I’m trying to learn about bullying in schools, because it is a hot topic in Grandview right now. I will be posting a few stories about the info I find in my research.
What is bullying?
According to the Wiki:
Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior manifested by the use of force or coercion to affect others, particularly when the behavior is habitual and involves an imbalance of power. It can include verbal harassment, physical assault or coercion and may be directed repeatedly towards particular victims, perhaps on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexuality, or ability.
There are two important issues in this definition. There has to be an imbalance of power or status, which allows the bully to continue without reprisal. If there are two kids in conflict who are generally matched in strength and status then they are fighting, not bullying. There are plenty of fights in schools, and although fighting is bad I don’t see how it is advantageous for anyone to classify fighting as bullying.
The bullying behavior has to be extended over time to fit the definition. If a kid has a bad day and lashes out in a single instance at someone else, it is not bullying.
What was your experience with bullying in school?
A lot of your reaction to stories about bullying that is happening right now in Grandview Heights schools is dependent on the personal experience you had as a child. Some people had little trouble, and their lack of experience makes it more of a theoretical issue. The parents who had rough experiences as the target of bullies in their youth are understandably sensitive to the issue, and want better support from the schools than they had as kids. I don’t read much from people who were the bullies in school, they don’t seem to be very proud of that, but I would guess they tend to think bullying is an unfortunate but unavoidable part of the human condition.
I had almost no experience of bullying as a child. Maybe it was because I didn’t fit any of the stereotypes that allows kids to divide themselves into waring tribes. I was in sports and lettered by my sophomore year (but quit all sports after that). I had enough of a reputation to be OK with the jocks. I took all the college prep courses and spent a lot of time with the nerds. I hung out with the stoners some and could talk to the juvenile delinquents. I didn’t seek out the role of mediator, but sometimes I was able to diffuse conflicts between kids.
I think the real factor that prevented much bullying from happening in my school was that we only had 80 or so kids per class in the small rural system. There was no social “class divisions” to speak of.
My kids didn’t have a hard time with bullying as they went through the Grandview schools. One of them had a few issues with other kids, but that was not really bullying, more like sparing between two social groups. The other child had a class that was very non-aggressive, and although there was some of the hazing from upper classmen, the kids in his class were generally good with each other. This was noticed by the teachers and administrators, they commented on how well that class acted.
A culture of bullying?
From my experience, I don’t think there is a culture of bullying at Grandview schools. I think there are classes where it is a problem, and some don’t have that issue. I can’t see how the small class size in the city could allow the development of chronic bullying behavior – how do you develop established “gangs” with so few members?
My kids are three years out of the system, so maybe things have changed in the school. I’m interested in hearing the experiences of current parents.
I think there are some bullies in the school. That doesn’t mean that it is necessary to have a total re-focus of the schools to confront the issue of bullying. There are programs in place now in Grandview that are supposed to be dealing with bullying. Maybe those programs are ineffective, it can’t hurt to find out if there are better programs.
If there are just a few bullies in the school, and the teachers and administrators are aware of these kids, why don’t they focus on the problem kids? I have read that some parents of bullied kids feel that they get sympathy but no action from administrators to stop the bullying. Maybe the administrators are working on the bullies, and they can’t publicly explain what they do, for fear of breaking confidentiality. Maybe the administrators are not doing enough to confront bullies and take effective action to discipline the bullies.
The work of the administration is a black box, and it is the job of the school board members to look inside that box. It is important to remind the board they have a duty to take a hard look at the administration and not be passive participants in school policy.
This post was a sort of general one about definitions and my admittedly out of date viewpoint on bullying in the schools. In future posts I’ll talk about how anti-bully programs work, and what the studies say about their effectiveness.