This week, two of our staff members chose The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools, by Jessie Klein, as their spring book pick.
As a fairly taciturn person, I’ve been overshadowed my whole life by others who have loomed larger than me in the classroom, on the playground, and even next to my cubicle. I’ve also been mercilessly teased for wearing glasses, for being a geek, and for being shy. But just because I am diffident does not mean I am necessarily indifferent or deferential. I know many others who have had similar experiences, some of whom have suffered much worse fates (e.g. the suicides of Megan Meier, Ryan Halligan, Phoebe Prince, and Tyler Clementi, all as a result of extreme bullying).
The Bully Society by Jessie Klein issues an important wake up call to stop the cycle of bullies and school violence in America. She identifies a pattern that links valuing aggressive behavior as a society with the rising incidence of bullies and school violence. The Bully Society promises to be a landmark study of bullying with firsthand accounts of bullies’ perspectives while illuminating how gender constructs help perpetuate this cycle of aggression. Bullies try to live up to societal standards of “masculinity,” because masculinity is generally seen as a more forceful and more successful trait to possess than femininity, which is read as weaker and less advantageous. I am eager for The Bully Society to be published so that we can take stock of the dangerous, destructive behaviors and attitudes promoted in schools. It’s time to think about the ways in which we can reward sensitivity and shyness instead of aggression and competitiveness; it’s time to start reversing this horrifying national trend.
A recent post-noughties trending topic has been on the subject of school shootings and hounding in schoolyards—important issues, no doubt. These issues have also inspired the in-vogue “cyberbully chic” roundtable discussion fad that has sprung up over the last year. In her book, The Bully Society, Jessie Klein presents and analyzes the many issues fueling bullying in schools, including masculinity imperatives, white supremacy, gender policing (the pressure to conform to gender expectations), social class wars, gay bashing and slut bashing, and violence against girls. Klein also examines the cultural differences between the Old World (Britons) and the New World (Americans) in tackling the issue of bullying, whether it takes place in a schoolyard, on the Internet or at work.
Ditching the need for tired pop psychology profiling or placing blame on one particular party, the book goes beyond the hodgepodge academia fare. With a critical and compassionate eye, Klein recalls the 166 shootings that occurred between 1979 and 2009, using examples from the suicide manifestos of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of the Columbine High School massacre, as well as those from Virginia Tech massacre gunman Cho Seung-Hui not as a means to exploit or condemn the shooters, but as an attempt to understand why they committed these acts of violence. More importantly, she hints at why this phenomenon is getting the attention it has gotten in the last year–more and more white children are taking their lives or the lives of others more frequently because of being bullied. In an age with films such as “Beautiful Boy” and “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” Klein provides a call to arms to impede school shootings, bullying and cyber-bullying at large, by asking the bigger question, where does this come from? In one word: profound.
Want to learn more? Here’s a short list of recommended links:
Read: Girls Get Called “Slut” Everyday—They Could Be Making Friends Instead
Read: School shootings: Some Columbine myths resurface
Watch: Ohio school shooting: Jessie Klein speaks to CNN
Listen: Bullying and violence (Jessie Klein on the Brian Lehrer show)
. . . . . . . .
IF YOU have a favorite book from our spring catalog to add, then let us know by leaving a comment describing why it’s your pick. You could win a free copy of the book of your choice, and a feature on the blog!