The Lesson of the School Bus Monitor
by MARILYN PENN
June 26, 2012
When Anita Hill recounted her tale of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas, nobody questioned why a young woman trained in the adversarial profession of the law at one of America's most prestigious law schools couldn't speak up and tell her employer that she was made uncomfortable by his raunchy speech. The prevailing presumption was that even an Ivy League lawyer could not be expected to stand up for herself in a situation that was unevenly matched.
But If this was too intimidating a proposition for Ms. Hill, was she in fact well-prepared or well-suited for a profession where the major requirement is to advocate forcefully for your side in a legal proceeding? My intention is not to re-open the Clarence Thomas Affair but to encourage readers to think twice about the implications in the bus monitor bullying phenomenon.
The viral video showing 68-year-old Karen Klein dumbstruck and reduced to tears as jeering middle-school boys, exhibiting the dregs of pack behavior by continuing to insult her, has resulted in an outpouring of sympathy for the traumatized grandmother and a collection of more than a half a million dollars to ease her trauma. But her behavior throughout this incident is disturbing as well. At no point, does she assert any authority over her charges nor does she seek help from the other adult on the bus - the driver.
Here's the job description for a bus monitor: "Bus monitors are responsible for assisting children with getting on and off the bus safely. They must also make sure that children are in their assigned seats, if applicable. They must make sure that children get off the bus at the correct stop and that they are released to the proper guardians." Ms. Klein is a severely hearing impaired woman but presumably, by the end of June, she should have known the names of boys who rode with her every day. Yet we never see her raise her voice to order them back in their seats; instead she behaves like a passive passenger who's just there for the ride instead of the overseeing monitor she was hired to be.
Ms. Klein's passivity does not excuse the boys from their culpability for bad behavior but putting her on national television and covering this story as a major news event is an enormous exaggeration of what transpired and the harm that was done. Matt Lauer was so indignant that he offered to name the boys on national t.v. and he was running home to use the video as an object lesson for his own children. Again, the assumption is that women are allowed and expected to be helpless when they are made uncomfortable - to shrivel as victims even when they are not threatened physically and not in dangerous situations.
Recently, another bus driver was beaten into a coma and subsequently died - this got very little attention beyond a brief newspaper article. But the incident with Ms. Klein could be portrayed as another example of our nation's new biggest concern - bullying, a behavior that is familiar to everyone who ever went to school or entered a playground.
Years ago, parents used to tell their children not to be afraid to fight back and that the truth about bullies is that they usually run away when they are confronted. No one expects children or adults to fight back anymore; instead, we turn to bullying counselors to speak at school assemblies and the president of the United States to take time out from his job as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to urge people to be nicer.
If two adults on a school bus in upstate NY can't control a situation where a handful of 12 and 13 year old boys are behaving obnoxiously, what is the bigger lesson that is being taught? Where is the individual responsibility for doing one's job? America - whatever happened to your gumption and true grit?
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Marilyn Penn is a writer in New York who can also be read regularly at Politicalmavens.com.