I admit I’m a little sensitive to the bullying issue. Because I write about special education, I am constantly hearing stories about special needs children being bullied. But we’re all hearing those stories, aren’t we? News stories about young people committing suicide to escape bullying; the It Gets Better campaign; horrific stories of adult school staffers bullying students; every other episode of Glee.
We’re inundated with these stories not because bullying is something new, but because we’re only now becoming aware of it as a major issue. In the last six weeks I’ve written five stories about school employees bullying special needs students. The cruelty is not new; the cheap technology to catch it on tape is.
So when The Washington Post ran lengthy report alleging that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was a high school bully, it caught my attention.
The Post’s article highlights several specific incidents that took place at the prestigious Michigan private school Cranbrook, all verified independently by multiple sources.
Mr. Romney said he didn’t remember the specific incidents retold in the Post, but apologized for them nonetheless.
“Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” Mr. Romney told Fox News. Romney added, “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far, and for that I apologize.”
In one example, John Lauber, a soft-spoken fellow student was teased constantly for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. According to six other classmates, Romney and another student, Matthew Friedemann, tackled Mr. Lauber, pinning him to the ground. The school’s wrestling champion, Thomas Buford, joined in to restrain Mr. Lauber.
“As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors,” reports the Post.
Another student, Gary Hummel, who was a closeted gay student at the time, recalled that his efforts to speak in English class were interrupted with Romney shouting, “Atta girl!” Hummel recalled some teachers using similar language.
Classmates told the Post that teachers often bore the brunt of Mr. Romney’s jocularity. English teacher Carl G. Wonnberger, known to students as “the Bat” for his poor eyesight, was “helped” to walk straight into a closed door by Mr. Romney. It seems that pranking Mr. Wonnberger was a pretty popular activity at Cranbrook, though. Several former students told the Post of a time that the rear axle of Mr. Wonnberger’s Volkswagen Beetle was propped up by two-by-fours by students. The students then watched from the windows as the unknowing teacher floored the gas, only for his wheels to spin uselessly in the air.
These incidents bring up some important questions, like:
- Were these incidents signs of real cruelty, or merely harmless pranks reflecting the time and WASPy locale?
- Has Mr. Romney developed a better sense of empathy as he’s aged?
- Why would such a vision-impaired teacher be driving, anyway? That doesn’t seem very safe.
As someone who writes regularly about bullying, I can’t say that these reports are the worst thing I’ve ever heard. However, there definitely seems to be an edge of cruelty to them. Heckling a fellow student is one thing; tackling, pinning down, and cutting another person’s hair takes it to a whole new weird level.
That being said, someone’s high school hijinks are definitely not the reason to vote or not vote for a presidential candidate. If you didn’t do a single thing you regret during high school, you’ve either blocked out the entire time, or you’re some kind of alien robot.
What do you think?