Reading & Literacy

The Whipping Boy & Bullying:: 3rd to 6th Grade Focus Study

Our Troubling Perspective

I have discussed before my stepson, B, and his struggle with his one-dimensional perspective on human behavior. Like with many young boys, there are good people and there are bad people. It’s a concept as old as time. There are cowboys and there are indians. There are cops and there are robbers. In these classic games we don’t, until adulthood, question the false concept that good people are flawless heros, and bad people are at their very root evil. Or even further, that the bad guys were perhaps never actually “bad” at all.

Expanding on that thought, the common early exposure to super heros like Batman, a good person who takes it upon himself to appearingly violently attack obvious one-dimensional villains. The after fact that he makes efforts to place them in intended rehab facilities of asylums and prisons often overlooked by the younger audiences. B has began his own vigilante endeavors to defend the victims of bullies through violent means without question of the situation. We have been called because of punching, pushing, and even the classic Batman chokehold.

Why Do They Bully?

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I, like most anyone reading along, was a victim of bullying on multiple occasions, from a countless number of perpetrators. In fact, statistics show that “90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying” (NVEE). I started in a school that taught love and understanding before I moved over to public school in third grade. The hate, the bitterness, the teasing and name calling didn’t bother me as much as it did hurt me for the apathetic state of the flawd school system. Yes even at nine.

A couple of years ago a bully from junior high school reached out to me as a part of his twelve step program to apologize for things he had done. I had moved on from it long ago, but the guilt of the pain he had possibly caused me was transparent nearly two decades later. I hurt for him, not myself. He confessed that the only reason he persisted was because his taunts, cruel pet names, and even the property damage to my home didn’t seem to break me. I understood, just as is apparent today, that he was the one that was broken.

It’s time for change. School violence is on the rise and the suicide rates of bully victims are climbing. We can work towards counseling efforts for the victims as a reactionary reflex, but we could still do one better. Instead of casting the bullies off as the villains, we need to instead take time to understand that they are multi-dimensional, and that there is a pain, that if healed, could prevent the bullying altogether.

As a Parent, I Can Teach My Kids:

  • to understand the effect their words have on others
  • to understand mean words have more to do with the pain of the heart of the one delivering them
  • to love unconditionally
  • to talk to their teachers, counselor, and principles when they feel bullied or witness bullying

With the girls, I have them year round so these concepts are easier to teach as they happen. But, how could I in the short time frame of two months teach B that bullies are just as broken as their victims? That the motto of a bully is “misery loves company,” and that violent or disparaging solutions will only ignite the outlash of the bully further.

I look back on the bully we brought up previously. I didn’t strike back, but I ignored him. I understood he was hurt, and instead of helping him, I did what I perceived he wanted, and ignored his struggle. I should have talked to a teacher, a counselor, a principle, anyone who would listen about his pain. I should have demanded an intervention, demanded someone, anyone to help him. Research shows that “interventions, especially school-wide or targeted ones, have shown success in reducing both the incidence and negative effects of bullying” (Brank 2012).

This Summer’s Lesson on ‘Bullies and Me’

Ages 7-13

I chose our summer reading book, a Newberry Award Winner, The Whipping Boy. For those who haven’t read this quick, fun adolescent adventure, it’s the story of the boy who is hired to be spanked in place of the prince when he misbehaves. This story captured B’s interest immediately, one because of its setting of kings and castles, and two because of his deep seeded drive towards justice!

Activity One: Character Analysis

Over the course of four weeks we read the book together, focusing mostly on Character Analysis.

  1. Before reading I issued one short write up a day on whipping boys, castle life, and knights so B had a better understanding of the culture and the setting of our book.
  2. After the first chapter I asked B to define who was the protagonist and who was the antagonist?
    • Protagonist: Whipping Boy
    • Antagonist: Prince
  3. After we reached the halfway point in the book I asked B once more to label who was the protagonist and who was the antagonist. His dialogue and frustrations had grown greatly, as the Whipping Boy refused to understand that the Prince’s shenanigans were driven by his pain. And only driven deeper by the Whipping Boy’s refusal to accept him.
    • Protagonist: Prince
    • Antagonist: Whipping Boy & Thieves
  4. At the end of the book B concluded that both boys were protagonists.
    • Protagonist: Prince & Whipping Boy
    • Antagonist: The thieves
  5. Critical thinking
    • Were these characters dynamic or static?
    • In what ways did the characters change?
    • What caused the change?
    • In what ways did they stay the same?
    • Why did your opinion of them change?

Activity Two: A Study on Perspective

After the book we watched The Prince and the Pauper and discussed perspective.

  • Before watching the movie,
    • What is the life of a prince like?
    • What is the life of a pauper like?
    • would you rather be a prince or a pauper?
  • After Watching the movie:
    • What is the life of a prince like?
    • What is the life of a pauper like?
    • Would you rather be a prince or a pauper?
  • Define perspective.
    • Did any of your answers change?
    • Why did they change? What changed your mind?
    • What did perspective have to do with your answers before?
    • What did perspective have to do with your answers after?

Activity Three: Compare and Contrast

As a final activity we will conduct a compare and contrast paper.

  • Which does your child identify with most?
    • The Whipping Boy
    • The Prince
  • Create a Venn Diagram comparing the child to the character of their choice.
  • Discuss the similarities and differences, why that is.
    • Example: B, though compared himself to the Whipping Boy, and realized that he was most like Jemmy when he was quick to attack bullies over getting them help.
  • Optional: Have them write a 100-200 word essay as to the reasons behind the similarities and differences in the chart and creative project of their choice to drive it home.

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