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By Yvonne Nyenhuis

Fri, Mar 21st, 2014
Posted in All Commentary

In America chances are, if you are bullied as a child, you will grow up to be a comedian. Groucho Marx told about a swimming pool that was “closed” to Jews. He observed that his wife was “gentile”. He asked, “Does that mean our kids can go into the water half-way?”

Essentially bullying is about the need to make others feel “small so that we can feel bigger.” The tools are fear and intimidation.

I was taught that like snowflakes, we are all unique. We are each one of us a piece in life’s puzzle and are a necessary part of the whole picture.

In 9th grade I attended public school for a year, 15 miles north of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. Algebra posed a problem for me and for my teacher who didn’t like me. In front of the class she accused me of cheating.. I shot back, “If I was cheating I would have aimed for a grade higher than forty on my test!”

The Principal, Dr. Saw, looked like “Mr. Fatback” in the Lil Abner comic strip. He was corpulent, totally bald and resembled a pig. He sometimes wore riding pants and carried a riding crop, most likely left over from when he was in the cavalry at the beginning of the second world war. He decided to grace those of us who were languishing in Mrs. Lenard’s class with his expertise. About six of us turned up Monday morning at 7:30 p.m. and gathered around the boardroom table next to his office. Dr. Saw sat at the head of the table and proceeded to teach us a system that was outdated and bore no resemblance to what was being taught in our class. I looked around the table at the circle of faces. No one understood what he was saying and no one was about to admit it. I finally said for the second time that I didn’t understand what he was saying. At which point Dr. Saw rose from his seat, his huge face turned bright red, the veins in his head were about to burst and he yelled at me uncontrollably. I calmly got up and left the room. Later that morning I was called to the Principal’s office. My classmates acted like I was being called before the inquisition. They whispered among themselves. They figured at the very least I would be suspended. Actually “Mr. Fatback” had decided on a more conciliatory approach. He apologized for losing his temper.

I was required to go to summer school for six weeks to make up my flunking grade. The summer class was held in the high school by their Principal. Suddenly algebra was not so difficult. I passed with a “B” average. In appreciation I hand-painted a tie for my teacher. I was into painting horse heads on ties at that time. I’m sure it was dreadful but at least he knew I was grateful.

In the late 50’s I lived and worked in Florida. I returned from visiting my family in Pennsylvania aboard a Greyhound bus. In North Carolina we made a comfort stop. For the first time in my life, I was confronted with “White Only” and “Black Only” signs. The restrooms and drinking fountains were segregated. I made my way to the lunch counter to order a sandwich and chose an area that was deserted. I was ignored. No one came to wait on me. Finally I went to the front and made my presence known. The waiter said coldly, “You were in the wrong place!” In the 50 years since, I have gone over in my mind what I should have said should have done. As it was I was dumfounded. I paid for my sandwich and took it back with me to the bus.

Forty years ago I worked the night shift in a plastics factory in North Minneapolis. It was an enormous building where plastic housing for John Deere machinery, wash baskets, book shelves and Kemps ice-cream buckets were made. The “ovens” looked like freight trains. Instead of smoke stacks there were funnels. Material handlers would climb a ladder with a forty pound bag of colored plastic pellets which they would pour into the funnel.

One night I came upon a girl who was in tears. She had been working on a machine that made red plastic housing for John Deere. There was a lot of “flashing”, excess plastic which had to be trimmed. It was hard for her to keep up with the pace of production. She cut her hand at the base of the thumb with the utility knife. The Foreman took her to a doctor to have stitches. Then he brought her back and put her on a machine that made shelves. Two shelves were produced in each cycle and had to be retrieved at just the right moment and placed on a table to cool. Every time the girl grasped the shelves it would pull on her fresh cut and stitches. I called the Foreman and told the girl to refuse to do the job he had given to her. I asked her later what he said. Unbelievably, he grinned fiendishly and said that “he just wanted to see how much she could take!”

In my late 20’s I found myself unemployed and decided to try going to an agency. I asked if it was possible to be an apprentice to a studio that did fashion illustration. I was sent to an address. I emerged from the elevator and found myself in an open lounge area surrounded by offices. There was only one man on the floor. I summed him up as he approached me. He was probably under 30, somewhat round, with dark eyes, thick dark curly hair and wearing a white shirt and a black tie. He offered me a seat on an orange plastic settee and a small glass of Mogen David wine.

He launched into a conversation about some women take other jobs while they’re waiting for the right opportunity to surface. He advised modeling. “Some women model gloves and shoes.” He suggested that I should model bras. He carried this a bit further by asking me to strip to the waist to see if I was qualified!” ( I’m not making this up!) “I’m qualified,” I assured him, “but you will have to take my word for it!” I finished the last sip of wine and walked out. I was furious with the agency for setting me up but I decided it would be a lesson in futility to complain.

Presently there is a bill before our Minnesota state government to combat bullying and harassment in our schools. It seeks to clarify what we mean by “bullying”, offers resources where victims can find counseling, refuge if necessary and suggests solutions to resolve the problems. It further empowers those in authority to take action.

The quality of education in our schools will determine the future of our country. A good education is a matter of national security. We can’t expect our children to learn in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Anyone who is concerned can contact our State representatives or key in on the internet for more information. (jheyer@outfront.org)


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1:21:46, Mar 23rd 2014

REDHORSE51 says: