I was originally just going to link to this article as part of This Delicious Week, but it has really stuck in my craw.
When Robin Tomlin opened his school yearbook in 1970, he discovered that the quote he’d submitted to appear next to his photo had been changed to a single word:
Tomlin had been harassed at the school for years, and this was the culmination. He was even threatened against showing up at his own graduation.
For 42 years Tomlin had been haunted by this. His daughter found the yearbook in 1999 and urged him to try to get the school board to do something about it.
It’s at this point that a story which was merely tragic becomes inhumane. The school board hemmed and hawed its way around, doing everything it could to make Tomlin go away short of doing the one thing he asked: apologizing.
Keep in mind, even if this had been a case of the yearbook being published and nothing else, it would be bad enough. But not only was his request for them to make an amendment refused, the original page was included with others, blown up and plastered on the walls, at the 40-year reunion.
Eventually the school offered to reprint the page and replace it in the existing copies it had on hand. This offer came with this note from the superintendent of the district:
“I cannot take responsibility for the actions or lack of oversight by staff over 40 years ago,” wrote Superintendent John Lewis, in an attached letter. “However, I do wish to express to you that I understand your concerns, and regret that you had such a negative high-school experience. I also regret that the yearbook was published in the manner it was by those involved.”
This accompanied a release for Tomlin to sign saying he would keep quiet and not press charges.
That was the most he could get out of them until recently. On October 22nd, only after the story broke worldwide, Superintendent John Lewis agreed to meet with him and apologize face to face. Lewis then posted an entry on the blog for the school district. It includes these quotes:
As an organization we can acknowledge, apologize for, and regret, that the actions of a few individuals caused such prolonged grief to Mr. Tomlin and to his family. I must also be very clear; this was the terrible action of an individual, or perhaps a small group, who have harmed not only Mr. Tomlin, but also the outstanding reputation of Argyle Secondary School.
Our society relies upon individuals taking personal responsibility for their actions. Where harm has been done, any organization may sincerely apologize, as we have done, but it does not absolve individuals from their personal responsibility.
This incident should not reflect badly upon the entire student body, the school and its community. Not the community of 1970, nor today’s. Our staff and students — both past and present deserve to be extremely proud of many qualities of their school and its history.
Unfortunately, the tremendous efforts of our educators and schools alone do not always succeed, just as the efforts of parents and family alone, do not always succeed. The challenges and solutions we face today are not limited to our schools, to our families, or to our communities, but are societal. Bullying is a societal problem.
Schools, families, and communities cannot solve it on their own, everyone has a role to play and we must direct our energies towards working together to achieve solutions.
In light of a surge of concern around the issues of the connection between teen suicide and cyber bullying, schools, educators and counsellors are often criticized for not doing enough.
I hope that the School District’s apology will bring some peace and long overdue closure for Mr. Tomlin and his family.
In summation: we’re sorry this happened, but it wasn’t our fault, it happens everywhere, and this Tomlin guy and others need to just get over it and stop making just a big deal out of it. I especially like the “surge of concern” bit.
In case this subtext is lost on anyone, commenters on the news story are more than happy to bring it to the forefront.
Only recently have people stood up to say that you know, maybe it shouldn’t just be an accepted part of life that some kids get to be terrorized and humiliated daily for a few years. Maybe that’s not okay. Maybe we shouldn’t tell them, “it gets better”, maybe we should work to not have it happen in the first place. And even that pretty reasonable idea is fought back against by people like those commenters or Superintendent John Lewis or Christian groups who don’t like anti-bullying policies because they’re afraid their right to harass and threaten others in the name of Jesus will be jeopardized (though they’re quick to shriek when they feel they’re being treated poorly.)
How many movies teach us that standing up to a bully makes them back down? Yet Tomlin stood up and gets a weak-ass bullshit notpology. After all, it was only a handful of students, not the whole district, even though someone undoubtedly saw the page in proof form or final form and said nothing. And where is this handful of students? Surely the yearbook staff credited their work. Why haven’t these shitheels been found and asked what the hell was wrong with them?
If Tomlin feels better then hey, more power to him, but forty two years later the bullies have still won. They got away with it. They showed him what faggots get. They have people defending them and the school protecting them.
Hey, remember the story about Mitt Romney holding some gaybob down and cutting his hair? Hilarious! Romney doesn’t remember the incident (why should he?) and few people even remember the story now. Who was the guy who Romney terrorized? Who the hell knows? But people sure know who Mitt Romney is.
It gets better? I don’t think it does.