Fashion wasn't my friend when I first came to this country. Money was tight, so I wore these cheap, long neon green shorts that got a lot of looks from other fourth graders. My backpack had a strong camouflage pattern that screamed "outsider!" instead of the single tone Jansport backpacks everyone else had. The students all called me "Rambo". It wasn't meant to be affectionate.
My lunch was different, my hair was different. My accent was foreign. These differences made me scary and unknown - a threat to all my fellow students at school and they bullied me mercilessly for it. For years I was put down, ignored, ostracized and mocked. I learned to adapt. I became the smart guy with an odd sense of humor that made others laugh. I started bullying others - a common coping mechanism among those who are bullied.
School bullying is toxic. It can destroy a child's self esteem and affect a child's personality for the rest of their life. Not every student copes in relatively productive ways like I did, some become depressed, develop clinical mental health problems or hurt themselves in other ways. As an educator, I also know that children bully themselves to express their own frustrations or issues because they lack guidance or oversight on how to express their angst productively.
That's why I am so humbled that our work on school bullying is bearing fruit and that my friends and colleagues at the Department of Education will now track religious discrimination in schools. Tracking religious discrimination is the first step in helping teachers and parents assist both the bullies and the bullied in coping with the problems of childhood and adolescence in fun, productive ways while also teaching them about the importance of respecting all people regardless of their religion or race.