In my capacity as RSU 26 vice chair I attended the Maine School
Management Association conference. In one clinic a lawyer and a
policy consultant discussed how school districts could meet new legal
requirements on antibullying policies (and prevent costly lawsuits).
Definitions and disciplinary procedures were spelled out precisely.
Still something was missing.
Most thinking adults have been horrified by recent examples of
young people driven to suicide by peer cruelty. Understandably we
want to do something to keep kids safe. However, as Carrie Goldman
points out in Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs To
Know About Ending The Cycle of Fear, the simplistic, punishment
oriented ways often used to correct a very complex problem can, at
best, offer an illusion of safety for kids (and ways to fight those
costly lawsuits) and frequently are counterproductive. Zero tolerance
and harsh penalties, for example, can alienate and worsen the behavior
of students who run afoul of the rigid rules.
Let's make it perfectly clear. As a parent, former child, and
potential grammie, I am not in favor of looking the other way when it
comes to bullying. What I do want to see is school environments where
from preK to high school graduation there is safety for all students
and kindness is cultivated. I also want to see us intervening in ways
that don't make a child's aggression a label for life or let that
child be a scapegoat for all the family and societal problems that can
lurk in the background. That's what I love about Goldman. She takes
it all on with honesty, clarity, and optimism for real change.
Let's take cyberbullying. A typical adult reaction is a
horrified comment about kids today. Goldman tells us it's not just
kids. In two fictional scenarios a boy sees that his father has
alluded to a basketball player as. "fucking faggot" in a comment to a
sports blog and a girl reads a text from her mom to a friend saying
that a third mother has a "fat ass and dresses like a slut." Adults
are not immune to the distancing effect of technology that enables
sending messages that probably would not be said face to face. Some
of us are setting horrible examples for the next generation. (I know
that when my school board takes on a controversial topic what gets
posted on the listserve makes me feel that we should send some
parenting adults to the principal's office).
Another facet is the sexualization of bullying these days.
Goldman advises us to look at larger forces at work before we think
that kids today are a lot more evil than our generation. Gender based
toys make children engage in stereotypical behaviors (and penalize
those who cross the line). Make up and sexy clothes objectify girls
at earlier and earlier ages. Children's beauty pageants with toddlers
dancing and dressing provocatively can be quite the barometer for our
society's view of kids barely put of diapers. It's very dangerous for
kids to equate self worth with sex appeal.
Throughout the book Goldman reminds us that all is not lost. If
we don't limit ourselves to knee jerk, litigation stifling responses
we can do so much to prevent and remediate bullying. From help for
individual children to creating communities of caring in schools and
even using the Internet as a means of cybersupport, she discusses so
many ways in which we can all make a difference. I recommend her book
to teachers, school administrators and boards, guidance counselors and
school social workers, parents, grandparents, community leaders such
as pastors, and savvy college and high school students.
On a personal note, the Saturday before Christmas I was chatting with
a woman ahead of me in line at Goodwill. When she got to the register
she said she was paying for my purchases. She also gave me the lovely
angel earrings she was wearing that I'd admired. She did so in memory
of the children who were killed.
A great big shout out goes out to all who did acts of kindness as a
response to the tragic Comnecticut shootings.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod