Thoughts have bubbled up in the wake of a post by Stephanie.
So I had this gym teacher in middle school — I think from 7th to 8th grade — named Mr. Boechler. I heard when I was in 9th grade that he had been promoted to vice-principal at some small-town school, which seemed about right to me since in my experience, vice-principals are often mentally ill, violent assholes. Maybe the job makes them that way, but every one I’ve directly dealt with behaved like a petty Mussolini on the job.
Anyway, this Boechler guy, he was this hulking thug of a man, gigantic and not afraid to use his physical advantage on middle school boys. When I say use his advantage, I mean he was physically abusive. The rumors were worse than what I myself suffered. The rumors, which made us all fear him, included him throwing boys up against the wall in the storage room of the middle school gymnasium, but most of the time, he was just an adolescent-minded, snide, mocking twerp. His special joy seemed to come from making fun of kids who were not athletically inclined. (Which definitely included me, because my parents had an over-developed distrust of the medical profession and as a result I had by middle school been neither diagnosed as being asthmatic, nor prescribed regular medication for, asthma.)
The mockery was bad enough. But there was more: this gigantic lummox of a bastard actually got violent on occasion. I think the only reason he got away with it was because he was teaching up in Northern Saskatchewan, where the local kids’ families were poorer and the less-poor kids’ families were still stuck in that traditional mindset where the conversation goes:
“How was school today, Billy?”
“Well, teacher hit me in front of the class…”
“Really? Why? What did you do to provoke it?
Certainly, that was the question my father asked the day I came home from school and told him that Mr. Boechler had headbutted me and EDIT: a classmate (I would have sworn it was Meka Phaneuf) in front of the rest of the class.
After all, when my dad was in school, teachers caned students for next to nothing. They caned the living shit out of students. I came home able to sit down, so it couldn’t have been a big deal. And such “reactions” were rationally traceable to student actions, after all.
Like, for example, what I did that day. I joined in with all the other boys in class, climbing on the fall-mats that were leaned against the gym wall. Every boy in the class climbed up on them, and dived down off them. Everyone. But only this classmate Meka and I were headbutted.
Well, my father was right in that I wasn’t violently beaten in class. But the man did headbutt me, hard — hard enough to make me momentarily dizzy, hard enough to bring tears of shock to my eyes, and to this classmate’s Meka’s too. That was bad enough. But what he did after that was worse, and much more wrong: he announced that all the other boys in the class would be banned from the school dance that evening.
Now, this classmate Meka and I were the geeks in the class, the boys who were likely not to go to the dance, who would be at one or the others’ place playing AD&D, and Boechler knew that. So he decided to punish us in a special, unique way that not only hurt more, but also reinforced the class’s perception of us as the lowest of the low, the biggest losers. He specially targeted the unpopular kids for punishment in his class, and this wasn’t the only time he did it. In fact, he made a habit of giving detentions as often as he could to unpopular kids, of hitting them in ways that didn’t physically damage them but humiliated them in front of their classmates.
While I was in middle school, there was a time when I would fantasize about waiting till Mr. Boechler got really old, until he was in a wheelchair, and then going and finding the old son of a bitch and beating him senseless. That was how much he hurt and humiliated me. When I got to University, it morphed into a fantasy of getting the bastard fired, though I never did track him down and make a stink about what he did. (Nothing would have come of it, anyway, since he was always careful wth his violent outbursts.) But now, I have only a very mild fantasy — that I track him down, tell him what a piece of shit he is and why, and spit in his face. And you know, I’m mostly a rational, sane adult. It’s just that this man, this man was an outright bastard for several years of my life, made school hell for me two or three times a week, picked on me — like a teenager, he actually picked on me — and the man misused his position and his power not only as a teacher, but as an adult and as a big, strong, physically imposing man.
Now, if the anger in my heart still runs that high, is it any surprise that teenagers get involved in schoolroom shootings? I mean, really… anyone who thinks that school shootings are a mystery hasn’t been in a school in years. They don’t remember what a hellish place high school is: how high schoolers are just like chimpanzees, all fighting over the same bits of territory and asserting some crazy hierarchy by abusing one another. And how the vast majority of teachers either ignore it, make it worse, or join in. The pressures within school are amazing — amazing enough that they contribute to all kinds of things. People wonder why teenagers kill themselves, but I know. They wonder why so many people go through their 20s depressed, but I know. They wonder why kids seek refuge in promiscuity, drugs, and video game brainrot.
Do you really want to know why?
Because school is hell. High school is the ninth plane of hell, for some kids. For good-natured, smart, less self-assertive kids. IT’s set up to be an awful place, and it fulfils the setup to perfection.
All I am saying is that if I ever am stuck sending any child of mine to a school, and if anyone ever, ever strikes any of my children in said school, they are not ever going to forget the visit I make to school the next day.