MMSD’s Carlton Jenkins Wrong About “Bullies”, Undermines Students Being Bullied


Words matter.

It was truly troubling to read that Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Carlton Jenkins cheaply used the word “bullies” to describe critics of the local education system. This is at a time when some students at our public schools are truly being bullied and striving to make it through each day.

This matter was brought to light in The Capital Times.

Jenkins said he welcomes critical feedback on that and other subjects, which he said can provide a chance to reflect on decisions and think about how to better communicate the reasoning behind them — though he added that “bullies will not move MMSD,” citing a difference between constructive criticism and mean-spirited feedback.

There is no need for me to inform readers that bullying is a constant problem on school campuses and the impact it has on some students is most profound. To be singled out with verbal assaults or physical blows is a real bullying occurrence for some students.

So to then have the district superintendent use the word “bullies” to describe citizens giving feedback and perspective on the policies of the board is almost stunning. It is not fair to the ones offering legitimate opinions to the school district and most harmful to students who are bullied and need not have the word marginalized.

I write about this matter from a personal perspective.  My best friend and I were victims of bullies throughout our school years, with high school in the late 1970s being the most intensely troubling.  Three months after graduation the county sheriff arrived at my home to tell me of the suicide of the person who I had known better than anyone else since I was nine years old. 

I offer that insight for the sole reason of making it clear I know what is at stake when it comes to youth who are bullied.  I know what the term “bullies” means. Reacting in opposition to a school policy about classes being resumed or speaking out about lawlessness in the classroom are not reasons to label people as “bullies”.

How can a school district adopt plans to curb actual bullies, and the bullying of students, if the superintendent willfully misuses the word so to make him and the district look like the victims over policy disputes?

Words matter. And when they are misapplied it can cheapen that word and cause additional harm.

Students who are bullied need our collective attention and care. If you are aware of a situation where it is occurring please step up and demand action. Thank you.

And so it goes.

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