At Eight Years Old We Learned to Torture

Sometimes their faces pop up in my mind and I shudder. I don’t want to recall their suffering but I also can’t pretend it never happened. They were tormented, day after day, and for extended periods. I can only hope and pray that they recovered.

I am torn over using their names; I wouldn’t want to drag them back to their sufferings, but at the same time, their suffering mattered, and I don’t want to devalue them by blotting out their identities.

We were children torturing other children. And it’s still going on.

  • Carly was tortured mostly by other girls. They would surround her, laugh at her, point at her, and mock her… over years. She was told, loudly and publicly, that she had an ugly face, ugly hair, ugly clothes, and that she was stupid. This happened five days per week, nine months per year.

  • Ron was tortured by the boys. I still have images in my mind of him being forced to play baseball, surrounded by at least twenty boys who laughed at his every move. They laughed so loudly that you could hear them from the far side of the field. This torture was not limited to sports humiliation, and forced his entire family to move to a distant location.

  • Debra was humiliated with purpose and malice. Both boys and girls called her “dog” to her face. This went on for years, until her family moved.

  • Martin was surrounded by other boys and slapped around by them, one after another.

  • Deirdre was chased down by a group of boys who held her down, pulled off her underwear, and examined her genitals.

  • Stanley had his physical appearance ridiculed on a daily basis for many years. He was occasionally slapped around and was criticized continually.

All of this, if you haven’t guessed, happened at or around school. I made a quick count of ten schoolmates of mine (at small schools) who were tortured this way in my early years. In rough numbers, that means that for 5% of my schoolmates, being forced to walk into a school meant walking into a torture chamber. The rest of us had momentary torments, but nothing like what these kids experienced.

And I want you to understand something about this:

I went to the very best public schools in the city of Chicago, with some of the best children in the city of Chicago. Our neighborhood approached being a Pleasantville. Nearly all of us had stable homes and families, plenty to eat, family vacations, and so on. Nearly all of us went on to have stable and productive adult lives.

Yet, everything recorded above is true, and these tortures were applied hundreds of times per year, and in some cases thousands… to children.

What It Did to Them

In cursory searches, I’ve found very little information on these victims. (I didn’t want to violate them by digging.) So, I can’t really say what happened to them, but I have done research on the subject.

On the left are the effects of Abu Ghraib style torture, courtesy of Wikipedia. And on the right are the effects of “school bullying,” also courtesy of Wikipedia:

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder









Memory lapses

Excessive stress

Guilt and shame


I can tell you from my experience that “guilt and shame” should definitely be included in the school bullying list, as should, almost certainly, nightmares.

So, yes, those kids were tortured. To call it “teasing” or “bullying” is both to lie and to spit on these children once again.

To make it even worse, this is still going on, and probably more so. People just block it out of their minds because modern society places “school” in a position of worship. They haven’t the courage to combine the words “torture” and “school” in their minds.

But psychological defenses be damned, I can tell you one thing that I know all too well:

For millions of children, walking into a school building is the same as walking into a torture chamber.

Adults block such thoughts from entering their minds, but in so doing, they are closing their eyes to the persistent torture of millions of children. If it seems that I’m being harsh, I’m not – how do you think those children feel?

Shall we continue to abandon them to torment because facing the truth is uncomfortable?

Why It Happens

Since the torture of children angers me, I will be blunt: The proximate cause of this is the forced grouping of government schooling. Yes, schooling.

This is where people run away from the subject, calling upon approved models of the world and repeating, “That can’t be.”

But since I believe that you, dear reader, are not so inclined, I shall continue.

Forced grouping breeds bad conduct. When you mix that with hierarchical domination, it gets much worse. And that is precisely what mass schooling does.

Laws force children to attend these institutions, where they are forced to submit to authority. Learning from this example, the children turn around and apply the same domination on others, putting themselves above them in the all-important order of hierarchy.

Probably nothing could make this point better than Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, which created a very school-like situation… and which had to be disbanded after only six days, because the dominators became sadistic.

And it is important to note that the Stanford experiment’s sadistic dominators were all students at an elite university – from “good families,” just like the ones in my neighborhood.

The lesson is clear and documented: Forced grouping plus hierarchical dominance breeds torture.

We can either accept this or close our eyes to it, but the evidence stands. And so long as these systems continue, 5% of the children (or whatever the actual number is) will be continually tortured.

Applying additional hierarchical pressures to this situation (as with anti-bullying laws and punishments) will never work; it’s just another dose of the same things that are causing the problem.

The system is the problem, and that problem is beyond obscene.

A Final Note

I’m relieved to say that I had very little to do with torturing my schoolmates and even feebly defended them a few times. But I was young and frightened myself, and if I could, I’d love to go back and do things differently.

Still, if any of the tortured kids from my youth ever read this: I’m sorry. I wish I had done more to help you. You deserved it.

Paul Rosenberg