Thursday, January 19, 2012

I'm Sorry...Who is the Bully Here?

Occasions of bullying get a lot of traction in the headlines these days. I can certainly empathize with the problem. As the quiet, nerdy type growing up I was on the receiving end of my fair share of what could be described as "bullying." Most of it was verbal, teasing and the like. Unpleasant, but helpful in some ways. It helped me to learn that words really couldn't hurt me, at least not unless they were filed in a formal complaint. Then there were the more serious types. Threats, intimidation, and the occasional use of force.

Anyone describing bullies in all manner of despicable terms will get no argument from me. Those who entertain and enrich themselves by persecuting the weak are beneath contempt. It's bad enough when we run across bullies in our daily lives, on the road or at work. When the bully comes under the color of law, however, we cross the line from bullying into tyranny.

Shawano High School in Wisconsin recently ran an editorial in its student newspaper. The format was a debate of opposing viewpoints. The subject was adoption by gay parents. A pro and con op-ed piece was published. Shortly afterward, the complaints began. Subsequently, the school apologized for printing the opinion piece opposing adoption by gays. Todd Carlson, the Superintendent of Shawano County Schools, labeled the editorial as a form of "bullying" and "disrespect." The pro editorial stood without comment.

Mr. Carlson insists that this is not censorship. I have to wonder what definition he is applying. A representative of government is acting in an official capacity to remove one viewpoint in an ongoing debate from the allowed sphere of discussion. How can it possibly be considered anything else?

If Mr. Carlson and the school district are truly concerned about the effects of bullying, then they need to consider what will happen to the young minds in their schools when the government stands ready to slap them down for any non-approved thoughts or comments. Deeply held opinions are seldom changed without serious discussion. Removing one side of the debate will not eliminate the contrary opinion. It will, however, breed resentment for the opposing view, resentment that may not find a peaceful expression.

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