I am the Dean of Students at a large, private Christian school in Birmingham. I get the privilege of being a part of a wonderful school. No human institution is ever perfect- but when you take in as a whole- the teachers, administrators, students, and parents I get to work with- I know I work and serve at a special place.
I am the bad guy at times. We have a very balanced and sensible policy handbook that represents a Biblical world-view and helps direct the school's intention of training students for their next steps in life. Part of my job is dispensing consequences when the guidelines are not followed. In my toolbox are a number of incentives to correct the individual and serve notice to the whole.
When a student lands in my office- it is usually after a number of things have already been tried in the classroom or the violation is serious enough to require immediate and forceful action. I have the ability to give verbal reprimands/warnings- assign a detention hall ( a 90 minute pre-school 'quiet study hall')- give multiple detentions- or Saturday School (mostly a labor/service time to the school on a Saturday morning)- multiple Saturday Schools- Suspension (a serious situation in which the student is also deducted points from their grade)- Multiple day suspensions- or recommendation for expulsion.
I am also aware that I am part of a larger discipline/instructional community- I am actually a partner with the home- the local church-youth pastors- counsellors of medicine and mental health- police officials- and a myriad of organizations where positive activities/instruction/consequences provide a microcosm of life.
If I am honest, I will say that trying to merit out consequences that match the offense for the purpose of instruction is almost impossible. In my job there is: a) what I know b) What I don't know c) what I think I know d) What I don't know I don't know e) how to investigate f) how to 'prove'- and the list goes on.
And as with any school- there are things going on beneath the surface- there are things going on at home- the pressure of culture and school- the messy nature of relationships- the general immaturity of even the so called 'best-kids' is always in play.
But in all of my daily duties... talking to students, calling parents, reading teacher e-mails... nothing hurts more than when a student is hurting because he or she is neglected or mis-treated in word or deed.
And the biggest problem is that the intensity of the attacks are worse than ever and the fragility of the victim is at an all-time high.
Our school has a good anti-bullying policy in place and we have received great help from professionals in the field.
A real bully would have a tough time staying at our school- the hardest issue is that most of the hurting kids I deal with are not fearful of one big bad wolf....they are dying by thousands of ant bites... some very real, some imagined, some re-applied by the victim's own responses, and some thoughtless words, tweets, or...... even silence.
The ones who are injuring these 'soft targets' range in degree and motivation. Some are just immature and foolish- they have fallen into a cultural/traditional trap of having fun at other's expense. Others are on a sliding scale of various motivations to just plain evil intentions.
For example, some are of the kind who would follow an anonymous twitter account, post an anonymous tweet, retweet the whole weapon and move on to the next step in life with no thought of the carnage left in its wake.
There can also be the mob attack- where individually 'good' kids pile on with kidding or sarcasm- not knowing that the target of those barbs is silently suffering.... too afraid to tell anyone that he stays up late at night agonizing over how he looks, what he may have done that has become now an iconic throw-off, or some nebulous out of the mainstream mannerism that we all have, but is never called to attention.
When these things happen- I begin to work hard in soothing the wounded and instructing the attackers- but it is a tricky business with a lot of landmines in the process.
And though there are many generalities that are applicable- no two situations are ever the same.
Over the next few blog posts- I want to share some of what I do in supporting the hurting and correcting the attackers.
But before I do so- this is no clinical.... I stay up at night in real grief over these things. I cry with tears to God to please stop the insanity. This is risky (I have the dread of some of the kids I am working with read this and not understand how wide this is and not a story about them). But the more we can be aware of the dynamic in place- the more we can alter our actions and practice corrective measures of ministry ourselves.
We live in a marketplace of social media...it is not going away- but the nature of that media... the speed of it, the anonymity of it, the attachment to it has allowed a climate where the ones who hurt others are more powerful that ever and the ones who are hurting are more fragile than ever.
There is hope in a gospel understanding of Scripture and a spirit led application of it to any broken situation. But the more we can be prepared as parents and youth workers to address the situation at both parallels will help these young student acquire tools to take all through life.
But we are all in need of God's grace here.........