bully, bullying, pulpit, carol costello, Candy Lightner, MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kirk Smalley, Western Heights High School, oklahoma city, Stand for the Silent, upward bound, filmmaker Lee Hirsch, "the bully project", Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Kevin Jennings, bullying summit,

American Morning

Tune in at 6am Eastern for all the news you need to start your day.
October 4th, 2010
06:10 AM ET

The Bully Pulpit

By Carol Costello and Bob Ruff

Sometimes all it takes is one person.

In the minds of many, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat in the white section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama sparked the civil rights movement in the 1950s.

Candy Lightner lost her 13-year-old daughter to a hit-and-run drunk driver in 1980. Her decision to co-found MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, led to a nationwide movement which has been instrumental in strengthening state and federal drunk driving laws.

Kirk Smalley wants to ignite another kind of movement, one that might have saved his 11-year old boy, Ty. He wants parents, kids, educators and “all those smart people out there” to come up with a plan to end bullying in our schools.

We caught up with Smalley at a rally at Western Heights High School at Oklahoma City. He was invited to speak at the invitation Upward Bound, whose Stand for the Silent campaign was inspired by Smalley’s one-man mission to end bullying in schools.

“I have to make a difference,” Smalley told the students. “I promised my son on Father’s Day this year I’d stop this from happening to another child.”

Smalley says that for years his son, Ty, struggled with a bully at school.

“He was always getting called names. You know, Ty was always pretty small for his age, and he’d get shoved, pushed here and there.”

Smalley says Ty was a typical kid with typical grades who took the abuse for two years. On the day Ty finally decided to push back—physically—he got into trouble for doing it. He was suspended from school. For Ty, that was too much to bear. On that day, last May, he killed himself. He was 11 years old.

Ty’s funeral was captured by independent filmmaker Lee Hirsch, in the upcoming documentary “The Bully Project” which documents the pain suffered by the bullied and their families across the nation.

The pain that Smalley feels is still palpable. “Ultimately,” he said, “my son’s safety rested in my hands. I was responsible for my son’s safety–I’m his Dad! It’s my job to protect him! No matter what.”

Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Kevin Jennings was appointed by President Obama to keep kids safe at school. Ty’s story could easily have been his own.

“I was bulled very severely when I was in junior high and high school,” he says. “And the first day of 10th grade I actually refused to go back to school because I simply wasn’t going to go back to a place where I was bullied every day.”

Jennings organized the nation’s first-ever bullying summit over the summer. But, even he admits it’s a baby step. Experts can’t even agree on how to define bullying. Is it physical? Electronic? Psychological? Non-verbal? All of the above?

“It’s taken us a long time to develop a bullying problem,” says Jennings. “It’s going to take us some time to solve it.”

There are no Federal guidelines that schools must follow to deal with bullying. They’re on their own. In Smalley’s home state of Oklahoma, each school district deals with bullying in different ways. It’s something else that infuriates Smalley.

“A lot of schools around the country, their answer to bullying is they let the victim leave a little bit early. They let them go home early to get a head start on the bully…You’re singling this child out! This child that’s been picked on, you’re singling him out now!”

Real solutions will come too late for Ty. But, Kirk Smalley is on that mission. He has spoken to scores of schools about the dangers of bullying and worked with Outward Bound to hold “Stand for the Silent” rallies around the nation.

“I’m not going to stop,” he told us.  “I’ll fight bullying wherever it’s found.  Schools. Work place. I’m not going to quit until bullying does….”


Filed under: American Morning • Bullying
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Patricia

    Never did I speak with an adult telling them what was going on in my life did any of them believe a word I said. I didn't have the concept of bullying, or use the word. I just told them how awful I felt and tried to give examples. Instead of being offered help or at least given some options, I was disbelieved, criticized for feeling sorry for myself, shamed for my weakness. So reporting the abuse led only to more abuse. Girls have their own way of slicing and dicing a peer, one that almost always goes undetected by adults, so the idea of documenting an event is useless. A girl can destroy another girl with as little as a silent glance. Lucky for me guns weren't as easily accessible in the 1960's, and examples of self-harming or suicidal behaviors by kids just didn't exist (or were kept secret). If I were going through the same experience in today's world, I don't believe I'd made it alive to Jr. High. Teachers, parents, and other adults don't want to believe that one child is being chronically mistreated by other kids–it's so foreign to their view–but what's worse is that the kids can't see what they are doing (or have done) either. If we are to erradicate bullying we have to model for our children respect and compassion towards others, we have to model dealing with each other in ways that don't employ force. If you think that is too tall an order... well, how could you ever expect the kids to do it?

    October 7, 2010 at 8:10 am |
  2. larry rice

    As a teacher in Arizona, I reported more than 10 school bullying occurrences to school administration over a 4-month period last fall, the school discipline policy (against bullying) was not enforced. When I escalated the issue to the District Superintendent, he terminated my contract in retaliation and cover-up: this despite a strong Arizona law requiring teachers to report bullying (A.R.S. 15-341). So carefully evaluate teacher actions, some of us have gone the distance to protect children from bullying only to become unemployed and blacklisted through retaliation.

    October 6, 2010 at 7:59 am |
  3. amanda

    i have been bully alot at my school. its not fun at all it sucks so bad sometimes it makes me cry. sometimes i want to hit that person but then i know that it is not the right thing to do.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  4. Matildagsd

    The first bully in my life was my father. He was an aggressive alcoholic who berated and abused me on a daily basis. Later on in life, I was mobbed at work for nearly 6 years. How did I make it thru? By being more resourceful and stubborn than my tormentors. I didn't become an alcoholic like my father either. So much for those who excuse bullying as a means to rid the gene pool of weak genes. If I wanted to live according to those precepts, I'd just go join a chimpanzee tribe, thank you very much. We are supposed to be evolving away from those primitive traits, not excusing them.
    Bullying escalates, with piggy-tail pulling as its milder form and genocide as its ultimate. Bullies are NOT strong, sensible leaders and have no place in a society that seeks to evolve away from our origins; bullying behavior stems from a more primitive culture where a few aggressors fought over and got the larger hunk of meat or beat up those they felt threatened by. While that might have meant survival of those particular genes back then, and obviously a lot of them are still hanging around today, it does not make for a civilized culture today. Of course, we could always encourage our targets to say the heck with civilized behavior, what then? After all, one good way to silence a bully is a fist in the face – a show of strength from the target is usually enough to throw a bully off. I do not believe for a minute that bullies are weeding out weaker, 'lesser' individuals from our gene pool. What they ARE doing is submitting to primal urges, anxieties and fears, and they tend to go after individuals who do not exhibit enough aggression in return to fight them off. If we want to get rid of bullying in schools and companies, we either have to allow the targets to get equally nasty back and punch the lights out of their attackers, (which would be in keeping with the kind of behavior bullies understand), or we enforce anti-harassment policies that all too many company and academic professionals ignore.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  5. DE REFUGEE

    Could someone pass along to Mr. Jennings that I have a letter from a school district that states my son, racially based bullying victim, can not go to any of his classes if a substitute is in the room and he is not allowed to use any restroom other than the nurse's restroom. Segregation is now acceptable to be used against white kids who report racial violence against them if it means that an administrator doesn't have to lift a finger to provide a safe learning environment. I have backup for everything I stated here.

    October 4, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
  6. The Bourne Blogger

    I hear a lot of people saying that parents need to take control of their kids... This rings true for 1.) Making sure your kid isn't the bully by teaching them wrong from right and 2.) Getting in the bully's face if he's picking on my kid...

    I would inflict a beating so bad that the bully's parents would be able to feel it... And if they don't like that, then they can stand in place of their own child bully... I certainly would make these bullies stand tall before me on their bus or at the mall in front of all of their friends... If I have to get violent I will... I will NOT wait to take action when my kid blows his brains out all over the family laptop...

    You want to end bullying?... Sure school officials are supposed to take charge but the the point is that they are not... If you want to end bullying, gather up some teachers, stalk out the bully, and have an intervention with him and his parents... In the grocery store parking lot, at the school when he's getting on the bus, on the bus, at the mall, at the bowling alley... Whatever it takes...

    October 4, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  7. JOANN

    UNIQUE IDEA TO STOP BULLYING: Arm your child with a hidden micro video camera. These tiny cameras are affordable, small and easily hidden in backpacks, sweatshirt pockets and pocketbooks. I gave my son a mini video camera and it stopped the bullying on the bus dead in its tracks! The bullies were so shocked and taken by surprise that they stopped instantaneously. You have solid proof to take to the school administrators. If the bully steals or vandalizes the camera, then you promptly file a police report for stolen merchanside or vandalism. Then you have solid, "outside the school district" proof that SOMETHING is going on with your child and the bully is named in the police report. If the school isn't doing their job - god knows there are too many "doo-little" teachers and principals in our schools - then take it to the police. Also, make sure you tape record and log all your conversations with the school admin/principals/teachers/etc. This video cam technique also puts the brakes on bullying and has a chilling effect on the bullies since they know they're being recorded. Good luck, speak up and never give up until the bully is given back what he/she gave out!

    October 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  8. Malofeo

    The bully should have been made to attend the funeral.

    October 4, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  9. NJ Mom

    My son IS being bullied cos he is not "Socially Smart" and not good at sports. He is being bullied by totally being ignored by everyone. If it happens in school, you can complain to the teacher, principal. What do you do when it happens around home? And the trouble is caused by that ONE kids who is followed by the rest, who tells the others "if you are with him, you are not with me". Until I was a stay at home mom, I was there for him. What do I do now that he does not have a parent around when he is back home. Our neighbor kids have even taken to disreputing him at school, so he is singled out in school too. He has totally withdrawn into himself. All he does is stay at home rather than cycle or play outdoors..

    October 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  10. Dennis

    Bullying is nothing new. Bullying has been going on for years and years. It's up to the parents to discipline their children, and teach them manners and civility. People no longer want to punish their children, parents have become afraid to even spank their children. For some children it is required to spank them. The kids then feel that they have free reign to do as they wish because there will be no consequences for their actions. I was spanked and I came out just fine. Some kids need it, some don't. Kids need to know that their parents are the boss and not them. Children need to know that if they do something bad at school to someone that there are consequences for their actions. I've been bullied before, but my parents said step up and defend yourself, get physical if need be, but never start a fight. I learned to defend myself and the bullies realized they were playing with fire. If bullies realize their actions are beginning to cause them discomfort they may cease to continue their ways. Conclusively it's the responsibility of the parents to communicate with their children and notify the adults in the school system of an issue. Again, it is the responsibility of both parties to rectify any situation(s) causing negativity or physical/emotional harm directed towards their child or children.

    October 4, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  11. Barrie

    I was severely bullied in my high school years, and despite my parents' best efforts, nothing was done to the students who perpetrated the daily harrassment against me by either the school district or the police. What people nee d to understand is that these bullies may grow up, have families of their own, and forget all about the crimes they committed as kids – but their victims NEVER forget. I am 37 years old, and still not a day goes by where I don't think back to the suffering I endured in my last years of high school. I was fortunate in that I was nearing the end of high school and could see a light at the end of the tunnel; I honestly don't know that I wouldn't have ended up another suicide statistic if I had experienced this torment earlier in my schooling, without having college and escape to look forward to. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. Children are being victimized – their tormentors must be held accountable by the legal system. So should their parents.

    October 4, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  12. L. De Leon

    Absolutely there should be a law against people or kids that bulley others. It makes me sick to my stomach that kids get away with it at school and at other places as well.

    October 4, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  13. Catherine

    I think we need to get organized nationwide to solve this problem. Parents should be accountable. Consequences serious enough to get their attention should be handed down.

    October 4, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  14. Nancy

    This story is distressing and needs to be shared. However, Carol's comments on Tony Harris were also distressing. She seemed to indicate that school officials do not document parents' concerns. This shows a lack of research on her part and appears to be more opinion than fact. The school district I worked for had very specific steps to follow in addressing any concerns whether they came from parents, students, or others. I would suggest that many school systems, if not most, both document and provide support for these concerns. Bullying goes far beyond the walls of a school and is more of social issue than merely a school one. We must all be involved in raising, and as Ty's faher said, "protecting" our children.

    October 4, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  15. Eugene

    Bullying is a crime. Bullying is when there is an imbalance of power, when the views are skewed to bring one person down because they don't see the view in the same way..... Kind of telling really?

    October 4, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  16. Mark Longietti

    Kiran got it wrong when she commented about Theodore Roosevelt and his use of the "Bully Pulpit", after the interview aired. She indicated that bullying is used in politics and referred to the Bully Pulpit. However, Roosevelt used "bully" as an adjective and not as a noun or verb. As an adjective, "bully" means excellent or high-spirited. So, Roosevelt used the pulpit of the Presidency to advocate greatness, and presidents since him have done the same. It does not refer to bullying someone.

    October 4, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  17. Mike

    Ty Smalley is my hero! Both of my sons "6 & 10" will watch this and then we will talk. We can all help and make a difference in others lives- and ALWAYS remember Ty.....

    I'm deeply saddened by the family's loss. RIP at Gods side.

    October 4, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  18. Carlotta Holt

    It's all well & good to blame the schools for not doing enough to stop bullies from bullying, but these kids did not learn to bully in a vacuum. The problem begins at birth. We have become such an un-civil society, with people gathering and carrying signs saying hateful, hurtful, untrue things. Children emulate their parents. They will do what you do, not what you tell them to do.

    When I was growing up, if I said anything hateful or hurtful to any of my siblings, I would be immediately reprimanded & if I didn't stop, punished. Uncivility was simply not tollerated in our household! If we would fight, we would have to "kiss & make up" before it was all over.

    I think the problem is that hatred, greed & jealousy are dominating our society right now instead of love & tollerance. And this from a so called "Christian" nation! I think before we blame the schools & the children, we need to look to ourselves!

    October 4, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  19. Gil

    Hi Carol and Mr. Smalley,
    I saw your article this morning on AMFix and was deeply moved. I think that there are two avenues you can take to help in your campaign. First, make sure incidents are reported and logged. Its possible that the best way to do this (if the school district doesn't) is to facilitate students sending a SMS to an address that will at least log all the events. This will serve two purposes: capturing what transpires and when, then allowing school staff to review the logs and determine in which cases to investigate further. The second suggestion I have is to provide free of charge some self defense classes that could boost the self esteem of some of the children who are bullied. I am not suggesting to "arm" them for a fight at school, rather to reassure them that they can handle certain situations should they arise. I would venture to guess that local martial arts schools can donate a few free hours for self defense classes and also individuals can donate to a fund that will help pay for these training sessions. I agree though that the most important element here is *not* to stay silent. Incidents of any kind at the earliest stages must be reported and logged. That's the only way a trend of bullying can be identified and followed. Really the definition of bullying is predicated on the fact that its a recurring event. That's exactly why its imperative to log and capture every event in detail to determine the pattern of bullying involved. In some cases it fizzles out on its own. In other cases it festers for a long time and gets worse physically/mentally. Prior to that point is where intervention needs to take place. But how would a school staff member know that one has reached that critical stage in bullying if a log is not being maintained? Wishing you all the best in your quest.

    October 4, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  20. Elesa Hayden

    It is very sad that our children are having to endure this at school and in our neighborhoods where they are supposed to feel safe. At a new middle school this year, my son was walking to his bus and was struck in the back of the head with a hardcover text book by an older child. He did what he was supposed to and notified his bus driver who then contacted the Vice Principal. I was notified by the bus driver when I picked him up and then the Vice Principal. This was handled properly this time. But what about those children who are too afraid to say anything. As adults we should be teaching our children how to act and respect others. This rise in bullying is coming from somewhere and children act on what they see and learn.

    October 4, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  21. wini2

    our granddaughter was bullied because she was taller than most of the kids her age. this went on from 3rd grade into highschool. it made her seek others that were "differant" in some ways and the bulling continued until she went on to college. How sad we can't accept people for who they are instead of how they look, talk etc.

    October 4, 2010 at 9:09 am |
  22. Kate-NJ

    This story absolutely breaks my heart. My son was bullied through the better part of two years. I, as a parent, felt helpless. I reported each incident and it continued. The one thing I did do that turned out to be the deal breaker was, each incident I reported, I followed with a letter or an email. I sent them to the teacher and copied the administration. At the end of the school year, my son was suspended after finally fighting back. My son served his punishment, but when I showed up to the meeting with the administration with the folder, with copies of all the correspondence over the previous 2 years, miraculously the bully and his cronies were suspended too. I urge parents of bullied children to always follow up reports of incidents with written proof. Keep copies. It is the only way to hold the school districts accountable. My heart goes out to Ty's and Tyler's families.

    October 4, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  23. Cecilia Ruttimann

    What about the parents of the bullies? I bet you that if you ask around no one will admit or even know that they have a bully son/daughter. There should be more parental education to teach them to recognize both when their kids are being bullied and when their kids are the bullies.

    October 4, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  24. barry grumbley

    Bullys gather and exist inside a public system which has already been established. Sports as an existing push that comes from public opinion. Private schooling is becoming more needed as the existing public school system is failing under its own imagined superioritys.

    October 4, 2010 at 7:57 am |
  25. Steph

    If you wonder why kids bully, look at the news, the political adds, adults having fist fights. Just look at what happened with don't ask, don't tell. What message did that send? They do it because they learn it from the adults they watch. Politicians, shame on you especially. You lie and distort the truth, and don't even try to get along. Take your news crew and put some political clips from the floors of the house and senate. It looks to me like bullying and not be working to get along.

    October 4, 2010 at 7:06 am |