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The Wheels on the Bus

Karen Klein and the lessons of the schoolyard

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By now, you’ve probably seen the video of Karen Klein, the bus monitor in upstate New York who was viciously ridiculed by the children she was paid to chaperone. You might have also seen Klein on Today this morning, being comforted by Matt Lauer. The middle-schoolers who drove Klein to tears, Lauer said, were “narrow-minded monsters” who should be publicly shamed. The outrage is understandable: It’s hard to watch Klein cowering in her seat, and some of the taunts dished out by her underage abusers are cruel. But there’s an important side to this story that should be acknowledged, as uncomfortable as it might make us feel: Klein bears some responsibility as well.

I have no intention of dismissing the large-scale malice evident in the video by arguing that boys will be boys. Nor do I intend to ape some psychologists and educators who commented, correctly, that much of the blame in this case lies not with the boorish children, but with their parents. But I do know this: Adults have agency, and the moral responsibility to use it. When taunted, they should act. Weeping silently does absolutely nothing but encourage further aggression.

This is especially true in Klein’s particular circumstance. As a bus monitor employed by a school district, she is, arguably, in a position not that far removed from teacher or counselor. When her young charges step out of line, it is her duty to stand up to them and teach them a lesson. It doesn’t take a child psychologist or a member of the clergy to know that children develop a sense of right and wrong in part by observing the reactions of the adults around them. And doing absolutely nothing when assaulted sends the worst possible message.

I’m thrilled to see the public outpouring of sympathy—and money—going Klein’s way. She deserves it. And I’m glad to see the children’s teachers promising punishment; they deserve it, too. But there’s a greater lesson here, and it’s one that Jews know better than most: When attacked, retaliate. When provoked, respond. We are not helpless. And we should never again be victims.

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Althelion says:

I agree with you Liel. I’ve known many a mature woman who would have verbally tore those middle school boys a new anus the minute they showed any disrespect.

But here’s the thing that I think really upsets people: The predatory nature of this gang of adolescents. Those boys realized that the bus monitor was an easy pushover. The first few insults had that poor lady down and out. But they kept on going. Not one of them “tough enough” to say “enough.” A great example of mob mentality.

IHateScams says:

What standards or examples are these miscreants being
brought up by? There are people who should have never littered since
they are totally clueless on raising kids. Just think; this is our
future leaders, military, police, etc.
There is
no fear of repercussions. What are they going to do? Put them in time
out? These little shits are smirking at authority. There is no respect
for the grey hair any longer.

If you would have
mistreated my grandmother like that when she was alive, it would have
been like the Little Bighorn with the Indians on Custer.

One
of the best stories recounted by an FBI agent on Staten Island, New York was when some teenagers
disrespected Big Paul Castellano. He had his goombas pick them up,
brought to the ‘White House’ on Todt Hill and had a quiet word
with them. Basically it was rumored he said, ” You know who I am. Next
time have some respect for an old man.” Wonder if those young fellas
had to change their underwear when they got home.

Wendy Leibowitz says:

I disagree. I was inspired by Ms. Klein’s quiet strength and dignity. When asked if she wanted the boys to be criminally prosecuted, she said no–she did not feel as if she were in physical danger. I think just punishment will be meted out to the boys, and their entire community is tarred. If Ms. Klein had shrieked or struck at the boys, they would have been delighted that they had succeeded in provoking her. It might also have been that she was too stunned or upset to speak or act differently. How dare you judge her until you have been surrounded in a closed space by people shouting insults at you. –Wendy Leibowitz, Washington, D.C.

Jayson2 says:

You seem to forget school bus drivers, monitors, teachers, etc, cannot touch, or threaten any form of punishment to a child in their charge. It’s very simple. If the teacher, bus driver etc, touches or threatens disipline to a child, the child whines to the parents, the parents are indignant their sweet child has been accused of causing mischief, & in a blink of an eye, the teacher, bus driver etc, are being sued.

If you’d bothered to delve into this story, Liel, you might be a bit more understanding of why Ms Klein did not stand up & relatiate. Did you accually listen to the threats Ms Klein endured? Did you hear the the threat of coming to her home to kill her? Did you hear the the threat of coming to her home to steal from her? How about the threat of stabbing her in the stomach to see how much fat might come out? Did you bother to listen to that disturbing threat, Liel?
What exactly did you expect Ms Klein to do? Jump up & grab one of the harrassing boys & give them a good talking too? You must be from another planet if you think the boy she grabbed, & the rest of his disgusting friends, would sit back & not do a thing in retaliation.
Ms Klein is 68 for gods sake. Surely some compassion should be made for her age & health, or are you one of those who expect older people to act & perform the same as a people half their age Liel?
Instead of crucifying Mr Klein for not being agressive toward her harrassers, you might want to ask why the school bus driver, who would have been fully aware of what was going on, did absolutely nothing.

9Athena says:

My dear Mr.Leibowitz-obviously you grew up in some secluded garden. Do you really think the lady should have said: you are bad boys?;your behavior is reprehensible?; I’ll tell your parents?; I’ll report you to the school?
You have no idea the mirth such responses would have evoked. And the taunts would have mutiplied and increased in threats. There also could have been physical attacks; pushing. swiping the arms or pokes in the head from behind. The correct response would be a few karate chops to the lads;but that’s prohibited and subject to legal suits and of course the lady was not trained for such physical efforts.
Question; where was the bus driver? He/she didn’t stop the bus and call the police on his/her handy little phone? Or was the driver similarly terror sticken? Or didn’t care?
You don’t seem to understand the increasing gap between those who strive for a civil society and those who have no concept of such a civilization.
The lady acted the only way she could and I for one am grateful she was not physically harmed.

Yitz says:

I think your article is crazy. She acted in the only way that she could. With dignity and a great deal of forbearance.

What exactly are you upset about? That she cried? That she didn’t scream at or whack those kids?

4 Middle school kids can do a lot of damage to a lady like that. She was in an unresolvable situation that luckily did not last long.

A far better question is why nobody (child or bus driver) stood up for her.

I am glad she got $600,000. That money is a reflection of the distaste that our society holds for bullies and for those who have not been taught or have lost any kind of civic sensibility.

But I think a question we all need to ask ourselves is how many are willing to put their mouth where their money is and stand up for, in real time, those that are being bullied or persecuted.

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The Wheels on the Bus

Karen Klein and the lessons of the schoolyard

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