August 28, 2003


There are lots of disturbing elements in this Guardian story about an 11-year-old British boy who killed himself because he was tormented at school, but for me this is the most alarming:

In his final report, the headteacher of his primary school described Thomas as one of the most courageous boys he'd ever met because of the years of bullying he'd survived.

The headmaster knew. For years.

(Via Zsa Zsa.)

Posted by Tim Blair at August 28, 2003 12:23 AM

Samizdata were all over this yesterday as well.

Posted by: Tom at August 28, 2003 at 12:39 AM

There is a special circle in hell for educators who know about bullying and do nothing. Lets hope he gets there very soon.

Posted by: Moneyboy at August 28, 2003 at 01:03 AM

As someone who has been bullied, I just cannot understand why people do it.

Out of curiosity, did you ever have to deal with bullying in your experience as a teacher, Tim?

Posted by: Andjam at August 28, 2003 at 01:08 AM

Poor little kid. 11 years old, you're defensless at that age, pysically and emotionaly without the mental resources of experience. You feel everything strongly and every cruelty cruelly. What amazes me is the general tone of detatched regret from his teachers and even mother, like it was just a naturally occuring process, sad but inevitable,

What the fuck? But I guess that's becoming par for the course in a country that jails people for fighting off muggers and burglars.

The defacto rule of the petty thug. Fucking disgusting. That cock-sucking, useless headmaster should be out on his ear.

Posted by: Amos at August 28, 2003 at 01:14 AM

I was bullied at school for some time. I adopted a pacifist attitude that all violence was wrong, and resolved that I would not respond in kind.

One day I lost my resolve and hit the chief bully. Since then, I have not been bullied, and my faith in pacifism as a practical solution to aggression was shattered.

I feel really sad for the kids who don't have the "hit back" option, for whatever reason. And for the grownups in totalitarian states who have to deal with bullies who carry guuns.

Posted by: Evil Pundit at August 28, 2003 at 01:15 AM

Evil P:

Remember, this is Britain: had this young man fought back, he would have been punished.

Posted by: buzz harsher at August 28, 2003 at 01:36 AM

Erm, perhaps the headteacher only learned of the bullying AFTER it occured, thereby making Thomas seem brave to him (in hindsight)? There's nothing in that sentence, or article, that says he knew about it at the time (he may have, but that info isn't stated).

Posted by: AF at August 28, 2003 at 01:37 AM

It's a little disturbing that the kid sounds like he was a dead ringer for Martin Prince.

Posted by: J Mann at August 28, 2003 at 01:39 AM

The story is very sad. A bullied child will often hold in the pain for years, before it all becomes too much.

It highlights the responsibility schools and in particular head teachers must take towards children in their care.

In Britain, due to centralised funding, schools in deprived areas are very well funded - more often than not much better funded than state schools in middle class areas.

Their problem is a culture of apathy from staff and parents. But good head teachers can make a huge difference. Head teachers who care enough to instill a code of discipline, make children do homework, check teachers' performance, and not tolerate bullying.

It is the 'anything goes' attitude of lefty head teachers - frightened of being unpopular with teachers or pupils alike - that stands most in the way of lifting our most deprived kids out of poverty.

Posted by: Matthew at August 28, 2003 at 01:47 AM

There are so many things that disgust me about that article I don't even know where to begin.

Posted by: Tim in PA at August 28, 2003 at 02:10 AM

Nothing disgusts me more than the mass decision made by the British people to dump their old culture over the rails in favor of a touchy-feely limp socialism. The end result: no one is in authority, no one makes decisions, and, as a result, it is the law of the jungle in increasingly large doses.

The headmaster should be *shot*. Of course, this being modern Britain, we'll first have to go through the Headmaster Grievance Committee, Sub-Committee on Personnel Decisions, followed by an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, then an appeal....................zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Posted by: KevinV at August 28, 2003 at 02:27 AM

Of course, there was little or no contact with his father. This is frequently a problem.

As one who was "a little odd" I was frequently bullied when I got to a (slightly) larger school in 3rd grade. My father taught me "If they get a meal and you get a sandwich, no one wants seconds." He taught to defend myself, even if I lost, and he came to school if I got in trouble for fighting. He said take the punishment and keep fighting back.

I know this doesn't work for everyone, but at least my father was paying attention. Mothers rarely teach their sons to defend themselves from physical bullying, and most schools are now run by the equivalent of limp-wristed mothers.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at August 28, 2003 at 02:34 AM

At a loss for words. What a horrible thing that adults *knew* and couldn't help this boy.

I agree with Kevin V.:

"Nothing disgusts me more than the mass decision made by the British people to dump their old culture over the rails in favor of a touchy-feely limp socialism. The end result: no one is in authority, no one makes decisions, and, as a result, it is the law of the jungle in increasingly large doses."

Same thing could be said about many of our Anglo countries.

Posted by: Chris Josephson at August 28, 2003 at 02:37 AM

how terribly sad

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at August 28, 2003 at 03:08 AM

Well what do you expect? The idiot headmaster at Columbine and several of teachers knew about the culture of brutality at their school and did nothing. Look at the result there.

Of course, we it comes to bullying the prefered option is that the bullied kid tops himself...end of problem. Then no one has to do anything about bullying.

The head in this case should be at least fired and at best be charged with criminal negligence.

Posted by: Andrew Ian Dodge at August 28, 2003 at 04:39 AM

Instead he'll probably be councled for the trauma he's recieved and of course help to get through his survivor's guilt.

Posted by: Amos at August 28, 2003 at 05:09 AM

Who are we to criticize the culture of bullying? It's just another culturally valid means of expression. There are no good or bad cultures; just different ones. Many bullies exhibit amazing creativity, teamwork and critical theory in the formulations of their taunts. It would be culturally imperialistic of us to deprive them of participation in this sharing, creative activity.

When wrong-doers are not morally judged, why are we surprised that their numbers increase?

Posted by: Irene A at August 28, 2003 at 05:51 AM

It was the headmaster of the primary school that apparently knew of the bullying that went on there, but the article says that things seemed to move to another level once Thomas moved to secondary school.

The primary school headmaster may not have done all that he could/should have, but I don't think there is enough information in the article to condemn him as strongly as some have.

Posted by: Sean E at August 28, 2003 at 07:06 AM

This poor kid sounds exactly like a boy I knew when I moved on up to a higher school at 13. In his case (and mine) it wasn't physical bullying, but mental, and the shocking thing in retrospect (bearing in mind that we were all strangers to one another) is the speed with which the bullies got your number & started in on you.

I was going AWOL within two months, but the other kid disappeared at the same & everyone assumed that his family had moved out of the area until he suddenly reappeared six months later. I asked him what had happened, and he told me: He'd had a nervous breakdown. At THIRTEEN ! I had it bad from the thugs in our own class, but it turned out that he'd had practically every goon in our year working on him. Sadly, he hadn't been back long before it started again, and his parents took action and moved him to another school. He was a nice, quiet, interesting kid with all sorts of potential and he just seemed to slowly melt away.

My life remained a borderline nightmare for the next three years until I hit sixteen & got out. The school wondered why, but were no more interested when I gave them the reasons than they had been before. Fortunately it never occurred to me that I could end things by ending myself because I think I'd have done it.

I thank God that I managed to land my first job with good people who helped me make a decent & happy life for myself, but I still wonder what more I might have achieved if that bunch of bastards had left me in peace.

RIP Thomas, they can't hurt you anymore.

Posted by: oiskin at August 28, 2003 at 08:21 AM

Like some of the previous comments, I thought pacifism was the way to go when I was a wee'un. I was wrong. And damn right I've taught my son that if someone hits him, he hits them back harder. And I've also told him that he'll have hell to pay if he ever bullies a kid. Pacifism is an ethically lazy philosophy that garuntees power to the cruel.

Posted by: Geoff Matthews at August 28, 2003 at 09:39 AM

The scandal over house thuggery of senior boys against juniors is telling : a why were the prefects idle as in, why didn't they do their duty and take the thugs out behind the shed and thump them into the ground: then on up the line, as it were.

Well the headmaster gave the explanation: a complete surprise, shouldn't have occurred, why?
Beause, he expanded, the school was committed to the socialist drivel of community and community love imbued with christian values, tied to the puerile rot of Rousseau.

Culture be damned, a weasel word.

Mind,given one of the parents, a man, opined, the school didn't even send to us a psychologist, the game is well lost.Surprised me, though, one would have expected a, `well, the worst is done, my son will get over it, meanwhile I'd like to have the gizzards of the prefects for garters, and those of the head for promoting primitivism.

Perience: because the above is the guiding reality of government owned schools : Oz's state government owned schools, and the UK comprehensives.The only winners are the psuedo-scientists, sociologists and pyschologists - experts in mystoguogy only, thousdands of bureaucrats and communisto politicians.
Oh, and remeber folks, even in Austria, the cost per child of so0called free `education' equals at the least the price of sending a child to, say Eton.What do taxpayers get in return, schools with all the aestheitic merits of prisons, and the scholastic rigour of Dick and Dora communisto ABC_BBC and widespread thuggery thrown in - just the little extra fringe benefit that comes with government schools.

Posted by: d at August 28, 2003 at 10:03 AM

How sad. You never get any relief from the bullies until you kick a little ass. Being a preacher's kid who moved around every year, I could count on meeting the bully in the first couple of days in a new community. I turned the cheek until the sixth grade when I pummeled a dirtbag to near unconsciousness. What sweet release! He is the last bully I ever had to deal with.

Posted by: arlo at August 28, 2003 at 10:44 AM

Thankfully, even a small amount of fighting back will usually suffice. Provided you can inflict enough pain, you raise the costs of bullying to exceed the fun they gain from it. You'll still get creamed, but the beauty is that, if it's unprovoked bullying, you'll get creamed anyway.

After my first kid was born, I read Raimond Gaita's book "A Common Humanity" which contains a disturbing (true) story about a mother in England whose baby died when a junkie slashed its face with a knife while out walking. So I started to carry a bike chain in my pocket when out with the kid. (Hint: they're strong but light. And put a sharp padlock on the end. Good force multiplier for a little bit of arm movement.) One friend of mine, a lawyer, noticed this and was aghast. "Don't arm yourself! That'll just get you in more legal trouble if anything happens!" he warned.

My response: I really don't care. I would rather save my kid from a junkie or mugger, even if I go to jail for it, than have the Gaita episode re-enacted and have the cops pat me on the head and congratulate me for being a nice law-abiding citizen. If the law _punishes_ non-aggressors for defending themselves, like Tony Martin in Britain, then it's ridiculous -- we're then WORSE off than if we lived on a desert island with no state, no laws, no courts, no police. When John Howard, the premiers, and the judges give up their armed police escorts and publish their own kids' school or flat addresses in "Who's Who", then I might consider copying their brave example. But not til then.

Posted by: Uncle Milk at August 28, 2003 at 12:45 PM

The Break Down of Law and Order in Britain: Hal Colebatch was all over this subject in a long (but important) article for Quadrant published - was it late last year? It's called something like Dispatches from Britain's Culture War Worth getting hold of. I especially like the quote it ends with:

When asked what the Prime Minister does all day, one child said "He wakes up, eats breakfast, sits at his desk for a while, then switches on the telly to see whats happening in the world and says, 'Oh Dear!'"

Posted by: TimT at August 28, 2003 at 05:37 PM

BTW, I hate to be the prick here, but does anyone else see a link between this poor kid's [a] refusal to stand up to bullies or fight back to them and [b] his opposition to the war against Saddam?

Posted by: Uncle Milk at August 29, 2003 at 12:08 PM