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The Savage Side of Schoolmates

Written by Southern Poverty Law Center on 05 March 2010.

William Rivers PittMost of us have a story about being bullied back in school. Thankfully, most of us did not go through the childhood that William Rivers Pitt endured. This bestselling author faced years of torment by classmates. Switching schools only made things worse. Teachers and administrators either looked the other way or took ineffectual action.

It’s an old story. But few describe it with the eloquence that Pitt musters in his essay “Here There Be Monsters.”

“Something in me had brought out the savage side of my schoolmates, and something in them had changed me forever. It took me years, decades, to come to grips with what I had been put through. To live in such a situation is to be in complete darkness. It is toxic to the mind, body and soul, and all too often ends in tragedy.

“There is a kid like me in every classroom in America, ...”

Pitt’s essay comes with one caveat. He repeats the story that Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold acted out of revenge for being bullied. This notion spread rapidly right after the 1999 shootings and is still widely believed. As it turns out, mental illness—not bullying—was probably the cause of Columbine. Ironically, Harris was a rather vicious bully himself. So Columbine does tell us something about bullies—just not the something that most people believe.

Don’t let this distract or dissuade you. Pitt has written a terrific essay that should get the attention of all school teachers. Read it and share it with your colleagues.

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