By now, you’ve probably seen the video of Karen Klein, the bus monitor in upstate New York who was viciously ridiculed by the children she was paid to chaperone. You might have also seen Klein on Today this morning, being comforted by Matt Lauer. The middle-schoolers who drove Klein to tears, Lauer said, were “narrow-minded monsters” who should be publicly shamed. The outrage is understandable: It’s hard to watch Klein cowering in her seat, and some of the taunts dished out by her underage abusers are cruel. But there’s an important side to this story that should be acknowledged, as uncomfortable as it might make us feel: Klein bears some responsibility as well.
I have no intention of dismissing the large-scale malice evident in the video by arguing that boys will be boys. Nor do I intend to ape some psychologists and educators who commented, correctly, that much of the blame in this case lies not with the boorish children, but with their parents. But I do know this: Adults have agency, and the moral responsibility to use it. When taunted, they should act. Weeping silently does absolutely nothing but encourage further aggression.
This is especially true in Klein’s particular circumstance. As a bus monitor employed by a school district, she is, arguably, in a position not that far removed from teacher or counselor. When her young charges step out of line, it is her duty to stand up to them and teach them a lesson. It doesn’t take a child psychologist or a member of the clergy to know that children develop a sense of right and wrong in part by observing the reactions of the adults around them. And doing absolutely nothing when assaulted sends the worst possible message.
I’m thrilled to see the public outpouring of sympathy—and money—going Klein’s way. She deserves it. And I’m glad to see the children’s teachers promising punishment; they deserve it, too. But there’s a greater lesson here, and it’s one that Jews know better than most: When attacked, retaliate. When provoked, respond. We are not helpless. And we should never again be victims.