Thursday, April 1, 2010

Who Killed Phoebe Prince?

A couple of days ago I became aware of the tragic case of Phoebe Prince, an Irish immigrant who was a freshman in South Hadley, MA.  She committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied.

One knee-jerk public response is to bully the bulliers, as various spurious charges are being filed against nine students involved in the bullying.  Politicians, smelling blood, are speechifying and passing laws saying not to bully.  Theatre.

People are also angry at the school administration and teachers for not stepping in, even though it was open knowledge that Phoebe was being harassed.

Everyone at that school must bear some responsibility for Phoebe's death.  How many students participated in the harassment in order to gain social status with their peers?  How many watched in silence, for fear of becoming the next victim?  How many teachers looked the other way, not wanting to get involved?  Many of these individuals will be wrestling with their consciences for a long time.

But the responsibility for Phoebe's death goes well beyond the particular individuals involved at South Hadley High School.  While it may be rare for such harassment to drive one to commit suicide, bullying and harassment in government schools is commonplace.  

This is what I fear that few people understand, that it was not just those particular bullies and onlookers who drove Phoebe Prince to an early death; it was the backward socialization scheme of government schools.  Those looking for a root cause ought to look there. 

One irony for parents of home-schoolers is that the primary question raised about the desirability of home-schooling is the "socialization".  As if natural socialization is for a child to interact only with other children of the exact same age, and then grouping thirty of these children together for one adult supervisor.  As if natural socialization is a highly regimented, command and control environment where children cannot use a restroom without an authority's permission, and yet that authority figure is often absent or ineffective.

South Hadley High School is not unique.  Turning over a few teachers, administrators, and bureaucrats will solve nothing.  The root problem is the system where the center of a child's existence lay not with the family or larger community but with the social pressure of other children.  Here, a child learns warped priorities and pecking order survival techniques.  This environment will always produce the Mean Girls and other social elements that made Phoebe's life unbearable.  All of us who contribute to and create that environment killed Phoebe Prince. 

Parents, it is within our power to pull support from the toxic government school environment.  It does not require politicking or letter-writing, or any other mass campaign.  It requires only direct action: pull your kids out of the government school system now!

1 comment:

  1. Sadly it is very true that bullying goes on in far too many schools. The best thing that parents can do is to stay very involved in the day to day goings on, even if they must send their kids to public school. So many kids, even those that must have witnessed the bullying, feel like they can't "tattle" and tell parents but it can tragically become deadly when they do not. It is too late to place blame with individuals, but the system definitely failed here, not surprisingly.