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February 22, 2010

School bullying in America

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 11:27 pm

I’ll give you a clue as to how old I am: when I went to school, bullying was not a word.  Bully was a word, but it was always used as a noun, never as a verb.  Bullying is a gerund, and back then, school kids knew a gerund when they saw one, but the word bullying did not exist.

All through grade school and high school, I never saw a physical fight, nor even a verbal altercation.  Everyone got along with everyone else and there was never any name calling or verbal abuse, much less knife fights or pounding with fists. There were no “mean girls,” no gangs, and no one carried a gun to school; mass murder, as at Columbine, was far, far in the future.

What was the reason for this  school paradise?  In a word: diversity.  There was a complete lack of diversity.  Everyone in my school was of the same race and the same ethnicity.  I lived in a town where the people were more than 50% German-American.  The word diversity, as used today, was unknown.

Children reading in a classroom in 1940

In the 1940s, little boys typically wore overalls, or corduroy pants with suspenders, to school.  Little girls always wore dresses, never pants or shorts, in the classroom. Note the complete lack of diversity in the classroom.

Before I went to college, I had never seen anyone who was of Greek or Italian or French ethnicity, and certainly not anyone who was Asian or Hispanic. Even in my college classes, there were no Asians or Hispanics or African Americans. There were some Jews, but they had their own sororities and fraternities; they didn’t mix with the other students.

At school dances, when I went to college, there was always an intermission when all the students faced the Confederate flag, and with our hands over our hearts, we sang “Dixie.”  I kid you not. My college was in a part of Missouri known as “Little Dixie.”  Frat houses flew the Confederate flag.  Bullying was unknown on our segregated campus.

Many parts of Missouri, where I lived, were still segregated back then, including my home town.  African Americans were allowed to live in the town, but they had their own schools and churches.  Other nearby towns were “sundown” towns where a sign warned African Americans not to let the sun set on them in this town.

One time, a teacher in my high school assigned everyone to write a paper about their “nationality.” Back then, nationality was the term for ethnicity.  When asked “What is your nationality?” no one ever said “American.”  Our nationality was the country from which our ancestors had come to America.  In my school, there were only three possible answers: Germany, England or Ireland.

We didn’t need to have a Holocaust survivor to come to our school to teach us how to be tolerant and to stand up to bullies. Every kid in my school was already tolerant.  We had one student with a wooden leg, one retarded student who didn’t graduate until the age of twenty, and we even had one cretin.  No one made fun of these students or taunted them.  There were fat kids and skinny kids, but no one was rude enough to mention another student’s weight.

Staged photo of boy dipping little girl's pigtail in ink

In my grade school, the desks had ink wells, but no little boy would ever dream of dipping a little girl’s pigtail into the ink.  Every student at my school had a fountain pen, and at recess, our favorite activity was trading fountain pens.  Every day, my classmates and I would have a different fountain pen. That was the kind of amusement we had.  The photo above was obviously staged.

When I went to the home of one of my classmates for supper, I always knew that the food would be exactly like what we had at home.  Everyone in my town dressed the same, listened to the same kind of music, and attended a Christian church. Everyone had the same values and the same morals.

Race was something that we studied in our geography books. Everybody was a racist, but back then, it was considered normal thinking.  Political correctness was unknown, except at Columbia University, where it was called “cultural Marxism.”  The concept of political correctness was brought over from Germany by Jewish professors who were kicked out when Hitler came to power in 1933.

Yes, yes, I know that nationalism and racism are bad, and political correctness and  diversity are good.  Diversity is what makes America great. America is a melting pot and that explains why America is the greatest country in the world.  Without diversity, America would be like Nazi Germany: We would have Gleichschaltung* with everyone thinking and acting alike. Before you know it, we would have a Holocaust in America.  Diversity is what keeps America divided and safe from the unthinkable.

* Gleichschaltung is a German word coined by Hitler.  It is too complicated for me to explain it to you, so google it yourself.


  1. Hi! Came here because I was looking for a picture of a boy dipping a girl’s pigtail in an inkwell. It’s for an historical film I”m making – this was done to the narrator’s mother, a recent immigrant from Hungary in NYC in the late 19th century. May I use the picture you used, and how would I get permission?

    As to your post itself – I’m not at all sure I agree. My elementary school was pretty homogenous, at least to my childish eyes, and bullying certainly existed. In English literature, it was a major factor in “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”, and you could hardly find a more homogenous school than 19th-century Rugby. I think what could have been a factor is a shared culture that taught bullying was wrong and contemptible. “Contemptible” is an important part of this equation! I do think that nowadays, children see bullies succeed in life and perhaps even see them as role models. Take “the Donald” for one example. He may be many things; he may even be hardworking and talented, but he certainly is a bully.

    Just my two cents! Again, I’m here because i’d be interested in using that picture. The film is to go on our local TV station and copies will be kept by the library and the historical society. It won’t have a huge audience.

    Comment by maryj59 — June 9, 2015 @ 10:04 am

  2. That is a wonderful artical. Thank you for your information on what it was like then. I am 22 years old and I am infatuated with the 1940s, sadly I do not have any grandparents to tell me what things were like in my beloved era. I know this is wrong of me to say but I believe that things were better segregated. I mean look at the facts, gangs in schools, shootings, bullying!? Its just an opinion but I cant understand how things are supposed to better now. I dont dare send my child to public school where other children are horrific influences on her. No thanks ill keep her home and school her where I know she will be safe and away from the things that are ramped in todays school like drugs and underaged sex.

    Comment by Eleanor Ferrua — July 26, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  3. In Japan, school bullying is a problem where it gets to the point that the victimized child starts to refuse to even go to school. Japan is still today a largely, homogenous society.

    I am not sure if this has always occurred though. I have a feeling that it didn’t occur much if any back around 1940s, but it is speculation.

    I understand your sentiments regarding diversity or segregation, but I don’t think that has anything to do with school bullying. I do not know where that photo of the child performing the prank comes from, but you have to admit your claim that it is staged is just an opinion. It’s not hard for me to see that children were performing pranks back then which is vastly different from bullying involving name-calling and such.

    Comment by Kageki — September 7, 2010 @ 10:35 am

  4. The New School and Columbia produced the Frankfurt School of Sociologists and Philosophers. They were neither Marxists nor “politically correct”, a term that came about during the early 90’s.

    The New School in particular wanted to apply social science to solve the problems inherent in urban society. However, if you actually read Hannah Arendt’s books, you will see that she explicitly condemns totalitarianism. And Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man and Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality are all an attempt to explain Hitlerism and totalitarianism. They were Leftists but not Communists.

    Comment by Paul — February 23, 2010 @ 7:29 am

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