by michael on September 20, 2011

Moments ago I found this website addressing bullying in schools and in cyberspace: http://marlothomas.aol.com  I linked to the specific website. It offers links to a dozen or so video commentaries and interviews with Ann Shoket, who works for Seventeen Magazine. The magazine is advancing an antibullying campaign. Here is the website: http://marlothomas.aol.com/2011/09/19/mondays-with-marlo-ann-shoket/?icid=maing-grid7%7Cmain5%7Cdl27%7Csec1_lnk2%7C96945.

 You, of course, will judge whether there is practical wisdom infused in the magazine’s anti-bullying campaign. The way I see it, bullying will be reduced or eliminated only by holding the bullies unequivocally accountable for their behavior. The only way that will be done is by holding the overseeing adults—school teachers, school administrators, parents of bullies, judges and police—fully accountable for performing their jobs.

 For more than twenty years I have talked to young children about many topics. Bullying had always been and continues to be a topic of singular concern to school children. I have read voluminously on bullying and, as a result, have opinions about the practice that can be supported by empirical evidence. As with any anti social behavior, bullying flourishes, at least in schools, in large measure, because it is tolerated. Teachers don’t stand up to bullies as a general rule. When they do, all too often the teachers are not supported by their unions or by the administration. The parents of bullies – no surprise here — are not cooperative in implementing punishment of their children.

 Bureaucracies need to be adaptive and flexible in order to survive. School bureaucracies have proven astute at surviving. Given the uproar, quite broad but not very deep, over the evils of bullying, schools have created clever strategies to create the appearance of aggressively responding to bullying but which, often, do nothing. Once strategy of schools is to expand the definition of bullying to absurd realms of totally trivial significance. The tactic, then, is to attack the trivial in order to create the illusion that the core bullying behavior is being remedied.

 Thus, the definitions of bullying have been expanded to incorporate not being inclusive, not letting someone play with you, saying words that are not nice and hurting feelings the feelings of others. Note the perverse moral equivalencies that are created: not letting someone play kickball with you is morally and definitionally equivalent to smashing a skull with a baseball bat. Not inviting someone to sit with you at the lunch table is equivalent to racist or ethnic violent attacks.

 The strategy is as transparently dishonest as it is pernicious: it picks on the weak and the insignificant with a kind of totalitarian flair: How does one defend against the charge of not including someone in your playing? How does one defend against the charge that someone’s feelings were hurt? The alleged victim becomes the abuser, and the bureaucrat enforcer takes the easiest path of resistance and condemns the accused. In the meanwhile, serious bullying is ignored.

 Teachers have been beaten, threatened, cursed, intimidated and demeaned throughout the country—mainly in inner city schools but not always—without protection or support by any institution, including the ones they pay dues to, or, if you prefer, to those to which they pay dues.

 Bullying will respond to the classic laws of economic incentives: ignore it, re-define it into something meaningless, and you will get more of it; punish it, attack it, get rid of the bullies, and you will have less of it. It’s that simple. People that bully are bad; the people that, from their offices of physical safety, ignore or finesse bullying are worse.

 More later


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