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.

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