Daily Archives: April 18, 2012

In the Classroom: The Problem with Bullies

Bullying. It is an age-old issue that has become high on our radar these days what with legislation requiring schools to institute bullying curricula, dreadful  stories of young people killing themselves because of being bullied, the movie Bully, and so forth. One that is much in the media, often in ways that I find problematic.

And so I was mighty pleased to see Marjorie Ingall‘s article, “How to Stop a Bully” in which she considers the new movie, the current cultural notions regarding bullying, what doesn’t work to address it, and what does.  I loved her bluntness, that the movie is  “… torture porn….You’d never know from watching the film that experts agree that physical bullying is by far the least common form of bullying.”  That the current rhetoric around this topic  “…feels like just another part of this zeitgeist-y trend—a somber, self-important, self-promoting tone standing in for real commitment to the difficult work of edification.” And that”Pledges and zero-tolerance policies, wherein we ban the bully from our midst like a goat sent into the wilderness, sound great but do more harm than good. They let us pass the buck without helping the bully change.”  Yes, yes, and yes!  And most of all yes for this,  the money quote,  from clinical psychologist Rona Novick:

“We struggle in this country to get social and emotional learning the same attention, time, and effort as academics,” Novick said. “And there’s social exclusion and bullying among adults, so to expect that kids will be better at this than grown-ups are is downright foolish.”

That is because I feel that we adults need to look honestly at ourselves and how we model the very behaviors we are trying to stop among children.  In years past whenever I did training to address inequities in my classroom I was first required to consider my own biases and behaviors. In considering race (in my Peace Corps training and later in this country) I was asked to think about my own view of race, to tease out my own stereotypic and even possibly racist notions, my own stance of white privilege.  Similarly when looking at gender in the classroom I have been asked to examine my own beliefs carefully to see how they impact on my classroom practice.  I wish we’d do that more in terms of bullying — consider how we model it in obvious and subtle ways.  That said, it is an elephant in the room — how do you even begin to look at this?  I see adult bullies everywhere — what someone else might consider strong and necessary strength often looks closer to bullying to me.  What is tough love and what is just tough meanness?  Tough stuff indeed.

Thank you, Marjorie Ingall, for so articulately and thoughtfully addressing a very difficult topic.

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