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.



Filed under In the Classroom

7 responses to “In the Classroom: The Problem with Bullies

  1. Zoe

    I’ve just finished a tremendous book in which bullying (and race) plays a major role – Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace. I do hope you’ll be able to get a copy and find the time to read it (if you haven’t already read it!)


    • I have to admit I started to read it, but had to stop because it was too harrowing for me. One that Marjorie features in her article and that I did read through as it feels a closer fit fo the age group I teach is R. J. Palacio’s Wonder.


  2. ~mwt

    Would your students read A Dog On Barkham Street and The Bully of Barkham Street by Stoltz, or do you think they are too dated?


    • Hi Megan, I read those decades ago so don’t remember them that well, but I think they would be too young for fourth grade now. Can’t recall enough to say if they would be dated, but suspect so.


  3. OMG, thank you so much, Monica! I’m getting a lot of heat for that piece, so I’m very grateful for your nice words.

    At some point I want to do a giant roundup of kids’ books about bullying — I don’t know Out of Shadows or the Stoltz books, and will check them out.


  4. ~mwt

    Marjorie, I thought it was a great article. The Stoltz books were written in early sixties, I think, and I haven’t read them in about ten years, but I remember that they were a sympathetic portrait of a victim followed by a sympathetic portrait of his bully. It could be an interesting window into the past for readers who are comfortable with that kind of reading.


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