Here in England we have shootings in schools too. The most recent and infamous was the Dunblane massacre, in which the local "freak", a man named Hamilton, shot and killed or injured a number of children and staff at a Scottish primary school. When I heard the story, I wasn't shocked, horrified or even particularly surprised. It was just a variation on the old, familiar theme - a community chose one of its members to be a target and a scapegoat, and then threw up its collective hands in horror when the worm turned. What Hamilton did was undoubtedly wrong, but I understand how he felt. I feel that way myself 24 hours a day, every day of my life.

Hamilton was accused of child abuse, which is totally unacceptable to every right-thinking person, but if there was a child abuser, he was probably a popular and well-liked person who knew that he could use an isolated "freak" like Hamilton as a smokescreen. Yes, people do that. Something of the sort happened to me when I was at university. By the time I got to university, I had given up trying to mix with people my own age, and didn't have any friends in the Hall of Residence I lived in. When a series of thefts from refrigerators took place, the other girls decided, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that I was responsible,just because they didn't know me.

I was bullied throughout my secondary school life, not just by a few people, but by the entire school community. I was made a scapegoat for no better reason than that I was an intelligent female from a professional family. I was brought up in a working-class community in which both sexism and left-wing political extremism were endemic. Women were allowed to be mindless breeding animals, but not human beings, and I absolutely refused to be anything else. According to left-wing ways of thinking, qualities like intelligence, initiative, achievement, hard work, creativity, individuality and the ability to think for yourself are all anti-social and unacceptable, and I, for my sins, had the lot. Professional people were resented because of their greater incomes and because they were seen as "class enemies", even if, like my parents, they had started out with nothing and worked their way up.

I was luckier than some of you, in that physical violence was not tolerated at my school at all. All fights were stopped immediately, regardless. Even so, I was afraid to go out on my own after school, in case I ran into some of my classmates when there was no one to keep them under control. And, of course, bullies can use other methods. The bullying I experienced consisted of

and so on, all day, every day, 5 days a week for 6 1/2 years. Under English law, almost all the above are civil, if not criminal offences. No adult would be expected to put up with that kind of treatment. Children, on the other hand, have no rights, and that's why anything goes in schools.

In spite of the above, I disagree with the person who said that the most intelligent thing a person can do is hide his or her intelligence. You have the right to be intelligent and to be seen to be intelligent. Your school reports and examination results determine the level of access you have to college courses and employment opportunities, they're important for your future. If you let bullies force you to hide your intelligence, you let them win.

Neither my teachers nor my parents (who were also teachers at other schools in the county) made the slightest attempt to stop the bullying or to provide me with the help and support I needed to endure it. If I complained, my mother would whine "Oh, just keep away from them" (as if that were possible!) and my father told me that as far as he was concerned, bullying was normal and my peers could bully me as much as they wanted to. He was equally happy to let my mother bully me at home. My mother, who was insecure and saw me as a threat to her relationship with my father (why?) lost no opportunity to turn the appearance of every new zit into a major international crisis, or to tell me that I was fat, ugly, had chronic BO, would never be attractive, that people who praised me were only being get the idea. Total destruction of self-esteem. Yet it was better to be at home with that than at school.

As for the lazy, selfish, irresponsible, immoral scum who had the nerve to call themselves my teachers, they demonstrated repeatedly by example that they were not prepared to lift a finger to help or support me. It was far too much trouble. The only thing that interested them was getting as much money out of the Local Education Authority as possible for as little work as they could get away with. They were obviously unfit to be in charge of children since there wasn't one of them who would have been capable of recognising the difference between right and wrong if it had jumped up and spat in his or her face. That's why one of the most Frequently Asked Stupid Questions which comes up every time another child takes his/her own life because of bullying here in England is "Why didn't s/he ask for help?". What help? Bullied children learn very quickly that no help is available. Take, for example, the case of the 13-year-old daughter of Salvation Army parents who took her own life here a couple of years ago. She did speak to her parents about the problem, but they thought that their religion was more important than their daughter and "turned the other cheek". She also went to a teacher, who turned around and explained very politely that it wasn't her problem. Last week, I read about the case of a boy who ran away from home because of bullying. His school told reporters that his records contained no indication that he had been bullied. Same old story. The school didn't care and didn't want to know.

I would like to remember, and thank, my fourth-year junior teacher. He realised that I was likely to have problems at secondary school and he cared enough about me to try to prevent them by advising my parents to send me to an inexpensive local independent (fee-paying) school, where I would have been seen as a normal person rather than a politically-incorrect freak. Given my parents' attitudes, it's not surprising that he failed, they decided to buy a house instead. A house, for crying out loud! I went through years of Hell for the sake of some inanimate heap of bricks! If I ever inherit the house, I intend to sow salt into the garden so that nothing will ever grow there again, and then burn the place to the ground. I don't want the money. I can only come to terms with the fact that income from teaching fed and clothed me as a child by telling myself that I had no choice in the matter. I am ashamed to be a member of my family because 90% of them are teachers and all of those who are condone bullying. Right now, they're out there, neglecting children who are in the same position as I was or much worse off, and pretending nothing is wrong. They even, don't laugh, expected me to take up teaching myself. I'd rather spend the rest of my life in a death camp.

After university, I got a "graduate job" but wished I hadn't. I couldn't do it because it required good interpersonal skills. It's true that bullied children don't have the same opportunities to develop interpersonal skills as other children, but I still think that all this talk about teaching "friendship skills" to victims of bullying in English schools is just another case of BLAMING THE VICTIM. After all, a person who expects to be disliked whatever he or she says or does is hardly likely to try to use friendship skills whether he or she has any or not. I quit the job after 3 years, went back to university for a second degree and then back into employment. My present job isn't a graduate job and it isn' well-paid, but I can do it without being a nuisance to myself and my colleagues and should be able to hold it down and come out with a pension at the end of it, so that's progress. Bullying has probably halved my earnings capacity.

Whoever said that psychologists haven't a clue has got it dead right. I've been in therapy twice. On the first occasion, when I was 17, the issue of bullying didn't even arise. On the second, it did, but only because I brought it up. I might as well have been talking to a brick wall. The therapist could not, or would not admit that bullying is WRONG or that those who bully CHOOSE to do so and are RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN ACTIONS. I think the problem was that in order to do that, she would have had to take a good, hard look at some of her own behaviour and admit that it was rather less than perfect, and she didn't want to do that. Instead she just made excuses...viz

Bullying is natural: NO, it is learned behaviour. I've watched my mother teach it to a class of 4-year-olds "Laugh at him, children, he's different". That's the root of the tree. Sexism, homophobia, racism, genocide and massacres like Dunblane and Hungerford are its fruit. The behaviour patterns of monkeys, green or any other colour, prove nothing. Monkeys are not human beings. They are not sentient creatures and cannot consider the consequences of their actions and make moral choices.

It was your parents' fault because they brought you up differently: NO. I had the RIGHT to be different from those around me, just as they had the right to be different from me. How else can we all live together?

I wouldn't accept the excuses, so in the end she gave up and blamed me for the whole thing. I wasn't surprised.

If this is happening to you, I would advise you to leave the area you live in as soon as you leave school. Get a job or a college place at the other end of the country if necessary, but above all, go somewhere where you have reason to believe that attitudes to you will be different.

If this is happening to your child, and you can do so, remove him (or her) from his current school and, when you choose another, use your brains and choose one where your child won't be seen as abnormally bright or wealthy. If you can't move your child, at least have the decency to provide him with the help and support he needs to endure the bullying rather than blaming and critcising and undermining his confidence even further. Don't expect him to forgive you either. I don't forgive my parents and never will.

There won't be an end to bullying unless victims are enabled to bring the consequences of their actions home to those in authority who permit it to continue unchecked. A 3-year limit negligence suits is ridiculous - how many 19-21 year-olds can afford to pay for a protracted lawsuit, and how many recover from their experiences in time to sue? It can take years for a victim of bullying to come to terns with what happened and to regain sufficient self-confidence to do something about it. It took me 12 years.

That's it for now. Sorry I went on so long, it's just that for the first time in my life, I know I'm not talking to a brick wall.

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