Anti-Bullying Art Continues…with “Upstanders.”

Our hero is wearing the logo of the place where I get my nails done.

Our hero is wearing the logo of the place where I get my nails done.

Monica Mahal and Sarah Decker are petitioning Oxford University Press to add the word “upstander” to its English dictionary in the context of standing up to bullies. Sayreville Schools Superintendent Rick Labbe drew national attention to the word – which educators and anti-bullying organizations have used in recent years – during a press conference last month to announce he was shutting down the high school football program amid allegations of locker room misconduct.

“We need our kids to stop being bystanders and start being upstanders and to report it when someone is harassing, intimidating and bullying one of their peers,” Labbe said. “We are standing up together as a Board of Education and as a district in saying no to bullying, and we are inviting others to join us in our stance.” Monica Mahal and Sarah Decker, who graduated from Watchung Hills Regional High School in 2013 and are currently studying at Georgetown and Bucknell universities, respectively, want the Oxford English Dictionary to define the word “upstander” in the context of Labbe’s usage.

They have started an online petition at change.org asking others to join them in urging Oxford University Press to define the word “upstander” as “a person who chooses to take positive action in the face of injustice in society or in situations where individuals need assistance.”

Feel free to click the button (here it is again) and sign it.

The fact that two young people who just graduated from school last year feel this strongly about the subject, is heartening. It shows that there are strong minded, responsible young people, who are willing to stand up for things, and to do so in the right way. Students who are willing to use the powers of intellectualism that we try to give them in the halls of schools, to do the right thing. As an English teacher, the idea that two young ladies from New Jersey so strongly acknowledged the power of words that they are in fact petitioning the OED for a new word…it’s a huge thing.

We have so many words to define and describe the negative, and spend so much time in education doing so. By contrast, there are so few words to describe and define the positive, and even fewer ways to, or opportunities to, acknowledge them. The largest amount of time in school meetings is devoted to the “problems”, the “bullies”, the class disruptions. We have so many ways to identify those, define them, and discuss them.

There is a young lady who stays in at lunch, with teachers to avoid bullying and harassment. She is charming and kind, and just wants to avoid conflict, and has nothing to do in that time frame. We have detention, intervention, and support groups for those that bully her, that upset her, because THOSE students are identified as “in need” due to their empirically anti-social behavior. The young lady, the “upstander” who just seeks a safe place? She has little in the way of options, except the couple of teachers who will let her stay in and do homework.

What’s important in this example though is that she IS standing up. Instead of descending into the world of pettiness, of mean texting and Instagram posts, of fighting in the restrooms to make a tough reputation for herself…this little girl is choosing, for herself, to quietly rise above it. That’s amazing, and profound, and I make it my mission, every day now, to shake her hand, say hi, and before we finish talking, tell her how much I respect her strength of character.

When did we stop doing that? If you could find that particular date, would it be the same date that the bullies, the disruptive elements, the students that don;t want to be at school took hold? Would that be the date where both teachers and interested students started to have to form a holding action against ignorance?

Maybe so.

With the same black border as the first one.  For the idea of visual unity, don'tcha know.

With the same black border as the first one. For the idea of visual unity, don’tcha know.

The art is pretty straightforward, and again, simply about that. Storm is a teacher at the Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters, populated by mutants. At that school, in marvel Comics, Grant Morrison explored student bullying in the early 2000’s, in one of my favorite plotlines. The students literally had explosive tempers, and the problems were the same as always. The stories were poignant and meaningful, and during my early career, provided an odd sort of guidance to me. Still, I felt it important to have a comic book character that actually is a teacher in the frame.

I also wanted the art to be, once again, about support for the positive, instead of the eternal, repetitive attempts to Keep the Haters Out. All the time, I struggle to Keep the Haters Out. All the time. I will tomorrow. I will the next day. And so on, and so forth.

But…for just this month, I want to make a concerted effort to Support the Upstanders. The kids that those two girls in New Jersey are trying to make a word to respect. I want to every day, find one kid who just takes the High Road, and let them know that someone noticed, and that it MATTERED. I want them to know that someone cares.

That’s what the art is about…because, I guess I need the protagonist and her friends to remind me. Or maybe I remind her.

It’s hard to tell.

Next Issue: iPads…Roll Out!

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