Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

How to stop bullying: Two very different approaches

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bullying has been in the news again: more savagery in schools, more suicides, more hand-wringing on what to do… In the most recent newsletter from Edutopia there was a segment titled “Creative Solutions to Prevent Bullying: Boosting Emotional Intelligence to Battle Bullying – A Brooklyn program gives kids an emotional tool kit.”  More

Would you call it karma?!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I can’t help but notice a kind of irony in what happened to Jack at school.  More

The apologies come in

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When we went to pick up Jack’s books from class his teacher told us that she has asked students to write apology letters to him. A few had come in already so she gave them to us. Interestingly, they were mostly from the kids who had nothing to do with the bullying. I wonder if there will be others! More

It really was over

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The strange thing about writing these blogs is that I’m always behind myself. For a long time I was writing about second grade, which was three years ago. Eventually I made it to fifth grade and then, bam, we left school altogether. The home/free-schooling adventure that we’re on right now is quite a story… but I have to go back and finish off the story of how I decided to pull Jack out of school.

A very unexpected thing

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My son quit school last week.  More

Bullying continues

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The bullying, both individual and group, against my son Jack has picked up again at school. This is going on both during school and at afterschool. I will report on it here as things develop. First, here is a letter Jack wrote to his afterschool teacher:

Dear Teacher:

I would like it if you would interfere and punish XX or anyone else who bullies me the first time. Because the second and third times are hurting me. It doesn’t hurt you but it hurts me. When you give them a second and third time it just gives them more chances to hurt me. They know they have three chances to hurt me and they take those chances. This hurts and harms me. They know what they can do, which is to harm me.

A very curious thing

Friday, January 01, 2010

The more I looked into the bullying going on against my son the more complications I discovered. For one thing, I found out that many children were affected by Terry’s bullying. He bullied and intimidated many. But one story I heard was particularly troubling.

Sam, the son of an Iranian woman at school, had also had problems with Terry. Sam’s mother, Leila, told me that one of Sam’s friends told her that Terry teased Sam by making disparaging comments about Iran. This friend said that Terry says “Iran sucks” and makes “I-ran” jokes to provoke Sam. The interesting thing is that Sam had never mentioned this to his mother. When Leila talked to him about it he said that he sometimes laughs at the “I-ran” jokes but when Terry makes fun of his mother for being Iranian he feels he has to defend her.

More zooming in on the bully

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The fact is that when you’re dealing with a real bully situation (not just individual and sporadic bad behavior) chances are good that your child is not the only victim. The trick is to talk to the kids. I have always been successful in getting answers from kids. They do speak the truth – and they can be much wiser than we give them credit, and possibly much wiser than us.

One day, talking to a group of kids about Terry’s treatment of Jack, one of the girls said, “Everyone says Terry will grow up to go to jail.” When I asked why the kids think so she wasn’t able to give me a coherent explanation – which is natural. She just expressed a vague feeling among the kids.

Over the years I have listened to a lot of back-seat conversations between kids as I drive them places. One of those times my son and two friends were discussing Terry. Again, they could not quite put their fingers on what was wrong with the things that Terry did. They did not feel comfortable calling him a “criminal” – which is what they said someone has to be to go to jail. One of the kids finally blurted out, “Well, he’ll definitely be a frat boy.” “What’s a frat boy?” I asked. “Mean. Obnoxious. Drunk. Does drugs. Hurts people…” they threw in.

Now, the strange thing is that Terry had a certain allure among these same kids. When I asked about this one girl said to me, “Terry is mean to everyone that’s why he’s popular.” Other kids came to her help and explained that if you’re not on Terry’s good side then he’ll really be mean to you. I believe that. But I have a feeling there is more to it than just the threat a bully poses. I think there is something attractive in being part of a strong force -- for good or for evil.

I’ll have you take a look at something in a minute.

I wrote in this blog about the “I Am” assignment that the fourth grade teacher gave her students at the beginning of the year. She posted the kids’ responses on the bulletin board outside the classroom. She didn’t post Jack’s – understandably. But saddened and alarmed by Jack’s responses I made a point of reading all the other kids’ responses. I wrote down all the posted answers to the “I hope…” part of the assignment. Here they are:

I hope… More

Zooming in on the main bully

Friday, December 18, 2009

I unfortunately don’t have a lot of time these days to spend at my son’s school. But every once in a while I try to hang around and listen to the kids and exchange a few words with them. One of those days while I was talking to some younger boys, one of my son’s classmates of many years came up and sat with us. I was not talking about Jack but this friend suddenly turned to me with this comment: “Jack gets picked on – it’s really sad. It was Terry who started it.” The kids are finally talking about it.

I am not going to analyze Terry. I will just give some sketches of what he and his family were like.

We met Terry in first grade. He had been at the school the year before (Jack missed kindergarten at this school) and was already in a sort of domination struggle with another boy, Jason. My first real encounter with Terry and his family was when at Jack’s birthday party Terry’s father referred to Jason as “that wild beast.” Over the years I got to know the “wild beast,” who is indeed rambunctious and more than a little given to bullying (physically and verbally) but Terry’s father’s comment alarmed me. There is hope for improvement in children but adults are a different story. I learned over time not to even try to talk to Terry’s family about their son’s bullying. I had a feeling the school administration did not have much success in their attempts either.

In second grade, while I was still trying to improve relations between the kids, I invited Terry to go ice skating with us. He did not skate so I spent a lot of time with him on the ice, trying to make him feel comfortable and enjoy himself. While I was trying to teach him some basics, twice he wrapped his ankle around mine and made me fall. Each time he said with a smirk, “Not much of an ice skater, are you?” I’m a perfectly adequate ice skater and not usually at a loss for words, but I just didn’t know how to respond to a seven year-old deliberately tripping me and then making snide remarks. I let it pass but learned my lesson to stay clear of him.

Jack had a troubled relationship with both Terry and Jason. There were a lot of power struggles and inclusion/exclusion games that were played between them. Jack was routinely snubbed as the “new kid” even long after many newer kids joined the group. All three boys had strong personalities and Jack was both attracted and repelled by the other two. Jason’s mother and I tried all we could think of to improve the situation between the two of them. But I think the only thing that we succeeded in doing was give them the message that even if they chose to engage in “alpha male” power struggles, their families were out of it.

Terry’s family – his father really – was beyond communication. Jack often reported to me how nasty his father was to Terry and that Terry was terrified of his dad. The dad was also nasty to Jack at any opportunity. School staff also discretely expressed their frustration over this man’s attitude. “Disrespect” was a word that often came up regarding both Terry and his father.

So what is to be done in a situation like this?

In public schools, not much. If you’re lucky you’ll have a teacher or two who care, a principal who is supportive and not easily intimidated, understanding parents with whom you can communicate and who are a good influence on their kids, and a group of kids who are not abnormally vicious. Kids have to be guilty of almost criminal behavior before they are expelled from public schools.

And frankly, I don’t believe expelling kids left and right is the answer either. What does that teach children – to “eliminate” undesirable elements? My own instinct all along has been to help my son find real solutions – and indeed, decent solutions – to bullies and other ignorant and hostile individuals (like teachers!) one encounters in life. That requires looking at ourselves with honesty as well. Children can be taught to do that. At any rate, I do know and believe solutions for dealing with bullies can be found. We need to have resolve.

As for us, we did have some luck with our school community. But, sad to say, you know what our greatest stroke of luck was? At the beginning of this year Terry left our school to join his brother at a private school. Things have now finally improved.

So much for solutions! More

It's the attitude, stupid

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Forgive me for being blunt but sometimes you’ve just got to say it the way it is. More


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