I’ve mentioned around here before that I spent sixth grade in three elementary schools. I’ve also mentioned that in the last one, I managed not to make a single friend in the six months I was there. I’ve never really talked about why.
It wasn’t me, particularly. It was the atmosphere of the classroom.
There was this one kid. We’ll call him Jeff, because that was his name. He was a little bigger than the other kids, possibly older. He was unkempt in a way that suggested he was probably neglected. He might have had a learning disability. He was known to have some kind of behavioral condition.
I say he was known to, but I never actually observed it. What I observed was a bunch of other kids with definite behavioral disorders.
There was one of them–one of the shining kids, blond, athletic, rich–who divided his attention between Jeff and the teacher like a master. Teacher was looking? This little asshole was a perfect model of decorum. Teacher wasn’t looking? He was whispering insults at Jeff, throwing bits of paper, poking him, pushing him, and generally acting like that annoying sibling in the back seat on those long road trips.
Other kids would do some of this too, but not to the same degree. They wouldn’t do it all the time, just often enough to let Jeff know the shiny boy wasn’t his only enemy.
Then, when the teacher had been looking away long enough that Jeff had been pestered to the breaking point, he would lash out. He would yell at someone or take a swing at the arm that was poking him.
Then the teacher would notice.
Jeff spent a lot of time in trouble in that school. He spent almost no time learning because he was either being harassed or sitting in the principal’s office.
Not everyone tormented him, but there were plenty who knew what was going on and never spoke out. They weren’t my friends and they weren’t ever going to be. I never spoke out myself, for reasons I can’t rightly recreate at this point. I know I was targeted by some of the same kids, but that would be a good reason not to let these kids get away with what they did to Jeff. Or at least it would be now. I’m not the same person I was then.
The next year, we moved on to junior high. Most of us did, anyway. Jeff wasn’t at my school. I don’t know whether he repeated the year or was sent off somewhere to deal with “his” problems, which were us. Either way, he didn’t get to have the same school experience we did.
And that is how those kids win, then and now. You’d think someone would have recognized that pattern by now, but I guess not.