A year ago today, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover took his own life. The Springfield, Mass., boy was about a week shy of his 12th birthday. His suicide came after months of brutal taunting that began when he entered sixth grade the previous September.
Carl was a slightly built young man who had yet to see his teenage growth spurt. His appearance was enough for some classmates to target him as "gay." Getting pummeled day in, day out with every homophobic slur that kids can muster took its toll on him.
So Carl committed suicide by hanging himself with an extension cord. His story has been echoed disturbingly too many times, most recently in the case of Phoebe Prince. She was the 15-year-old Irish immigrant who killed herself in January after enduring a relentless campaign of cyberbullying.
Thankfully, kids who commit suicide remain rare. But instances of bullying are not. According to a 2005 poll by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), nearly two-thirds of U.S. middle and high school students reported being harassed or assaulted during the past year. Also, more than a third said that either bullying, name-calling or harassment is a somewhat or very serious problem at school.
There are many ways to remember Carl and to do something about bullying. You can start by going to Facebook’s "5 minutes to remember Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover" page today. Also, Carl’s mother and GLSEN have launched a petition drive urging Congress to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act, or H.R. 2262. It would require schools that receive federal education funding to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying policy.
Perhaps the biggest thing teachers can do is to be there for kids who are bullied at their own schools. Teaching Tolerance offers lessons for teachers and tips for students about how to handle bullying. Schools are supposed to be safe places for kids. Bullying makes them unsafe. We do not put up with other threats within schools. It’s time to stop ignoring this one.
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