Monday, June 30, 2014

King Arthur's wounded children

Today I'm welcoming author Michael J. Bowler to my blog. He shares my fascination with Britain's King Arthur, and his novel, Children of the Knight, offers an interesting version of Arthur's long-promised return, set among the street children of the City of Angels. You can find my review of Children of the Night here.

But King Arthur's children are not just knights in this series; they're the rejects of society, the bullied, the wounded, the kids who don't fit in. And here, author Michael J. Bowler offers his take on why so many children in American society suffer this way, and what we can do about it.



One Size Does NOT Fit All,

(Or Why Bullying Has Become Institutionalized in America)

America doesn’t just permit bullying - America encourages bullying. There, I said it. A sad, but very real truth that mars an otherwise in-so-many-ways great country. Every day we hear more and more horrific tales about kids bullied ceaselessly in school or on the Internet, some to the point that they can take no more and commit suicide. Was there bullying when I was a kid? Yes, and I was a victim in elementary and middle school. Has it gotten exponentially worse, and not simply commensurate with population growth? Yes. Based on my observations, here are a few of the reasons.
First off, what constitutes bullying? Is it always the kid being kicked or punched or called names or mocked or who has his stuff stolen or his lunch tray upended in the cafeteria? No, though these are common examples. But these and so many more actions are the symptoms, not the disease. They are learned behaviors taught to children by the adults around them, and the media, and our politicians, and our school system, and our justice system and our sports teams, and, well, just about every institution in America. So let’s look at the continuum of bullying from where it all begins – in the home.
Do some parents intentionally bully kids? Yup. Disturbing, but true, and these stories pop up every day on the news, especially parents who bully their children for being gay and either drive them from the home or blatantly kick them out. I’ve known kids like this personally, and it happens all the time. Very often parent-run organizations like the Boy Scouts of America engage in forms of marginalization and bullying. Only this year did the BSA remove a ban on gay boys being scouts. For all the years before, the impressionable BSA membership was taught that gay kids were bad, or dirty, somehow less than human, and that’s why they couldn’t be scouts (and were kicked out if their “dangerous” nature was uncovered.) If that’s not a flat-out recipe for bullying taught by parents to their kids, I don’t know what is. And the BSA is only one parent-led organization. There are hundreds out there that teach the same. When adults make anyone in the population sub-human in the eyes of other kids, bullying results. After all, “those” kids are not “real” humans like me, right? See how easy it is to think like a Nazi?
These are overt examples. Are there also many ways parents unintentionally bully their kids or model it for them? Yes, and in large part it’s due to that “one-size-must-fit-all mentality” dominating the country. If a parent doesn’t like a certain sport, football, for example, and has a son who does, the parents will say whatever they can to belittle his ambitions in that arena because they don’t like it. Or if a boy wants to be a dancer and his parents tell him that’s not for boys, or a girl wants to play rough sports like wrestling and the parents keep insisting that’s not for girls, or, or, or . . . The list can be endless.
Parents all too often think their children should be exactly like them in every way, or that their children must fit the “norm” in order to be successful in life. A kid may want to be a teacher because he or she wants to give back to the community and work with kids, but parents will often try to force him or her to be a doctor or lawyer or banker because those are more lucrative professions, and more money always makes people happier, right? Wrong. None of us are ever truly happy unless we can be who we are, not who others think is better or more normal. Period. Sadly, all of this stems from thinking of kids as part of a group first and as individuals second, when it should always be the other way around.
Some parents pimp their kids out as models or entertainers so they can make money off them, whether or not the kids really want to do those things for themselves. That’s a form of bullying all too common these days given the prodigious amounts of money that can be made in entertainment or sports. I’ve known many kids forced to do sports they didn’t like or play an instrument they weren’t interested in or follow a career path completely against their own wishes, all because one or both parents wanted to brag about them and, to a large extent, control them. A rose by any other name is still a rose, and so is a bully. But since it’s parents, it’s okay? Shouldn’t be.
In my Children of the Knight Cycle, institutionalized, as well as personal bullying, is brought into the light of day in a quest to gain more human and civil rights for kids in America. As my main character tells an important group of adults in Book IV, “Your kids aren’t little mini-me’s. We’re real people, different from you, with likes and wants and opinions of our own. We don’t need to be brainwashed to be successful. All we really need is for you to show us how to think, not what to think, and how to make good choices, so we can grow into good adults. How hard is that for grownups?” Apparently in America today, it’s very hard. And make no mistake, brainwashing kids to be copies of adults is a major form of bullying. How can it not be? You’re essentially telling a child he or she isn’t good enough the way he or she is, that he or she must be like you to be of value. Wow. That’s crazy.
Since children spend huge portions of each day at school, this is the primary location for bullying to occur. This arena is where kids who’ve learned the techniques modeled by their parents actually get to put them into practice. Do schools condone it? Not officially, but since the “one-size-must-fit-all mentality” is the driving force of education in this country, bullying is permitted. It helps keep the riff raff in line, the kids who dare to be different, who have the affront not to fit the norm, like those Goth kids and those emo kids and those heavy metal kids and those annoying-as-hell skaters and, of course, everyone’s favorite target, those kids who dared to be born gay. Sadly, too many adults turn up their noses at kids like these, or openly disdain them. I saw it first hand where I taught high school. Hell, these were the kids I loved the most, and they were quite often the most creative and innovative in their thinking. But no, that’s wrong according to the education system. Everyone must be rote, must memorize the same common core information, must think inside the box – if they’re allowed to think at all. This is institutional bullying at its most disgusting.
Look at the standardized testing the kids must endure, all of which tells little about the ability of an individual child except his ability to memorize information or, in the case of the SAT, regurgitate that info within a set period of minutes (as though success in college is determined by speed.) These tests don’t allow students to analyze, or more importantly, synthesize what they have learned, and every student as an individual will do these things in his or her own unique way if encouraged to do so. Variety of thought and expression should be celebrated in education – instead it’s bullied out of kids starting in the first grade when everyone must conform or else.
Here’s another brief moment from And the Children Shall lead, Book IV of my Knight Cycle:“Ricky described some of the crimes against children that had been sent to them from all across the fifty states. Some were seemingly small, like parents browbeating their son to participate in a girl’s quincienera against his will, even though that commitment required him to give up all of his free time for two straight months. Others were downright preposterous, like a school suspending a first grader because he bit his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun, or the middle school boy who’d been suspended for dying his hair green and the school ordered him to go back to his natural color or he’d remain on suspension, or the first grader suspended for kissing a little girl’s hand.
Other episodes would be clear violations of the First Amendment if the accused had been an adult, like the case of some American kids in a California school who got suspended for wearing American flag shirts because the principal was afraid it would offend the immigrant students. There was a middle school in Florida that went to court to stop students from starting a Gay Straight Alliance – a public school using the court system to bully kids. There were stories from children who’d been beaten or abused in foster homes or group homes, kids who were bullied nonstop at school for being gay and the school would only “talk” to the bullies; there were kids who got punished by their parents for listening to “the wrong music,” and even kids in high school who got suspended for bringing their own lunch from home because they were required to eat the school food.”
Just recently, an international student from China whom I train at the gym told me he accidentally violated a school rule he didn’t know about – he was eating food in the student common area. An unfamiliar teacher saw the infraction, marched him down to his counselor, and pointed at him like he was Adolf Hitler, saying, “This one was eating in the common room. Take care of it.” She wanted the boy disciplined by the counselor, who then proceeded to chew him out for breaking the rules. Couldn’t this have just been handled with a simple explanation by the teacher that eating wasn’t allowed, and thus he needed to take his food outside? But no. The boy was presumed guilty of willfully violating a school policy and bullied by both the teacher and the counselor. Welcome to America, my friend, land of the free and home of the bullied.
And of course, in the fall of 2013 there was this egregious, inexcusable bullying by a school principal of a boy who did a stupid, childish prank:
“A popular 15-year-old student has committed suicide after he reportedly faced expulsion and could have been placed on the sex offenders' register simply for streaking at a high school football game.
Christian Adamek, from Huntsville, Alabama, hanged himself on October 2, a week after he was arrested for running naked across the Sparkman High football field during a game.Sparkman High Principal Michael Campbell told WHNT a day before the suicide attempt that the teen could face major repercussions because of his actions.
'There's the legal complications,' Campbell said. 'Public lewdness and court consequences outside of school with the legal system, as well as the school consequences that the school system has set up.'Campbell added that that the incident was not just a prank and needed to be treated seriously.
Sparkman High administrators even recommended that Adamek face a hearing in the Madison County court system to determine if formal charges would be filed, WHNT reported.”
The principal had Christian arrested, and so frightened the “A” student with the fear he would have a criminal record for the rest of his life that the boy killed himself. While not always with such tragic consequences, schools bully kids every day with their zero tolerance policy toward any behaviors they don’t like, behaviors that pretty much define why kids are kids and not yet adults. I met a middle school boy in juvenile hall who’d given a small pocketknife to a friend of his on the school bus and forgot about it. The friend got caught with the knife at school, told administrators who he got it from, and now this quiet fourteen-year-old learning disabled boy with no criminal record sat with me in juvenile hall facing adult felony charges for handing off a weapon to another student. In California, he could be prosecuted in adult court and sent to prison for that “offense.” Insane!
And for the record, that principal in Alabama should have, at the very least, been fired and at the most banned from any future job involving kids. He’s the sex offender here, the real criminal, not Christian. And so is the principal of the school that had the fourteen-year-old I met arrested. Shameful.
America needs to wake up and face the war it’s waging against children. Look at our juvenile justice system. I spent twenty-five years in the public school system, and thirty within juvenile justice, and kids are bullied, denied rights, forced by cops to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, assigned attorneys who do nothing butallow overzealous district attorneys to ram their cases through and send them to prison. This is institutional bullying at its most despicable, and always because there’s money and prestige to be accrued with incarceration and long sentences meted out.
Where’s the media in all this? The media is supposed to have our backs, right? Sadly, it actually encourages the demonization and bullying of kids. All the kids I know who’ve gotten arrested and appeared in the paper were labeled “monsters” anddeclared  guilty by virtue of the arrest only, rather than innocent until proven guilty. Why? Because the cops and the D.A. said they were guilty. No investigations occurred to actually verify what was said to the so-called reporters. No, these kids were monsters because the media is a bully, too, and uses its power to marginalize everyone, even people it doesn’t intend to.
And lastly, let’s not forget bullying by omission, something the media, schools, and adults in general are very much engaged in. Why are kids who get in trouble with the law so vilified by a public that doesn’t know any of them personally? Because the media allows the bullies in law enforcement and the district attorneys offices to malign the kids, and makes no effort to get the whole story out to the public. They simply repeat what is told to them, print or broadcast that info like it was fact, wallow in their ratings for being as lurid as possible, and as a result, often innocent kids, or kids for whom there were many extenuating circumstances, are now tarnished for life, or worse, hated by a general public who knows nothing of substance, and then sent to prison for life. I depict this form of bullying, and that of the railroading justice system, rather vividly (I hope) in the soon-to-be-released Book III of The Knight Cycle, There Is No Fear, though the origins of this storyline begin in Running Through A Dark Place.
And while we’re talking sins of omission, why does bullying occur with such frequency on school campuses? Because teachers, administrators, and even campus security are so caught up in their own little worlds that they ignore what’s right in front of them, or perhaps even privately condone it. My Gay Straight Alliance kids would tell me how often they or someone else would be called “faggot” in class within earshot of the teacher, and the teacher simply ignored it. “That’s so gay” was flung about with frequency, or being called stupid or retarded or any other names one can think of, all not even mentioned or dealt with by the adults in charge. By ignoring these behaviors, the teacher, or any adult within range, has given tacit approval that the behavior is acceptable. The only way to stop such behaviors is to confront them head on. Ignoring empowers, and empowerment means the behaviors will increase.
Parents do the same thing by not standing up for everyone’s right to have respect simply by virtue of being human, even famous people or politicians. One can, and should, talk to their kids about inappropriate behaviors people do, behaviors that hurt others,so their kids can learn hownot to act. That’s fine. But because we might disagree on someone’s political point of view we often lash out and demonize that person’s very humanity, and our children pick up on these attitudes. There are some people in this world that can rightly be called evil, but that is a super strong word and should not be bandied about carelessly. Most politicians or celebrities we dislike are not evil – they may be dumb or misguided or just flat out wrong, but not evil.
Even such throwaway comments exchanged between adults such as this one I saw on Facebook also teach children to bully: “Same sex couples shouldn’t be able to adopt because their kids will get bullied for having two moms and two dads.” What did the parent who said this just teach his child:If you know kids with two moms or dads at school they are fair game for bullying. Sadly, the most narrow-minded parents are the ones who spout off in front of their kids the most, and bullies are created.
Children take all their cues from adults who surround them, starting with their parents and teachers and coaches. If we want to truly reduce or eliminate bullying among the young, we the adults have to model the right behaviors, not once in awhile, and not just with people we like, but always and toward every human being. Andall us adults must do this, from the poorest to the richest, from the most famous to the least famous. We need to keep our own prejudices to ourselves when in the presence of children, or better yet, grow up and realize that all prejudice is stupid and, as history has repeatedly shown, always leads to acts of evil.
We cannot stand by and watch anyone being bullied. It doesn’t matter if the victim is a total stranger or our own child. Telling kids to “man-up” in the face of victimizationis the height of stupidity. Kids need to be empowered, not mocked or ridiculed. And the bullies need to be called on their behavior every single time. As a teacher, this was often a daily battle because the name-calling was so omnipresent. If that means we stop what we’re doing to address it, that’s what we do. Human beings and their mental health had better take precedence over any subject we might be teaching because if it doesn’t, we have already failed.
My Knight Cycle doesn’t explicitly deal with one-on-one bullying, but does show the long-lasting trauma of parental and governmental bullying of children.The series attempts to illustrate the points I make in this blog, that in America’s now obsessive quest to make every child fit into the same exact mold, we as a country have become “The Bully.”Children who grow up in fear will not do a good job running the country. Teach them basic human values and let the deeper stuff come with age. Teach them to respect everyone no matter how different. Teach them how to work together. Teach them how to not waste anything because wasting is wrong. Teach them to look out for others and not stand by when someone is getting hurt. If we adults model these simple behaviors, as King Arthur does in my books, the children will learn them. And the future of this country will look a whole lot brighter.


Thank you Michael. You've given us much to think about. And you've also produced an interesting series to explore how things can change. Readers can find out more by following the rest of this tour:


6/24 Promo A Universe in Words
6/27  Review  Window on the World
6/30  Guest Post  Sheila Deeth
7/1 Excerpt My Kindle Fever
7/2     Review Reading Authors

7/3  Review TBR
7/4  Guest Post 
Pure Jonel

and don't miss the great giveaway below.




ABOUT RUNNING THROUGH A DARK PLACE:

King Arthur and his extraordinary young Knights used ‘might’ for ‘right’ to create a new Camelot in the City of Angels. They rallied the populace around their cause, while simultaneously putting the detached politicians in check. But now they must move forward to even greater heights, despite what appears to be an insurmountable tragedy.

Their new goal is lofty: give equality to kids fourteen and older who are presently considered adults only when they break the law. Arthur’s crusade seeks to give them real rights such as voting, driving, trading high school for work, and sitting as jurors for their peers charged with criminal behavior.

Understanding that the adults of California will likely be against them, Arthur and his Knights must determine how best to win them over.  

However, before the king can even contemplate these matters, he finds himself face to face with an ally from the past, one who proves that everything isn’t always what it seems – even life and death.

The Knight Cycle Continues…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of four previous novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Reader’s Favorite Silver Medalist), Children of the Knight (Wishing Shelf Book Awards Gold Medalist), and Running Through A Dark Place––who grew up in San Rafael, California. 

He majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University and earned a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills. 

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.
He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.
He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to seven different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.  He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state. 

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed he and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He has already written the final installments that complete The Knight Cycle and all will be released in 2014.

ONLINE LINKS:
FB: michaeljbowlerauthor
Twitter: BradleyWallaceM
Blog: www.sirlancesays.wordpress.com
Instagram: http://instagram.com/stuntshark
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6938109.Michael_J_Bowler

AND DON'T MISS THIS GREAT GIVEAWAY !
a Rafflecopter giveaway

2 comments:

Michael Bowler said...

Thanks so much for hosting me, Sheila. I really appreciate the support.

Sheila Deeth said...

You're very welcome.