loves and works with teens, I implore you. I implore us all. Maybe we should take a moment to reflect on what’s happening in the world around us and how it is affecting our kids. Because I’m scared at what I am seeing and hearing.
Filed under: Teen Issues
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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