We’ve all seen the video. Ten stomach-turning minutes of four middle-school-aged boys relentlessly taunting an elderly bus monitor. The language was brutal and vile; the glee that greeted her increasing distress was horrifying.
Someone nearby found the bullies’ antics amusing enough to videotape and then worthy of being uploaded to YouTube and broadcast to the world. That young videographer was the fifth bully. I hope when punishments are doled out, everyone remembers that.
The first time I saw the link on Facebook I didn’t know what to expect. A friend had posted it with the exclamation, “Just awful!” After watching for a minute or two, I’d had enough. But I didn’t turn if off. I kept waiting for the Madea moment. The instant when that poor cowering woman took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders, stood up in the aisle and took back the bus.
It never happened. It was 10 long minutes of abuse and foul invectives, threats and taunts.
Public response and support for the monitor, Karen Klein, was swift and emphatic. Within days, a fund to raise money to give her a “dream vacation” had topped $600,000. She was featured on countless news shows and her hometown of Greece, N.Y., had held a rally in her honor.
On a darker note, the children who were her tormentors received death threats and required police protection. Comment sections in blogs and newspapers were rife with suggestions of how to deal with these young bullies. Let’s just say intervention and treatment weren’t at the top of the list. It reminded me of the times I’ve seen a child hit a younger sibling and then the parent reacts with, “How (smack!) many (smack!) times (smack!) have I told you (smack!) not to (smack!) hit your brother?”
My heart hurts for Klein. In 10 years, I’ll be her age. I know how it feels to grow older and begin to be marginalized by a culture that worships youth and beauty, not wisdom and experience. To have grown up in a more genteel time, when respect for elders was a given and now live in an age where any individual is fair game for ridicule and torment.
Yes, Karen Klein was a victim. And, now, she is a survivor. But we must remember there’s one thing she’s not: a hero.
It wasn’t her first day on the bus. She has worked as a bus driver and then a monitor for more than two decades. Why on earth didn’t she stand up and take control? Someone has to be the grown-up in these instances. That situation should have never been allowed to proceed past the first taunt.
It’s easy to hate the bullies. Indeed, they’re a hateful bunch. But that’s counterproductive. It’s more important to recognize our responsibilities as adults. Children develop a sense of right and wrong by observing the reactions of the adults around them. Allowing the behavior is the worst possible response. They must be called on it. Every time.
My children always rode public school buses and I can state emphatically that this would never have happened on a Hall County bus. There’s no democracy there and certainly no anarchy. The driver rules supreme.
Once, Rachel was late arriving home. When I asked her why, she told me that some kids were acting up on the bus. So the driver just stopped. The bus didn’t budge until order was restored.
We always knew that riding the bus was a privilege, one that could be suspended or revoked if the rules weren’t obeyed. These weren’t empty threats. The drivers here are professionals and they take their work, and the safety of their charges, seriously. Want to “diss” a Hall County bus driver or monitor? Go ahead and try. I double-dog-dare you. Just be prepared for some dire consequences.
No, the heroes in this story really are unsung. They don’t get dream vacations and $600,000 windfalls. They aren’t comforted by Matt Lauer or hugged by Anderson Cooper. No one holds a rally for them. But I hope they know they’re appreciated and their work is vitally important. There is no more precious cargo than that which is entrusted to them.
When the summer ends and the new school year begins, keep an eye out for those big yellow Bluebird buses. Be sure to wave to the driver or blink your lights. Find a way to acknowledge their hard work and dedication. It’s not tickets to Disney World, but it’ll have to do.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.