School Bullying:

A Problem That Has Not Improved Throughout the Decades

School bullying was a problem when I was a child in the late 1960s, and it is a problem today.  While some schools are addressing the issue, it is not being addressed widely enough or strongly enough.  My experiences of being bullied in school may or may not be average, but I believe they do show both how and why this problem exists.

Bullying was not a common occurrence in my elementary school.  I cannot recall any instances of other children being on the receiving-end of it.  My particular situation involved a girl whom I will call "Karen."  She was in my class, a little older than myself, and not well-liked by the other kids. 


There were two instances in which I was bullied by Karen.  The first incident involved Karen approaching me on the playground, grabbing ahold of me, and repeatedly slamming my head into a telephone pole.  In the second incident, Karen came up to me in the classroom and started hitting me over the head with a heavy encyclopedia.  In both instances, the impact was enough to cause me to lose consciousness. 


Thinking about these experiences, there are some points I consider relevant.  First, Karen did not have any special dislike of me, nor I of her;  I was simply present at the "right" time.  Second, both experiences have two common factors with bullying I have heard about since then:  teachers who do not provide adequate supervision for students;  and teachers and staff who are unwilling to deal with this kind of behavior after it occurs.


In my elementary school, some teachers had the tendency to spend a considerable amount of time "in other places, doing other things," rather than supervising their classes.  Not only does unsupervised kids create an ideal atmosphere for bullying, it can lead to other problems as well.  (One example of the latter was a first-grade classmate who accidentally started a small fire). 


However, the "unwilling to deal with it" part is a large part of the bullying problem--  in the past, and today.  There was simply no course of action a bullied child could take that was considered "appropriate."  In my own elementary school, and schools my kids attended, it was a no-win situation:  if a child were to fight back--  even verbally--  he or she would be "in big trouble;"  if a child approached the teacher, he or she would be in trouble for "tattling." 


The bullying incidents I experienced did not cause any lasting damage.  The only result was I tried to avoid Karen as much as possible.  When my own kids were bullied, however, I took a different course of action.  Upon finding no one at the schools would take responsibility, I simply took them out of school and schooled them at home.  While many parents do not have this option, it should not be the last resort when schools refuse to be responsible for their students' safety. 

Childhood Then and Now

some of the differences were better for kids

I recently finished reading a book, part of which talked about the differences between the educational system today and that of the '60s.  Although I was familiar with topics such as anti-bullying and "character development"--  topics which should be taught in the home, taking valuable time away from academics--  there was a topic I was not familiar with:  the educational system in recent decades placing a strong emphasis on "self-esteem."  As someone who was an elementary school student during part of the '60s, I really believe we were better off.


The first point of this issue:  in the 1960s school environment I experienced, "self-esteem" was something one earned.  While kids who were treated well in general "felt good about themselves," self-esteem was heightened by accomplishments.  A kid who did well in his schoolwork, in sports, or with some kind of talent, was able to feel a well-deserved sense of pride in his abilities and accomplishments.  From academics to sports, changing the focus to "no child can be a winner without others being losers" does not equip kids for the real world. 


Second, kids did not need to be "bribed" to do things they should do anyway.  One example of how this has changed is the "Book It" program.  This program has been going on for decades--  elementary school children being given certificates for free Pizza Hut pizzas when they read.  This kind of thing does not equip youngsters for the real world, either. 


A third point:  too many adults have such little faith in kids that these ridiculous changes in schools are almost necessary.  One individual summed up a popular viewpoint by commenting:  "Kids today are fat, lazy, and stupid."  If this is how today's parents look at kids, no wonder kids need to learn "self-esteem" in the classroom.


However, I still believe we were better off.  Whether the topic was a good grade in a class, recognition for participating in a sport or other activity, or simply being held in high regard by others, one only received these perks if they earned them.  If we did not do homework, or messed up a test, we could not expect a good grade.  If we had no athletic ability or other talent, we would not receive a reward for "participating."  Equally important, I cannot think of one single kid in my old elementary school who had "self-esteem issues."  We were in school to do what we were supposed to do;  and only excelling at something resulted in special recognition. 

My Father and the Beatniks

I missed everything...

When I was in High School, one of my English teachers was often raving about Allen Ginsberg.  As one of her top students, Mrs. W. was constantly prodding me to read his books.  At that point in time, I had never heard of the guy.  Bringing the subject up at home, I was more than slightly surprised by what I heard.


If I must complain about anything regarding my childhood and growing-up years, it's that I missed everything.  Everything interesting or important seemed to have occurred either before I was born, or when I was too young to be involved.  Allen Ginsberg and his band of poets was in the second category.


When my father was between his two main jobs, he did masonry and construction work for quite a few years.  One of those jobs consisted of working for the poets on their East Hill farm.  As a schoolkid, I could hardly believe he not only worked for these people, but had never said anything about it.  I was just absolutely amazed.  When Allen Ginsberg passed away years ago, it was not like some famous celebrity one has only heard about in the media, but someone he had actually known. 


Considering the laid-back, middle-class, community-oriented way of life of Cherry Valley, New York, it seems an unlikely place for people like Ginsberg to live.  In thinking about it, though, perhaps that is what they liked about it.  Although I, personally, have not been in that particular area for many years, I can understand why the famous and the average alike would choose to live there.  I just wish I'd had the opportunity to meet some of these literary greats while they were living only a few miles away from me. 

Retro: the Return of Cool Styles

the fashion world makes money, and keeps people happy

There are two things that are often said about styles and fashions.  One is whenever something popular goes out of style, in approximately twenty years it will be back.  The other is if you wore a style the first time around, it is probably not appropriate for you when it does become popular again.  While the first is accurate, fewer people these days agree with the second part. 


Tie-dye is one example.  When tie-dye was fashionable the first time around, I was a young child.  As it did not seem to be widely available in my local area, I simply made it myself.  All you needed to do to make your own tie-dyed shirts, socks, and other clothing items, was to literally tie knots in the fabric.  You would then "cook" your clothing in a large pot filled with "RIT" dye, on the top of the stove.  I was doing this before kids were shown in school how to make tie-dye by applying wax to the fabric. 


These days, I often see Baby Boomers who were teenagers in those days wearing tie-dye.  Many seem to believe it is still 1968, as they love their youthful favorites.


A second fashion to reappear was the mini-skirt.  The mini-skirts that showed up in the mid-'80s were nothing like we wore in the late '60s.  They had weird shapes, and were not "mini" by any stretch of the imagination. 


I am one of those people who will not buy clothes if I hate the style.  Currently, this means a style known as "tunics."  From the caftan-style tunics of the '60s to tank tops that are nearly a foot too long, tunics abound in department stores and online stores.  It kind of creeps me out to find the only styles I like are sold in "retro" shops.  However, "to each their own" means wearing what you like, and dismissing others simply because they are "in style."


Have a Nice Day With Smiley Faces

Harvey Ball's wonderful invention

In the early '70s, there was a design that was very popular amongst teenagers. I am guessing I was not the only kid who thought it was something very new, and very modern. When the Smiley Face began appearing on stickers, buttons, and t-shirts, no one seemed to know it had been around for more than a decade.


The Smiley Face was invented in 1963 by an artist named Harvey Ball. The design, which took only ten minutes to complete, was originally intended for a life insurance company. As Harvey Ball did not copyright his design, he received very little money from it.


This wonderful little design became very popular. While it eventually began showing up with variations, and in an assortment of different colors, nothing beat the bright yellow original. There was just something about the Smiley that made people want to wear it, post it, and stick the stickers everywhere.


It is possible that the emoticons many people use in internet communications today originated with Harvey Ball's Smiley Face. However, it is not difficult to find Smiley in the same form as when it was first popular. Recently, I found buttons advertised on eBay-- and had to purchase one. After all, the appearance of this little design has made the world a happier, friendlier place for generations. Even though the popular saying was not connected to Mr. Ball's Smiley, it is a cool little reminder to "Have A Nice Day." If you do not own anything with a Smiley Face, check around the Web and get one for yourself.

Peter Max: Still Going Strong

a famous '60s artist is still popular

Pop-art, op-art, underground comix, black-light posters... and psychedelic art. If you were alive in the '60s, you were probably familiar with Peter Max's own original styles of the latter. If you were an adult in the '60s, you probably hated it as much as the younger generation loved it.

Art, artists, and their popularity come and go, but Peter Max is still here today. At 74 years of age, one of his current works is "44 Obamas"-- 15-foot-wide set of portraits of the President. However, his poster art during the 1960s is the way most of us remember him.


While much of Peter Max's art was simply enjoyable, it also had a purpose. Some consisted of themes about the era in which we lived. The Different Drummer, Moon Landing, Be In, and Lady Liberty were two examples. He also produced rock concert posters.


One may wonder how an artist can continue his life's work and hold onto his popularity for a half-century. It seems to have been a combination of talent, determination, and keeping his eye on his ever-changing audience. Peter Max's art is still being sold, show in galleries, and taught about in schools. As is the case with much about the '60s that was different from generations before, his art is likely to live on forever. When it came to everything that was meaningful about this particular time in history, Peter Max did a great job of representing it with his bold, colorful art.

Mad Men Season 5

The wait is almost over.

AMC’s super hit, Mad Men, has been on hiatus for a sobering seventeen months. The fifth season of the show returns to the air on March 25 with a two-hour opening show.

Hunky Jon Hamm, aka suave-alcoholic- womanizer-deserter Don Draper, has been closed-lipped about what’s up next for the series. The most buzz that the show has gotten in recent weeks was a tasteless poster for the return of the series with a reminiscent-of-9/11 black drawing of a falling man. The falling man has always been a part of the show’s animated opening sequence, but out-of-context, alone on a white background, the falling man has become more tasteless.

Still, the show will return. If you haven’t watched the series, it revolves around ad executives in a high-end Manhattan firm. Don Draper and some of his colleagues broke off from their original firm to start their own, struggling office. In the past few seasons, Don has gotten divorced and haphazardly proposed to his beautiful, young secretary, Megan. As season four ended, the firm was in trouble, with one of its biggest clients deciding to move elsewhere.

TV Line’s Michael Ausiello offers some spoilers where Hamm has not. The show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, says that the fifth season will be every man for himself. It remains to be seen what this obscure pronouncement will mean for the characters, but probably indicates there will be a lot less group drinking after work. Weiner also says that the season will have a sense of impending change, and that characters are just trying to stay above water in the midst of it. 

Despite viewers’ protestations, Weiner will not reveal how many years have passed between the show’s last season, which ended in 1965, and the next. Perhaps Weiner will give us a completely different show that’s set in the 1970’s. I’d like to see Don deal with a teenaged Sally, and Peggy cope with being a working mother with a young child.

Like many other viewers, I hope for gay art director Sal Romano’s return in the upcoming series. He was quite unceremoniously dismissed—after refusing one of the agency’s largest client’s come-ons, Sal was fired. The last time we saw him, he seemed to have finally admitted his homosexuality to himself, and was off to troll for sex in a public park. He was such a sweet character, and it would be nice to see that something less sinister eventually befell him.

What do you hope to see in the fifth season of the popular series?


"Mad Men"-inspired popular culture

Drinks and dresses.

I am very, very late in coming to the Mad Men craze, but sure enough, I’ve made it. The 1960’s-era period drama about a group of Manhattan ad executives has spawned a 1960’s mania in popular culture not seen since the age of the Beatles.

First came the cocktails. Gin fizzes and gimlets, Manhattans to whiskey sours, these defunct drinks have made a comeback everywhere from swanky bars to hipster clubs. You can even order a few of these in the campus bar and they’ll keep a muddler handy for you. The success of each interpretation of these drinks is still up for grabs—I’ve had many a bartender who doesn’t understand the nuances required to make a tasty old fashioned, but the supply and demand from these grandparent’s drinks is certainly real.

Now, I’m all for expanding our imbibing repertoire outside of rum and cokes and beers, but the ad executives on Mad Men make drinking look disgusting, not classy. If you’ve ever drank as much straight whiskey and vodka as these suited executives do, you’ll know that you’ll start to get a fuzzy head that will put you in bed right after dinner. Instead, aside from the occasional bloke who gets fired for pissing himself in the middle of the day, the drunk execs are portrayed as suave, not as alcoholics.

I like the trend, but I don’t like the implication that you can funnel these drinks into your mouth and still function well enough to bring in the Lucky Strikes account.

Similarly, fashion trends have started to emulate the dress of the stars of the show. Women wear mostly floral, full-skirted and sleeveless looks outside of the office, and brightly-colored, tailored dresses in the office. Men wear grey or navy suits, often double-breasted suits, and shorter pants in the office, and plaid or white button-down shirts and Bermuda hats outside of it. Sure, it was a time where women had to live with their husband’s choices and be valued only for their sex appeal (and wardrobe)—but they sure looked great, didn’t they?

Banana Republic has really gotten into the act and has partnered with the show’s designer, Jamie Bryant, to create looks inspired by the show to purchase. The collection will include dresses, polos, cardigans, vests, blazers and capris, and will be for sale at Banana Republic starting March 1. The shop introduced its first Mad Men collection in August, and created this second line because of its popularity.

What do you think of all the Mad Men trends?


'Sixties Fashions: Bright, Colorful, and Fun

There were many fun styles in this decade...

When I was a child in the '60s, all I knew about "hippies" was when related stories were sometimes on the news.  As no one in our area had that lifestyle, no one wore the "hippie styles" we often hear about these days.  Instead, the many fun styles we had were colorful, bright, and fun.  When I looked it up years ago, I found many of the styles had originated in London.  As the British Invasion of music had become very popular in our area, it was only fitting that the styles came along with it.


One cool item was go-go boots.  The go-go boots we liked in the '60s are nothing like the ones advertised these days.  They were calf-high, wide on the tops, and always white.  After they became popular on music shows like Hullaballoo, most young girls wanted a pair.  They were the perfect accessory with miniskirts and fishnets in all colors. 


While miniskirts, jumpers, and shifts were the usual attire for school, another fashion was around for awhile:  paper dresses.  As I recall, the best thing about paper dresses was not needing to hem a dress if it was too long--  all one had to do was trim it with a pair of regular scissors.


In our area, hippie hair was not seen, either.  In fact, a guy could get expelled from high school if his hair was longer than his shirt collar.  Rebelliousness generally went no further than wearing sneakers outside of gym class. 


I read that a person can be defined by his or her choices in clothing styles.  Thinking about the fashions we loved in the '60s, I think that is an accurate assessment.  There was not really anything to rebel against, and nothing to prove.  Similar to our choices in music, fashion was just another aspect of who we were:  the kids of the '60s, different from the generation before us, but not very different at all.


A Different Perspective on '60s T.V.

sometimes comedy has something else behind it

There are two points that are the same between my television-viewing as a kid and today:  first, upon finding "retro" channels, I've noticed I enjoy many of the same shows I liked as a youngster;  second, I see t.v.-watching as entertainment--  if I want to "enrich my mind" or "learn something," I read.  With those two points in mind, there were some surprised when "That Girl" recently showed up on a retro channel. 


That Girl was a popular sitcom that aired from the mid-sixties to the early seventies.  Marlo Thomas, daughter of superstar-entertainer Danny Thomas, starred in the leading role.  Her character, Ann Marie, was a young woman on her own in the "big city," with dreams of becoming a star, while taking side jobs to earn a living.  Ann Marie's boyfriend, Donald Hollinger, was played by Ted Bessell. 


During the seasons of That Girl, Ann and Donald became engaged, but never married.  It was not until recently when I was reading about the show that I learned the reason for it:  Ms. Thomas had insisted the two characters never marry on the show, because she did not want to portray to impressionable young viewers that marriage should be a youngster's main priority in life.  As That Girl was airing before the "feminist movement" hit the United States, it was surprising to learn the show was presenting feminist viewpoints. 


Frankly, I think it is wrong to attempt to sway youngsters' beliefs and values, and pass it off as "comedy."  While I believe Marlo Thomas has always been a fine actress, and I deeply respect the work she has been doing with St. Jude's Children's Hospital, I believe she was in the wrong to try to impress her own beliefs and values on youngsters who thought her show to be nothing more nor less than good entertainment.