I WAS NEVER a fan of the whole anti-bullying hysteria that has whipped so many adults into a frenzy over the past couple of years.
I say "hysteria" because it sometimes seemed that even garden-variety mean-spiritedness along the lines of "I know you are, but what am I?" was being turned into a hate crime.
Of course, there are exceptions to that rule in the social-media maze of tweeting, Facebook-ing and YouTube-ing. And yes, some of what passes for juvenile joking is much more sinister, especially in the Lord of the Flies group- thuggery scenario common to middle school. But as someone who was called "Tubby," "Four Eyes" or "Doofus" and lived to laugh about it, I generally believe that there is a distinct line between that which doesn't kill but hurts us, and that which actually does make us stronger.
Some recent events, however, have challenged this assumption. When sophomore Samantha Pawlucy was bullied by teacher Lynette Gaymon on Sept. 28 over something every rational citizen would recognize as a constitutional right, far too many people made excuses for the teacher.
Some of those deflecting blame from Gaymon are, surprisingly, her colleagues in the educational field. Others are her students, who have taken to threatening their classmate and her parents on Facebook and even in person. This escalation of hostility and an apparent unwillingness on the part of other adults to recognize its effect on Samantha is more troubling than, say, a mean girl telling her classmate that "those shoes are so Payless."
This is what real bullying looks like, despite the feeble attempts by Gaymon and her supporters to call it a "joke." That's the tactic employed by someone whose had the bully mask ripped from her face, and who is attempting to retreat in the face of unexpected consequences. I say "unexpected" because Gaymon was completely justified in believing that her little stunt would pass unobserved in the Democratic fiefdom of a Philadelphia school where "conservative" rivals the "n" word in toxicity.
When Samantha Pawlucy decided to wear a T-shirt showing her support for the GOP ticket, she probably didn't give it much more thought than, "Hey, this will be a conversation starter!" How wrong she was - although she was perhaps not as naive as some would paint her. We've all been taught that tolerance is an important virtue, particularly in a society where language, race, ethnicity and religion are points of commonality, not division. This is not, after all, Syria.
Samantha was right to feel comfortable going to school and expressing her political opinion freely, since the adults in her life have been telling her that every opinion and every person matters, even if the majority disagree. But the young lady learned a painful eye-opening lesson, one that will remain with her long after the historical dates and geometric equations fade into oblivion: Tolerance is a one-way street for progressives.
This is not to say that every liberal, or every Democrat, or even every teacher and student at Samantha's school have closed and hostile minds. There are probably a number of them, too intimidated by what has played out in the media, to open their mouths and support her right to champion whatever candidate she chooses. They surely believe in "choice," the trademark of the enlightened. But they themselves may have been bullied into silence.
What bothers me more than anything else is the thought that any teacher could presume to use her position of authority to impose a particular ideology on one of her students. As someone who taught high school for five years, I understand the central role an educator plays in the life of a young person, one whose mind and moral foundation are still developing. There is an obligation to instruct, and yet to respect, to show, and yet to listen, to suggest, and yet to accept alternative views.
Of course, we have gotten only Samantha's side of the story. Gaymon isn't talking, and until she does, she deserves the benefit of the doubt. But if what Samantha said is true, this teacher failed the test of character, and miserably.
So did so many other people who believed that attacking a young woman with an original - and now it seems, courageous - point of view was an acceptable form of behavior.
It's not. In fact, it's bullying. And this time, we're all victims.