Bullied bus monitor Karen Klein: A feeding frenzy of cruelty

Jamie Germano AP Karen Klein, 68, of Greece, N.Y., talks about the verbal abuse she endured from middle school students. … Continued

Jamie Germano


Karen Klein, 68, of Greece, N.Y., talks about the verbal abuse she endured from middle school students.

It has been said that one can put a price on anything. Perhaps that is so. When it comes to bullying a bus monitor, there is no doubt about it — the price currently stands at over $500,000 (editor’s note: updated number inset below) and it’s going up by the hour.

Karen Klein is a bus monitor in Greece, N.Y. Earlier this week, a group of middle school kids tormented and abused Klein. Their verbal taunts ranged from mean-spirited cracks about her weight and age to fantasizing about stabbing and torturing her. A video of this went viral and among the responses was an online fund set up to raise money for Klein.

With an original goal of raising $5,000 to send the victim on a “recovery vacation,”indiegogo.com has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Klein. That’s way beyond any typical vacation and way beyond any proportional response to the hurt Klein suffered.

It’s not that her suffering should be minimized, but even if no more money is raised, that would be about tens of thousands of dollars per minute of verbal abuse by a bunch of children. Without, I hope sounding glib, where can I sign up for that deal? What’s going on here?

For starters, “virality” is neither good nor bad, it just is. While there is obviously no moral equivalence between the bullies and the donors to the fund establishedon Klein’s behalf, both reflect the fact that people like to join with others, and things which they might not otherwise do alone, for good or for bad, suddenly make great sense when done in community.

My guess is that the kids involved fueled each other’s expressions of cruelty. Without a group to rationalize the perverse behavior, what might have been an isolated crack became a feeding frenzy of cruelty. With all the debate about how to punish the kids involved, and they certainly deserve to be punished, I hope that people don’t ignore this larger moral educational issue.

Likewise, the expectations of the fund’s foundershave exceeded both expectation and frankly, some degree of rationality for very similar reasons. The irrationally good becomes increasingly reasonable when done in community.

I mean, does this sum of money for verbal abuse really make sense when kids go to bed hungry, when medical research needs funding, etc., etc., etc. Really? The response is certainly beautiful, but were people not joining what they experience as an active community of givers, it is unlikely that this much money would have been raised.

So while the bullies and the donors could not be more different in some regards, they are also more alike than either they, or we, might otherwise realize. We are social animals, as David Brooks might say. Our sense of what is right and wrong is shaped by the social context in which we find ourselves and the patterns which we inherit. It’s why the ancient rabbis teach that good deeds follow good deeds and bad deeds follow bad ones. We are creatures of habit.

We are creatures of habit, but we are also creatures of choice. The real story here is about which habits we choose to cultivate and with whom we choose to cultivate them.

Did Hirschfield get it wrong –or right? Tell On Faith in the comments below or On Twitter, what does the bullying of Karen Klein –and the viral response –say to you about human nature?

Read More On Faith:

Catholic Archbishop William Lori: Religious liberty not optional

PHOTOS: ‘Nuns on The Bus’ tours nation

Column: ‘Vagina Monologues’ latest response to the war on women

Brad Hirschfield
Written by

  • superteach

    If we want our children to act nicer, we as adults need to start by modeling good behavior ourselves. After all, would Howard Stern be on network TV, dishing out his brand of nastiness, if we weren’t watching? What kind of message are we sending our children when we are entertained by watching the nastiness of the New Jersey housewives. Are we being hypocritical to celebrate the nastiness of celebrities, and then wondering where our own children have learned to be so nasty? And if you think that your own children would never do this, think again, and then take the time not only to talk to them about this incident, but also actually practice being nice in their everyday lives.

  • mm14

    Well, this has more to do with the power of the internet than donors’ valuation of the hurt endured. I donated $20 when I saw the heart-wrenching video. Apparently 26,000 out of the 1,000,000 viewers were so moved. That’s a 2% or so response rate, a bit higher than the normal 1% internet response rate.

    Bottom line- the internet is a powerful way to attract audiences. And I’m glad that this poor woman will hopefully get every dime of the money raised.

  • JustMyOpinionToo

    When I first heard this story on the news my first reaction was, what is the family like at home as it appears that these children are only doing what they are allowed to do. In my day, you wouldn’t dare disrespect your elders as they entire neighborhood permission to reprimand you and once they had to do that and your parents found out, you had another one coming before bedtime. This bullying thing has gotten so far out of hand that it is now time for the Government to enact some form of legislation to end this cycle of abuse by children or I would love to come into the home of some of these kids parents and teach them how to raise respectable children!

  • JustMyOpinionToo

    No one could have said it better, until we as adults learn to respect each other regardless of lifestyle, religion, racial identity and the likes our children will continue to act in this manner…thank you for a great post

  • vinnie777

    For a half million dollars, I’d get back on for a sequel….

  • ggardener

    I do wonder what the reaction was of the parents when they discovered it was their children who insulted this woman who devoted her free time to monitor these idiot children. The reason I ask is there are too many parents who when confronted with the inappropriate behavior of their children deny their children behaved like that.

  • tommc1

    Dude, she made $50,000 in the past 4 hours. Holy crap.

  • tnvret

    What action are the parents taking? If they ignore their responsibility, don’t let the kids back on the bus. It’s time for adult supervision and responsibility again. Skrew Spock and his disciples.

  • tnvret

    Of course, we had neighborhood schools, too; and you were frequently within sight of someone who knew you. It didn’t take long for word to get around, and people did actually care how the next generation behaved. Many parents were of the mind that if you misbehaved and were punished in school, it happened all over again when you got home; that does tend to get the message across. Now the parental response is “Couldn’t have been my little angel.”

  • harrisonppicot

    Something good happens and you want to pee on it? What ever this is, and I suspect that each individual is just giving what they want to and can afford, this is an isolated incident. It says nothing about this nation as a 300 million people, just something about several hundred of them. Why not complain about millions made by gambling on the stock market? Aren’t you 40,000 times as upset with Warren Buffet? Obama is giving about $10,000 in “free” education to the families of illegal aliens, and rather than raise taxes to pay for it or he could have let the Bush tax cuts expire, he will pay for the $5 billion needed each year by taking it from legal working families, in the form of lower quality education. Get mad about that. Or, we are now a nation, along with Israel, that brags about assassination. Get used to that.

  • persiflage

    Apparently you forgot who started the 2 trillion dollar war and let the banking and mortgage industry run amuck. The Bush tax cuts came at a time when that extra revenue could have been used to finance the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of financing the preemptive war in Iraq on credit. Some of us are still mad about that.

    BTW, Warren Buffett suggested (much) higher taxes for the rich – you don’t like that idea? Most republicans don’t want to bother rich folks or their money, for some odd reason – and most of them don’t have any more money than the rest of us.

    No president will be able to resurrect the economy to pre-Bush era days…………least of all a republican president.

  • persiflage

    I guess the bullies had no idea they’d be thrown under the bus, And it looks like they’ll be getting a new bus driver.

  • persiflage

    Sometimes justice prevails – the poor lady hit the lotto the hard way…..but hopefully she gets to keep every penny.

  • naksuthin

    This is just much ado about nothing…another liberal attempt to make bullying of homosexuals a federal offience. And Conservatives are falling into the trap.

    As Michelle Bachmann aptly put it:”I think for all us our experience in public schools is there have always been bullies, always have been, always will be. I just don’t know how we’re ever going to get to point of zero tolerance and what does it mean?…What will be our definition of bullying? Will it get to the point where we are completely stifling free speech and expression? Will it mean that what form of behavior will there be—will we be expecting boys to be girls?”

    Bullying IS NOT A CRIME.


    With all that money, she can hire REAL bullies, big BAD kids who can make those little monsters’ lives miserable for MONTHS…

    And have lots left over so she can drive past the bus kids getting beat down by the big bullies in her new stretch Hummer and give the bus kids the finger.

  • persiflage

    ‘Bullying IS NOT A CRIME.’

    You don’t keep up with the news, do you?

    ‘This is just much ado about nothing…another liberal attempt to make bullying of homosexuals a federal offience.’

    If you bothered keeping up, you’d see that this behavior often escalates into a hate crime…………..definitely a federal offense.

    If MIchelle Bachmann is your expert witness, then I begin to see where you went wrong.

  • tij12345

    SCHOOLS: When this happens again, do the following: 1. Within a minute of the first inappropriate behavior of the students, bus monitor tells students firmly to stop use of inappropriate language. 2. If that does not work, bus monitor calls the school principal and explains the situation and her course of action for approval. The bus stops and the monitor will address all these students to behave or the bus does not move. The offending students will be separated from each other. In the meantime, the bus monitor writes up a student code of conduct violation for those offending students to be submitted to the school. 3. If that does not work and the students continue to misbehave, bus monitor calls the school principal and explains the situation and her course of action that the bus will go back to the school and the children’s parents will be contacted to pick up those offending students at school. The bus monitors submits the student code of conduct violation report to the school. 4. Principal sets up a meeting with the parents and the offending students to discuss disciplinary actions and corrective actions so that this never happens again. Principal and parents discuss course of action and consequences if this happens again in the future. The point of this all is that, the minute the first student misbehaves, TAKE ACTION IMMEDIATELY so a MOB of students doing the same thing does not form.

  • Skowronek

    I read this and found myself thinking that author is merely alluding to what he really want to see happen: that people give their money to his organization or those organizations that meet with his approval.

    The fact is, he doesn’t get to dictate how much money people donate to anything, or how little. If people wish to give Mrs. Klein money rather than into their gas tanks, pockets, piggy banks, tip jars, or any number of charities that provide them with a tax deduction, that is their decision.

    I fail to see how chiding people for a moment of generosity and kindness towards this one woman encourages them to continue being generous. I’m not saying anyone will stop payment if they donated to the fund for Mrs. Klein, just that it seems petty and mean-spirited by the author.

    If you want people to give the money to you, then make a case for why you should receive it, Mr. Hirschfield.

  • tij12345

    Folks, it does not matter if the school is running a school full of students who are drugs addicts, alcoholics, chain smokers and foul-mouthed students. The school has the DUTY and COMMITMENT to provide a SAFE and POSITIVE educational environment for all students at all times. This means that drugs, alcohol, tobacco, foul-mouthed students, bullies will not be tolerated at the school setting as stated in the district student code of conduct policies and procedures. Therefore, if the school encounters any of the above, those issues will be dealt with IMMEDIATELY as soon as it happens, stopped and corrected to maintain that SAFE and POSITIVE educational environment for everyone in the school setting. That did not happen here.

  • tommc1

    Unfortunately, apparently being a moron is not a crime either.

  • SteveinOhio1

    I’ll not begrudge her the funds. This kind of outpouring of support should show those little beasties that grown people do not approve of their antics.

  • dcrswm

    Isn’t Stern already on national tv?