aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

On bullying

Bullying is the cause du jour in Educationland these days. There are a lot of promos being aired, lots of meetings being held. As with most things schools promote these days, there isn't a lot of substance there. Like other high-profile causes taken up by American schools, the real purpose of all the meetings and activities can be defined in two statements.
1) They make educators feel righteous.
2) The real target is normal parents with ordinary kids, not the bullies or their parents.
If that seems excessively cynical to you, allow me to unpack it for you.

1) Educators like to clothe themselves in the mantle of Benevolent Guide. In their view, society simply could not preserve itself if they did not order it, knead it, tell parents what values to impart and tell the children what values to affirm. Why, teen-agers wouldn't even figure out how to have sex if we didn't help them with illustrated guides. And free condoms. As Benedick said in Much Ado About Nothing, "The world must be peopled!" So, you see how the very existence of humanity depends upon our selfless edjamacators.

Anyway, to hold meetings in which we publicly proclaim our opposition to bullying costs nothing, but it makes us feel good. It confirms the self-image of the Degreed Dullards who run public schooling in America. They are Making a Difference.

2) One thing that makes bullying such a major cause these days is the fact that gay kids get bullied a lot. They always did, and that's wrong, of course, but Gay is Cool these days, so suddenly gay kids getting bullied matters like it never did before. Which means all you ordinary, heterosexual parents of ordinary, heterosexual kids are The Problem. We hold these meetings to identify the terrible wrongness of You. Which makes us feel good about Us even more; see 1), above.

This also means that if a non-gay kid gets bullied, that's not news. Any such occurrence will be denied until it can't be any more, after which it will be handled in some way that addresses 1) and 2), above, and then swept under the rug once more.

This perennial pattern has been interrupted in our community of late. A groundswell of muttering and complaining about bullying seems not to have led to any real interruption in bullying. Finally, one girl in the junior high got stomped so bad, as well as being threatened online, that she attempted suicide. Her situation is extremely unfortunate, since an Anti-Bullying Meeting had already been in the works, and this messed up the script for it. After all, she is not gay, so she isn't cool or anything. She's just some poor kid whose trauma now threatens to make victims of those who are Making a Difference.

A meeting was held tonight. Parents were apparently not allowed to speak to the school; after all, the purpose of these meetings is for the school to speak to parents. So I'm hearing a lot of anger and disgust. I don't imagine things will get better any time soon.

Now, there are ways to actually stop bullying in schools. Unfortunately, it looks like charges will have to be filed and lawsuits initiated before anyone adopts them. And that's a shame. But here are my top four fixes for the problem.

1) Limit school size. Any campus containing more than about 500 students is simply too big. Put too many lab rats in a cage and see what they start to do. Negative behaviors increase under the stress of too many individuals, and students are similar to other critters in this regard.

Limiting school size also helps in supervision. In a total school universe of 500 or so, almost every teacher is capable of knowing almost every student. This enables far more effective discipline. In a too-large school, the teachers feel outnumbered and retreat into their safe little rooms. They fear to tackle negative behaviors in kids they don't know well. They begin to fear the gangs that form when school size reaches a certain level. And they cannot see the worst trouble-makers because in the large school, the real problem kids are screened by a group of hangers-on and wannabes, which renders some of the worst offenders invisible to teachers and administrators.

Limiting school size is expensive, of course. It also means that Teacher A with extensive seniority can't teach all those college-prep classes with all the Good Kids, but must share the load of teaching those who are in rebellion or who just don't get it. It also means that you might not win as many football games or have a nationally ranked Band or something. And that threatens the loss of that which is more valuable than mere mastery of academic content!

2) Let there be real consequences for bad actions. Don't suspend kids in school, send them home. Let their parents deal with their bad behavior. Furthermore, when they do something beyond the pale, expel them.

I know, this sounds heartless of me. But there are other schools. There are other ways of getting a high school diploma. What you tolerate, you will get more of, so tolerating unacceptable behavior means you will always get more of it. Holding on to people in order to give them one more chance that they don't want right now (they may want it later, and that's good) is counter-productive.

That said, the real reason that nobody wants to expel the little brutes is not because we love them so. The real reason is that the funding formula for public school relies upon attendance. Fewer kids in school = fewer dollars for said school, so schools try to keep kids on the premises even when they are acting criminally in order to keep the moolah flowing to the institution -- NOT for the good of the offending youths, and certainly not for the good of the victims they leave in their wake.

3) Limit social media. Our school now gives out free I-pads to every student. Which means that they're playing a lot of games on them when they should be doing school work. Cell phones are supposed to be put away while at school, but I notice a lot of kids updating their Facebooks during school hours, and I'm sure much of that is done by phone. Kids are encouraged to tweet about school activities during school time, too. This is nuts.

But the real problem with social media is that it makes bullying even more doable. Letting it go on during school, using school resources, is just more ghosts that teachers and administrators shouldn't have to chase.

4) Make the ability to keep order in the classroom and impose discipline on the youth in their care a major factor in hiring and promoting teachers and administrators. Look for maturity, look for those who know how to uphold proper boundaries between teachers and students. This doesn't mean that teachers can't befriend students, but I've seen too many teachers (and administrators) who acted like kids, dressed like kids, and tried to run their classes and activities as if they were the Alpha Student instead of the Adult in the Room.

I will end this with a word of praise for some of the fine teachers I know. There are many of them. They teach well. They really do make a difference in kids' lives. And they are always mature and responsible. I know they are as embarrassed by those who give their schools a bad name as anybody could be, even though they often do not join in the criticism (for obvious reasons -- I mean, they have to go to work there every day). In any case, they are often not the ones running the place. Which means that better schools start with parents -- and with School Boards -- who demand accountability, both from perpetrators and from staff.

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