Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Let's Talk About Bullying

Let’s Talk About Bullying in Schools
Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson

How bad was it when I was bullied?  How bad did I bully?  Just about as bad as it gets on both accounts.  While in the third grade, Eddie and Tommy made it their job every day to make me feel miserable.  They were very good at their job!  I missed several days of school by initially faking illness.  When going to school became so anxiety filled that I would vomit in the halls, the illnesses were no longer fraudulent.  I guess turnaround is fair play.  Repeating third grade turned me into a bully; after all, the other boys were now more my age or younger.

Are bullies really those hideous monsters that we all root against in sports and cinema?  I would answer sometimes ‘yes’ and sometimes ‘no’.  One thing is for sure; bullies are cultivated and permitted to grow like any plant or animal.  Could schools be the ideal environment for bullies to flourish?  According to Allen (2010), the following suggests ‘yes’:

Classrooms and schools that use coercion and punishment to deal with inappropriate student behavior tend to have negative, hostile environments.  Additionally, schools and classrooms that are authoritarian and are characterized by rigid, adult-centered authority tend to use more coercion and punishment to get students to behave.  (Summary)

On more than one occasion, I have worked in schools that treat students like inmates.  They place alarms on the doors to keep students in, initiate occasional mass in-school suspensions, have security and administrators walking through the halls barking orders, etc.  This is the adult-centered authority that I call the ‘illusion of control’.  This is tantamount to bullying, and students respond in kind to each other.

As a child, there was a sticker on my clothing dresser that read “Ignore your teeth, and they’ll go away.”  What was true for teeth is not true regarding bullying.  Craig, Bell, & Leschied (2011) state “…it is imperative to recognize that violence thrives in a climate of silence” (p. 31).

So what works?  What can schools do to curtail bullying?  As with any societal problem, bullying is not solely the responsibility of schools to address.  Copich (2012) suggests that “Modeling positive behavior at home and school is the most powerful influence of all” (p. 8).  Teaching students how to work together to communicate their feelings creates a community more sensitive to the impacts of negative behaviors.  Empowering students to take part in decisions regarding appropriate consequences also contributes to a civil environment.  Copich (2012) stated that “A school environment built around the principles of social justice ensures students a better opportunity to learn and sparks hope for successful citizenship” (p. 8).

Allen, K. P.  (2010).  Classroom management, bullying, and teacher practices. The Professional Educator 34(1), Spring.

Copich, C.  (2012).  Youth court: An alternative response to school bullying.  International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation 7(3), Winter.

Craig, K., Bell, D., & Leschied, A.  (2011).  Pre-service teachers’ knowledge and attitudes regarding school-based bullying.  Canadian Journal of Education 34(2), 21-33.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Is Stop-and-Frisk as Flawed as Zero Tolerance Policies in Schools?

Is Stop-and-Frisk as Flawed as Zero Tolerance Policies in Schools?
By Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson
Author of MUGAMORE: Succeeding without Labels – Lessons for Educators

There is no empirical evidence that New York City’s stop-and-frisk practice by police has had a significant impact on the reduction in crime.  In a recent New Yorker interview, Mayor Bloomberg himself said, “If I had a son who was stopped, I might feel differently about it.”  Soon to be reported current research may further dampen the ethos of stop-and-frisk.  Another equally damaging, widely used, and seldom debated policy is that of zero tolerance policies in schools.  Unlike stop-and-frisk, there is mounting evidence against the results of zero tolerance.

“Decisions based on zero tolerance policies can have seriously harmful consequences, in particular for first-time offenders-consequences that impair academic progress, reputation, career opportunities, and emotional development especially with regard to trust in the educational system”  (Kajs, 2006, p. 26).  In a study by Kajs (2006), the consequences for an eighth-grade student who brought a pencil sharpener to school happens far too often.  The student’s parent bought the device in South Korea, because it was the same type of sharpener the parent used as a child.  The sharpener had a two-inch blade that folded into the handle.  This high-performing student was removed from the position of student council president, kicked out of the honor society, and required to attend a disciplinary class for a week.  These apparently harsh consequences were met with a federal lawsuit.  Could not reasonable educators see that this was an honest error?  It would seem that simply informing the parent and child, and perhaps issuing a warning, was all this entire event warranted.  However, “zero tolerance laws and policies can prevent school administrators from applying creative and tailored responses to infractions by students” (Kajs, 2006, p. 21).

As a four-year-old kindergarten student in 1974, I was curious about what was behind the large door at the rear of my classroom.  When I saw a girl go behind the door, I thought it was permissible for students to go back there; hence, I followed her.  It turns out the door led to the bathroom.  I sat in a corner of the bathroom while my classmate used the toilet until the teacher’s assistant came in to tell me to return to my seat.  That was the end of it.  I shudder to think how a four-year-old would be treated today.  Would a zero tolerance policy have labeled me a sexual deviant, and placed me in a specialized school while being heavily medicated?  According to Verdugo (2002), the lack of clarity in zero tolerance policies do not consider a student’s intent [innocent curiosity], or circumstances related to the behavior [unfamiliar environment].

Working as a school administrator, I often hear colleagues advocating for treating all students equally.  Hearing this makes me cringe.  Often times, equal consequences are not fair.  Should an eighth-grade honor student with a two-inch sharpener, who has never been in trouble, be treated the same as a high school gang member with a two-inch shank?  How about a four-year-old kindergarten student unwittingly entering a bathroom with a girl being disciplined the same as a 17-year-old boy knowingly entering a bathroom with a girl?  Clearly, equal would not be fair.  Casella (2003) makes the point that discipline policies that criminalize youth cannot be successful.

Casella, R.  (2003). Zero tolerance policy in schools: Rationale, consequences, and alternatives.  Teachers College Record, 105(5), 872-892.

Kajs, L. T.  (2006). Reforming the discipline management process in schools: An alternative approach to zero tolerance.  Educational Research Quarterly, 29(4), 16-28.

Verdugo, R. R.  (2002). Race-ethnicity, social class, and zero-tolerance policies.  Education and Urban Society, 35, 50-75.  doi:10.1177/001312402237214