ONTD Political

Fighting for Mary Thorson's legacy (TW: Suicide)

11:15 am - 11/15/2012

YOU'VE PROBABLY not received a letter of this kind, but please, please help if you can. I'm sadly disappointed that the issue of teacher bullying at the hands of some administrators/educators has not been broached anywhere. This matter is detrimental and one which must be addressed with urgency.

On Thanksgiving Day 2011, a young Illinois teacher by the name of Mary Eve Thorson sacrificed her life by standing in front of a moving semi-truck. She left behind a detailed six-page suicide letter which spoke to the bullying of the teachers within her school, the students whom were adversely affected as a consequence, and the poor condition of the institution.

An article was written about Mary's death and appeared in the Chicago Tribune on January 1, 2012.

The outcry in response to the piece was massive, as bullied teachers from across the state of Illinois and throughout the country spoke out--in particular to Mary's parents, John and Shari Thorson. I was one of those teachers.

I was honored to have my film, Dying to Teach: The Killing of Mary Eve Thorson, "Educators Who Bully", based upon Mary's story, premiered at the Save Our Schools convention in Washington, D.C., this past August 3.

Teachers are in pain. Teachers are in hiding. Teachers are killing themselves. This matter is no less serious than children who began taking their lives due to bullying; and, this happened because the issue wasn't taken as seriously as it should have been.

I have started an organization for bullied teachers called Teachers for Mary. I'm also petitioning Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski to sponsor the "Mary Eve Thorson Anti-Bullying Bill," granting teachers the same legislative protection that is provided exclusively for bullied children.

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TEACHER BULLYING is so unique because it not only affects the teacher, but the students in the crossfire as the abuse is taking place. People seem to be afraid of addressing this because it involves powerful individuals here in Illinois.

Mary's parents haven't been afforded any comfort during such a painful time in their lives. In the suicide letter, Mary stated that she wanted to be the first to sign the petition and didn't want her death to be in vain. She was only 32 years old.

The institution where Mary taught is located in District 169, Ford Heights, Ill.--an extremely impoverished area of the city. The students are African American and the teachers are predominately African American.

It's disconcerting that no prominent Black leader within this state has spoken out against the blatant abuse of this teacher and others.

I want Mary Thorson's selfless act to count for something. I want to see people rally for teachers and their right to be humanely treated. There are teachers committing suicide because they feel helpless. Mary wanted the world to pay attention and gave her life in an attempt to make this happen.

There was a time when the teaching profession was revered. Now, there are parents I've spoken with whom would never support their child in a decision to become an educator. How sad this is.

I can't do this by myself; and yet, I refuse to stand by and allow more teachers to die. I made a promise to Mary's family and to Mary's memory, that I would fight to defend bullied teachers against abuse within the workplace. The issue is dire because it affects not only our teachers, but our children.

Please help me bring attention to this circumstance if at all possible. The superintendent of the district is still allegedly terrorizing the female teachers, with impunity no less. (It's been statistically proven that women in the field of education are those most prone to being bullied.) During the making of the documentary, I was told that grief counselors were not allowed to comfort the students or teachers after Mary's death. In fact, people were forbidden to speak about the death of Mary Thorson.

This is a travesty. I want to do something that will force people to listen. Facebook and petitions at Change.org, albeit useful media tools, are only as good as the press that's placed upon the issue. I want to march in protest against what's happening to our teachers.

On December 17, 2012, in commemoration of Mary's sacrifice for bullied teachers, "Marchers for Mary" will conduct a peaceful protest against the bullying of teachers by administrators/educators. We will congregate in front of the Chicago Board of Education located at 125 South Clark St., and things will culminate in front of City Hall. This abuse has to stop.

If there are any persons willing to march with us, then please contact me via teachersformary@hotmail.com. We need teachers. We can't allow them to be persecuted to the point of killing themselves.

Walk with us, please!


jettakd 15th-Nov-2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
I've both been bullied by teachers and seen them being bullied. School is like some giant violent social experiment.
crossfire 15th-Nov-2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
So true.
luminescnece I've been thinking a lot about bullying this semester, 15th-Nov-2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
This just doesn't surprise me.

Bullying is incredibly complex. Most people are very much over concerned with individual qualities of victims and bullies and this is ... a distraction.

Bullying is endemic, all ages, all organizations ... our society has a problem with bullying. If bullying were about a lack of awareness of effects of bullying, then awareness campaigns would be universally effective. But they are not.

Individual factors affect bullying, but only so far as the environment that children are in allows bullying.

We don't fund our education systems enough to create safe spaces for our children, we put them in places where inequality is highlighted and put them under the strained supervision of people who are often stressed out about their jobs and work environments. We bore them by teaching to the group not to the student. Of course bullying happens in schools.

But bullying happens in organizations as well. Workplaces. And the people researching that have, in the past decade or so, come upon organizational factors that affect bullying in the workplace.

Workplaces have more control over who is allowed to take part in the organization than schools do, but that is where the control over what people are in the hierarchy ends.

Workplaces have an incredible amount of control over how they are organized. The best paper I read on it recently classified three structures.

Enabling structures - those without which bullying does not usually happen.
Power imbalances, there is a clear understanding of who has more power and who has less. With children this often turns into 'weaker' kids and 'stronger' kids physically, mentally or emotionally.
Low perceived costs, will the bully get away with it if they are caught? Will they be caught? (What ever happened to the administration in this case?)

Motivating structures - incentives to bully, what does the bully get out of it?
Lack of autonomy was identified as a motivating structure in the article I read, I would compare it to boredom for students who are stuck in school for 7-9 hrs a day.
Competition was a factor as well, specifically peer based competition where bullying a weaker performer might cause one's relative position to move up.

Precipitating structures - triggering effects.
Changes in organization, unclear power structures, crisis and change all can effect bullying, but only usually if there are also enabling or motivating structures also present.

This stuff is part of a wider trend, and more people are doing research into school environments and their effect on students and bullying.

Then we can start making real changes to the way that we organize ourselves. However, until we address the environment in schools and work places where bullying is occurring, Bullying will continue and if we do NOT address the way that things are organized, bullying behaviour will simply change, become more insidious and different solutions will be required.

What really interests me now that I've splurrrrged all this onto the page is whether or not the anti-bullying campaigns that arose in response to school violence, the typical, don't bully, bullying is bad mmmkayyyyy types have contributed to the rise of cyber bullying or if cyber bullying was just a logical conclusion to social media and the rise of computers.
window_girl 15th-Nov-2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
Wow. I guess I've heard stories about this type of bullying of teachers by administrators, but I never really connected it...
vvalkyri 15th-Nov-2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Selfless act? Can you imagine what that did to the semi driver? To her students?
lozbabie 15th-Nov-2012 11:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

I feel terrible for her and hope changes get made because of her death (though I doubt they will) but what she did was not selfless.
spyral_path 16th-Nov-2012 12:15 am (UTC)
I feel the same way. The semi driver, her students, her co-workers, and her parents all have to deal with this for the rest of their lives. I feel bad for her and I can understand feeling trapped and helpless in a terrible job, but there are better ways to go about making changes.
karrixftw 16th-Nov-2012 01:45 am (UTC)
Mte. Not to shame anyone who commits suicide/is suicidal or to say that suicide is inherently selfish, but it is NOT a selfless act either, that's for sure.
rkt 16th-Nov-2012 02:21 am (UTC)
this in a nutshell.
blunder_buss 16th-Nov-2012 03:13 am (UTC)
THANK YOU. I absolutely loathe people who make innocent people into accessories for their suicide. That poor driver.
moonshaz 18th-Nov-2012 01:30 am (UTC)
I've got to agree. Given my history of depression, I have a lot of sympathy for people who get to the point of feeling that their only option is to end it all...but it DOES affect others. Particularly when you do something like stepping in front of a moving vehicle, thereby USING that driver to do the job for you.

It's particularly a problem with commuter trains here in the Chicago area. I can't find any statistics right now, but iirc at least a few times a year someone will commit suicide by stepping in front of a moving Metra commuter train. It takes forever for a train to stop, so killing the person is unavoidable unless THEY decide to get back out of the way themselves. Every time I hear one of these stories, I feel really sorry for the engineers and conductors, because they are massively traumatized by these occurrences.

I DO feel sorry for people who commit suicide, but when they choose to do it with an act that can sometimes result in ruining someone else's life... it's just REALLY hard. :(

Edited at 2012-11-18 01:30 am (UTC)
redstar826 16th-Nov-2012 12:35 am (UTC)
I see a lot of talk about being against bullying in the schools I work in, which is good. but since I don't see the same kids on a regular basis and am in so many different buildings (I sub in multiple districts), I don't know how good they are on following through with complaints and the like
teacup_werewolf 16th-Nov-2012 12:52 am (UTC)
It's a terrible vicious cycle. I heard accounts through an old friend and my former IEP teacher about the terrible bullying he received while he worked at the town's elementary school. He used a different education style because he primarily worked with special needs children who where behind in their studies. He was talked down too and harassed by his colleges. He eventually left and retired.

There is a power imbalance, stronger more established teachers victimize weaker staff and stronger staff bully struggling kids which becomes an example to insecure children who in turn victimize the same struggling kids. It just ends up keep feeding this terrible horrible cycle. It really hurt to watch one of my greatest role models who got me into social justice and being a self-advocate, get bullied by the same staff that bullies his students.
lost_the_key 16th-Nov-2012 06:22 am (UTC)
How terribly sad :-(
myrrhmade 16th-Nov-2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
This shit right here is yet another example of fuckery that helped me decide to retire from teaching after only 14 years. I also taught in an extremely poor, urbane district, but my personal experience was more with the 1) bitter old lady teachers that didn't like kids but stayed because they had tenure, and even more awful was all the cis/straight/white men in administration who made hundreds of thousands a year in salary, had no idea what it was like to be in a classroom with 40+ kids, and treated us lowly women like we were a dime a dozen.

Ugh, I'm disabled otherwise I'd walk the shit out of this. =[
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