Every school has their share of bullies and believe it or not, media and political attention aside, it is probably a much smaller percentage of the school population now than it was 40 years ago. Bullies exist everywhere, bosses co-workers, wives, husbands , relatives and even people we call our friends. I believe that we do our children an extreme dis-service in our schools by spending too much of our time protecting them from bullies rather than teaching them how to handle them. There are no teachers beside your desk or living in your house in the real world to protect you from bullies. Ultimately you must protect yourself in whatever way works best for you. I believe that attempts to eradicate bullies in our schools are doomed to failure. The current looks good, feels good, politically correct attempts at anti-bullying are an exercise in public relations futility. When has America ever been able to prohibit anything that certain members of our free society wanted from liquor to the price of gasoline? Bullies are addicted to the feelings of power and control that bullying gives them, a twelve step addiction relief program would probably be more effective than the current anti-bullying fluff we are serving up in our schools. That pretty looking and sounding fluff is just one more proof that our society has become increasingly adept at hiding our problems behind worthless but elegant appearing non-functional solutions. In reality in our schools and our lives we must learn to control things we cannot change as best we can and learn to live with that which we cannot control. As a teacher I have never tolerated bullies in my classroom or out of my classroom and never will. I have aggressively pursued acts of bullying and aggressively controlled it but it is hard to see how bullying can be controlled by positive behavior reinforcement or character modeling when a true bully is a bully because they are addicted to control and its rewards and just don’t care about the feelings or needs of others. Education about what meaningful bullying really is (at the current time in some schools it is so broad that any disagreement can be defined as bullying) and what you can do about it is a good idea but attempting to legislate bullies out of our schools or teach true bullies compassion and empathy through cute sounding superficial school programs is probably far beyond what our schools or legislatures can accomplish.
The issue of cyber-bullying and other non-physical bullying and its effects among teenagers is a real concern that can be best solved by parents keeping track of their own teenagers, their friends and their social emotional condition, It is not the school’s job to control student’s use of home computers and personal cell phones other than denying them their use during the school day, any more than it was the school’s job to control home telephones, letter writing or town gossip 100 years ago, nor will attempts to do so ever be more than marginally successful. Most schools have kids for a max of 8 hours a day and I agree that in the controlled environment of a school psychological and physical bullying should be controlled as best possible. Although I believe that no matter what we do bullying will still occur because it is impossible to watch every child every minute of every day when you have 30 of them in your room and hundreds in the halls during passing periods. It is very difficult to control primarily because being a bully does not mean you are an idiot or lack cunning and the ability to plan your strike. Opportunities will always be there for bullies. I also know that short of holding the kid’s hand as they walk down the hall, going to the restroom with them , standing by their desk and walking them home you will not stop a determined bully with anti-bullying efforts, soft words or positive reinforcement.
There is an old saying that the only “No Trespassing,” sign that works is the one you are leaning on. Bullying is trespassing, it is a trespass on the freedom of self that all should enjoy but like the effectiveness of no trespassing signs if we depend on published laws, preventative rules and cute signs to control it we will at best have inconsistent spot enforcement almost entirely dependent on the presence of an adult authority figure.
An example of the difficulty involved in defining and controlling bullying was published in our local paper this morning ( New Bullying Policy -www.dmregister.com) . Statistics in the story indicate that in one of our state’s school districts composed of around 16,000 students last year there were nearly 700 filed reports of bullying while another district in the same state with around 31,000 students had only 98 reports of bullying. Are there that many more bullies in one district than another. Were the students/teachers in one district over sensitized to bullying or under-sensitized in the other. Or is it possible because of our own perceptual limitations impossible to accurately define bullying and if we cannot define it how will we know when it is actually happening, or when we have abated or stopped it. In the future if bullying rules and programs follow what has become a familiar pattern in the United States the bullying definition will become more and more comprehensive and far-reaching until it eventually reaches the absolutely stupid level of “zero tolerance,” which would then include the infamous(to teachers at least), ” he was lookin at me,” in the definition of bullying. In the future will teachers carry the burden of attempting to define the dividing line between being a bully and maintaining discipline in their classroom. I don’t believe that question is as far-fetched as it sounds.
I know that the above ideas and statements are well outside of main stream thought on bullying and that they are terribly politically incorrect ( if you read on you will find more TPIC statements), and I know that some cases of bullying result in terrible individual catastrophes but in reality I would guess that 99.9% of all bullying falling under the broad definition we are now using, result primarily in discomfort, unease and the ubiquitous I’m offended categories , rather than the extreme cases that we most often read about in the newspaper or see on the internet.
Let us begin to teach our kids how to handle bullies and not waste our resources, on a doomed to fail, attempt to make bullies extinct. Instead of over-sensitizing students and teachers to an ill-defined and I believe over-hyped bullying problem perhaps it is now time to start working on the individual student’s response to bullying rather than to the almost impossible to achieve prevention of all bullying. It is my opinion that we are more likely to be able to teach children how to respond to bullying in such a way as to stop it than we are to teach bullies compassion. Is it “fair” to the bullied students to take this approach, probably not, is it a “reality based solution?” I believe it is. Many of you have heard the statement “life isn’t fair.” like it or not that statement is an absolute truth.
I am not a pessimist or a naysayer by nature I am a realist whose views are influenced by 40 years of working with kids. Should the current efforts to eradicate bullying in our schools be successful I would applaud the results but I wonder how modern political parties, college professors, some principals, salespeople , and the blogosphere will survive the new paradigm.
Don’t get me wrong I am not a proponent of bullying nor do I believe that it should be ignored I am simply highly critical of the time being spent and the current anti-bullying programming that is being proposed in many of our schools. I would refer you to the works of Izzy Kalman at http://www.bullies2buddies.com to get a totally different slant on bullying and what to do about it.
Perhaps my most memorable bullying experience as a teacher was one of those incidents that would get you fired today. A child came to me at recess frequently complaining of being punched and verbally abused by a student I knew to be an aggressive personality. I had talked to the perpetrator several times but he was clever and because our playground went all around a building there were always two sides of the building where you weren’t. On the sides of the building I could not see the bullying apparently continued. Finally, remember it was a different world 40 years ago, I counseled the smaller child to simply hit the larger one right in the nose as hard as they could with no warning the next time the bullying occurred and then come running to me. Two days later here came the little one raising dust around the corner of the building with a large group of students following. When he got to me the first words out of his mouth were, “I did what you told me, I just did what you told me to do.” About that time here came the bully around the corner with blood streaming out of his mouth, his lip still stuck in his upper teeth and his nose looking a little like a possessed faucet in a Stephen King book. I took off with the injured party for the nurse’s office, where mom was called and then I headed to the principal’s office to explain what I had done. The principal told me to wait and see how things played out (today I would probably be instantly suspended). I went back to my classroom and the principal headed to the nurse’s office. About 40 minutes later he showed up outside my door and motioned me into the hall where he told me that he thought everything was going to be okay because when the child’s mom showed up to pick him up from the office the first words out of her mouth when she saw him were. “So help me Greg if you have been in another fight your dad is going to whip you good.” Back then a report of threatened child abuse was not filed against the parent, nor was I charged with dereliction of duty and accessory to felonious assault, nor did the bully bother the little kid again, but today given the same order of events I would be working as a short order cook in a shorter period of time than it took the mother to get to school.
Another almost lost teaching art is the response time on the playground. “Micha and Marty are fighting come quick.” You start jogging around the building to see what is going on and then depending on who is winning and who deserves what, your speed might increase or decrease. Nothing serves to modify bully behavior better than a lesson taught by their peers in the sort of perverted cooperative authentic learning process that used to occur on school playgrounds, the neighborhood, or walking home from school.
Finally I would ask, “If you bully a bully into no longer bullying what exactly does that make you?” and ” If age and station play no part in the bullying definition are all teachers, to a certain extent, bullies under the current definition of bullying?”