I propose, however, that some young people are heartless, bullying sadists not because they are unformed and inexperienced, but because they are, after all, little people, and big people are often heartless, bullying, and sadistic.
And, because school should be as terrifying a place as possible, sometimes the big people bully the little people and nobody cares.
A fourteen-year-old developmentally-disabled girl in Ohio told her parents that she was being bullied by her teacher and a school aide. Her father complained to the school, and the district superintendent determined the girl was lying and in an email explained that "it came to a point where I had to remind the man that his continued false accusations were bordering on harassment and slander."
Her parents, who unaccountably insisted on believing their daughter, fitted her up with a recording device, and what that device recorded should make everyone entertain the possibility that schools might be as scary as sharks, plagues, and great heights.
Aide Kelly Chaffins can be heard saying: "Are you that damn dumb? Are you that dumb? Oh, my God. You are such a liar...You told me you don't know. It's no wonder you don't have friends. No wonder nobody likes you. Because you lie, cheat...steal."
Not to be outdone, teacher Christie Wilt chimes in with this observation about a test the girl had just completed: "You know what, just keep it. You failed it. I know it. I don't need your test to grade. You failed it."
Chaffins, perhaps concerned that she will not emerge as the more abusive of the two, later asks the girl if she does chores, and when the girl says "no", comments: "Don't you find that a little ridiculous? How you gonna do a job? You should be embarrassed. I just am in awe. Makes you worthless." Oh, and when the girl "misbehaved" they made her go for pleasant walks on the classroom treadmill.
When the tapes were made public, it emerged that this was not the appropriate manner in which to address a vulnerable young person. Chaffins tendered her resignation, and Wilt was forced to confront the unbridled wrath of the education system, in that her "intervention specialist" license was suspended for a year and will only be returned to her if she completes a grueling eight hours of bullying awareness and child-abuse reporting classes.
Thankfully, the district superintendent seems to have learned a valuable lesson. He conceded that insulting and demeaning a developmentally-disable student "fell short of our mission" and pledged to "work very hard to never let that happen again." "We need to provide proper training and restate our expectations of how we treat children so that this never happens again", he indicated, suggesting that his pedagogical philosophy is based on the delightful premise that unless you tell teachers they're not allowed to call students dumb and lazy, they'll do just that.