Forgive me for being blunt but sometimes you’ve just got to say it the way it is.
I will never know the exact course that Sara took in turning things around for Jack – confidentiality issues again. Having been a teacher myself I can imagine that she tried many different things, was successful at some and not at others. She probably talked to other experienced folks (her mother is a teacher too so she probably gave some good advice) and she very likely improvised a good deal. I’m sure our principal supported her efforts and was active on his end too. But as I look back on this experience I think what really did the trick was Sara’s unwavering attitude – her resounding No: “Not in my classroom.”
The other day a friend, another mom at our school, called me to say that there was going to be an anti-bullying meeting the next morning. I showed up but to my frustration missed the meeting because I could not find the room where it was being held. My friend told me later that the meeting was about whether our school would qualify for district-supported anti-bullying programs. We did not qualify. It is up to our PTA to fund the program if we want it and I bet we don’t have that kind of money.
On the way to this meeting I ran into another friend, father of a boy at our school, and from what he told me I realized that his son Ryan is now being targeted by bullying. I had known that over the years Ryan had been tormented by a couple of boys, one in particular. This year I heard that Ryan is going around giving money to kids to “be his friend.” I had noticed him lately playing with much younger kids. Now I recognize these signs – it means that kids are not playing with him. It means that the tormenting of the original couple of boys has now spread much wider.
As this man and I were talking our former PTA president walked by and joined our conversation. She told me that the school had looked into anti-bullying programs during her tenure as PTA president. They had found that these programs not only cost an arm and a leg but they are hard to choose between. Each one has an angle: gender or race or sexual orientation or God knows what else. You open up that debate and there’s no end to personal agendas and competing political correctnesses – she didn’t say this, it’s what I surmise!
So what are we supposed to do?
What I honestly think is that spending big money for anti-bullying programs is a waste of resources. (Here are a couple of relevant news links: in SF Bay Area, in UK.) And any program – no matter how attractive it might be for adults – is completely useless if it does not engage the children themselves every step of the way: talking about what’s going on, brainstorming, discussing solutions, planning, and engaging the kids themselves in carrying out the solutions. And all of this on an ongoing basis: airing of grievances, regular evaluations, tweaking of methods, and public recognition of good effort and good results. In other words, we don’t need yet another top-down, authoritarian “program” to beat right and wrong into our kids’ heads. In fact, could it be that children see that sort of rule-setting a form of bullying by adults?
So what is at the heart of putting a real anti-bullying effort in practice?
We need to give not just the kids but our whole community – teachers, staff, even families – the message that bullying is not acceptable. We don’t need to specify individually every group of people against whom violence of any kind is not permitted – neither younger kids, nor girls, nor different ethnicities, nor gays, etc. I think what we need is the message that whatever bullying is and whomever it is against it just simply has to stop.
“Not in my classroom, not in my school, not under my watch, not among my friends, not anywhere, not anytime…”
I truly believe that people of any age are quick in snapping to when they sense a very serious attitude. I think ninety-nine percent of the people, young and old, have a lot more self control than they let on.
But we adults have to ask ourselves, how serious are we about this?
(See this for more on bullying.)