This week’s blogger is MNOHS language arts teacher Lori Breidenbach. Lori teaches grades 9-12 at MNOHS and is also the adviser for our All Booked Up book club and our TAG Team (talented and gifted). Many generations in Lori’s family have been teachers, including her mother and daughter, shown here.

 Three generations of teachers

 I was bullied in junior high.  To this day, I’m still not sure why.  True, I was rather shy and bookish, but I’ve never figured out why several older girls decided to target me.  It was awful, but the advice back then was to tolerate it—it was seen as part of growing up.  At least when I got home, I was able to escape from it.  But this isn’t the case for students anymore.  Bullying extends beyond any physical boundaries and can happen at all hours of the day.  Students can even be bullied by someone that they’ve never met.  I can’t imagine how frightening and isolating this must be.  All too often we see headlines and news stories about the effects of cyber bullying.

Just the other day I saw a headline that caught my eye: Cyber Bullying Incident Turns into Inspiration.  A woman named Balpreet Kaur had her picture taken (unknowingly) while she was standing in line.  Balpreet’s hair was covered by a dark turban, and she has visible facial hair. The person who took the picture then posted it online with a derogatory remark.  This, in turn, prompted many others to add to the ridicule, including remarks about learning how to shave, pluck or wax.

When her friend alerted her to this, Balpreet did something incredibly brave and admirable.  She made this horrible incident into a “teachable moment.”  Rather than insulting the poster, she took the time to explain that as a baptized Sikh woman, she is forbidden from altering her body (including removing facial hair.)  “I’m not embarrassed or even humiliated by the attention that this picture is getting, because it’s who I am…this body is a tool for service.  We have to maintain and take care of it while cherishing its original form.  My hair doesn’t stop me from being normal…I don’t regret anything, nor do I view it as an unfortunate thing.  Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women.  My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body…by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world.”

Not only did her posting inspire readers across the Internet, it also actually prompted an apology from the person who originally posted her picture online, admitting that his posting had been “an incredibly rude, judgmental and ignorant thing to post.”  He went on to say, “I’m sorry for being a closed minded individual.  Balpreet’s faith in what she believes is astounding.”

Many students who come to MNOHS feel relieved to escape the emphasis on appearance and other high school social pressures.  After getting to know one another through their blog and discussion posts, they are often surprised when they meet in person to have shared opinions and even deeply agreed with someone representing a social, religious, or political group so different from their own.  However, online high school isn’t only about avoiding “drama.”  It’s not about burying our differences.  It’s about experiencing the power of writing—so we can all practice being as direct, clear, and kind as Balpreet Kaur in naming and celebrating our differences.

Balpreet Kaur’s actions inspire me.  We see far too many incidences of bullying, and it’s not often that we hear about a positive outcome.  Balpreet chose to battle ignorance rather than resort to angry words and criticisms, and her words have changed attitudes.  I hope that I can find that same type of courage to speak up for those who can’t.  As Balpreet says, “By simple interactions like this, we can better understand each other and make this world more open and loving, even if it is just one person or many.”

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