Rick Fromm
Rick Fromm

     Bullying, harassment, downright mean-spiritedness and just-not-nice behavior have been around since man first walked upright. It’s been part of our daily existence since Gorb first made fun of Tago for throwing his spear like a girl (oh, lighten up).

Will it always be so? Let’s hope not, but the answer to that question is probably an emphatic “yes.”

So how do we cope with this unfortunate trait that seems to permeate our society? Will we ever be able to eliminate it entirely, join hands as one human family and sing, “Give Peace a Chance?” Doubtful. Very doubtful. But we’ve got to try. If not us, then who?

     For those who may have missed it, Decorah Superintendent Mike Haluska wrote a poignant piece on how the School District deals with bullying and the like. Haluska wrote the article as part of a continuing effort by him and Decorah Newspapers to address the ascertained permanent “needs” affecting the District – everything from facility issues, to the way math is taught, late-start Wednesdays, bullying and so forth and so on.

Haluska’s commentary was extremely well written, organized and comprehensive. It clearly demonstrated how much he cares about the subject and how passionate he is about making Decorah Schools a “bully-free” zone to learn and grow as a student and person.

 “Bullying and harassment, there is hardly a week which goes by that a news report doesn’t include some type of outlandish behavior by one child, or a group of children, unleashed upon another child. Think earaches, sore throats or runny noses top the list of reasons children visit the nation’s 1,700 school-based health centers? Try depression, anxiety, and trauma,” wrote Haluska.

“Why is it we see so many mental health-related issues in our schools today? And, after all, haven’t depression, anxiety, and trauma existed before now? Sure they have. So have obsessive-compulsive disorder, drug addiction, and personality disorders, not to mention extreme stress and dealing with conditions related to impulse control. Still, as I wrote, why so much today?

“There has been an increased demand for school-based mental health services across all segments of the student population in the last decade. We shouldn’t be surprised.  This is due to both the increased mental health needs of students and their families and the improved understanding of the role mental health plays in children’s functioning. Schools generally mirror society and today an estimated 22 percent of American adults are affected by mental health disorders annually. In a study done in 2010, Stagman and Cooper estimated that one in five children (20 percent) has a mental health problem and one-half of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by the age of 14.”

Haluska added, “I have spent time advocating for state funding for mental health assistance in schools for well over a decade. With this, I don’t mean the work done by our school counselors or the school social workers assigned to us by the AEA. Instead, I’m writing about those trained in mental health counseling who can provide services to all students with emphasis on those in crisis, not just those with disabilities.”

The superintendent then went on to explain how the District is combating the problem on a school-by-school, or age-by-age basis. As the students grow older and progress as individuals, they are instructed about bullying and harassment on continually informative levels, and are provided the professional assistance to help them understand the complex issues involved.

A commendable and rational approach to say the least. Haluska and the rest of the District are certainly trying to deal with the ever-increasing problem in a professional and sensitive manner.

Did I ever have to deal with bullying back in the day when students still used pencils and teachers wrote on blackboards? Absolutely. Big time. But there is one major – and infinitely significant – difference with the way bullying existed before technology reared its often-cruel head.

When a kid harassed me just to get his jollies, it was basically a private matter between the two of us. Nowadays, if someone thinks you’re a no-account dweeb, it gets posted on Facebook or Twitter or some other social media outlet and it’s quickly read by everyone in the school, in North America, in Timbuktu and unknown galaxies in the infinite vastness of outer space. In other words, everyone knows about it, and your “image” suffers accordingly.

The expanding nature of the techno-bullying phenomenon has resulted in some dire consequences: from suicide, to murder, to assault and everything else in between. It has to stop, and that’s a quest that must begin at home and in our schools.

As an aside, my No. 1 bully was a Cyborg named Scott Pollard who had just one eye in the middle of his forehead and was known “affectionately” as the Cyclops (though no one dared call him that to his face.)

A mountain of a man who was a first-team, all-state football player who stood 6-5 and weighed 250 pounds, the Cyclo …. Oops, Mr. Pollard … would like to catch my eye as we passed in the hall. I knew full well what was coming.

“You lookin’ at me Fromm?” he’d shout loud enough for everyone to hear. As an ultra-skinny, 6-3 basketball player, my responses were limited.

If I said, “No, I’m not looking at you,” he’d accuse me of lying. If I admitted I had been looking at him, his eyes glowed red with hate.

Either way, he’d always come over and punch my arm so hard it brought tears to my eyes. Which was, after all, his goal. As I tried to recover from the onslaught, he’d walk away with a certain jaunt in his stride ... all the while laughing uproarishly.

How did I handle the problem? With no Facebook my options were limited. Instead, I told one of my best friends who was even bigger and badder than the Cyborg. Problem solved.

But things are different in 2016 than they were in 1966. Thanks – or rather no thanks – to social media school districts must deal with bullying on a much larger, more dangerous scale.

Superintendent Haluska and the entire Decorah School District staff deserve support for their sincere efforts.