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All posts for the month June, 2012

Bullies on the bus

Published June 21, 2012 by justicewg

It’s bullying month here (and most other places, it seems). Today’s example is the video of the grandmother and bus monitor who was bullied on the last day of school by some junior high kids. I don’t even need to link to the video, it has been shown everywhere.

Some thoughts on the video:

If your reaction was the urge to track the kids down and open up the whup-ass can, you lose. We are the adults here.

”Junior high kids are the absolute worst. By high school, some rudimentary empathy is starting to develop. But in junior high, they’re old enough to figure out what hurts, and not old enough to know why you shouldn’t do it. “

Some people are saying the TV is at fault. I don’t watch reality TV, but they say that bullying is constant, and approved, on those shows.

Somebody set up a donation site, and the grandmother has been sent $200K $600K by sympathetic people. At this point, she may have enough money to retire, and she can feel reaffirmed in her basic faith in humanity.

There is a quote from her saying, to paraphrase “I thought if I ignored them they would stop. They didn’t stop.” The conclusion is that you can’t ignore this problem away. There is a different dynamic here, kids bullying an adult, but the advice some give that bullying can be de-escalated by ignoring it failed.

Labeling the bullying as “sociopathy” makes it seem abnormal, when that could not be further from the truth.

She was quoted saying,“It’s scary getting all this attention,” Maybe the internet and all the news programs should rally a little less and leave her alone for a while. This could have been a local story, I don’t see the advantages in making it a national story.

But it is a national story now, so maybe something good can come from it. Maybe Junior high kids should be shown the video in class, and told about the consequences those kids had to deal with (and I’m guessing they will be severe, for a long time). If kids can’t develop some empathy from watching that, at least they can learn that these days someone always has a cell phone with video.

(Later) Each of the four kids who were doing the bullying received a one year school expulsion. A little harsh, I think.

Beating kids with boat oars

Published June 15, 2012 by justicewg

If you are a long time resident of Grandview Heights, you might remember that there used to be some rough hazing going on in the schools. This was not some long ago era, it was less than 15 years ago.

Hazing was a little different from bullying, it had the approval of the school administration. The fact that hazing was a tradition allowed a defense of the practice, “that’s the way we do things around here” can lead to the continuation of some really bad ideas.

I’ve been in contact with Brian Cook, a former school board member in Grandview. He was interested in the bullying issues we are currently having, and because he also spent 8 years as the City Attorney before being elected to the board, he had a close view of the problems bullying and hazing caused in our city. The following is what he remembers about some pretty bad hazing incidents.

One of the reasons why I decided to run for a seat on the BOE was to improve how our district treated at-risk students, including students who were bullied. As the city’s law director during the previous 8 years, I had become familiar with several disturbing incidents at the high school that put the safety of students at risk and, in my opinion, were not handled properly by the principal and the superintendent. In fact, one of the issues during the campaign in the summer of 1997 was the frequency of student hazing that was occurring in the community, and I stated publically that the administration was wrong by turning a blind eye to it. Graduating seniors (young men) were chasing and capturing incoming freshman boys and paddling (beating) them with boat oars, sometimes until they were bruised and/or bleeding. I think I still have newspaper articles about the hazing incidents that appeared in both the Dispatch and Tri-Village News.

One of the first policies that I introduced as a newly elected board member was an anti-hazing policy that was intended to provide overall protection to students and end some school traditions, such as “Slave Day” (senior students were able to choose freshman students and enslave them for a day) and “senior hit day” (underclassman football players were initiated by having to stand and endure full-blown body tackles by the seniors on the team). Slave Day in particular was very disturbing to me. I recall one incident where a freshman slave was bound and gagged with duct tape, thrown into the trunk of a car and driven at a high rate of speed through the streets of Grandview by his senior master. This policy passed with a 4-1 vote. The high school principal resigned shortly thereafter and we replaced him with Steve Allen, who grew up in an orphanage. He quickly, in my opinion, restored a safe atmosphere in the high school and held students, teachers and coaches accountable.

Brian Cook, June 2012

I can almost imagine the logic that was used to allow boat oars to be wielded in hazing. The ritual probably started with a short weapon, maybe ping pong paddles. Then some genius realized that canoes were moved with something that was also called a paddle. And if that was OK, then 6 foot boat oars must good, and were both terrifying and dangerous, which added to the cool factor. The bit about the duct taping and dumping in the trunk of the car is a major WTF, I don’t even see how that fits into a “slave” relationship. Obviously the practice had degenerated into a competition to see who could do the most horrifying abuse without engaging in real physical torture.

The paddling and other physical mistreatment that occurs in hazing sends the wrong message to children, how can administrators maintain the line that bullying is wrong, when they also allow ritualized abuse? There is also a legal minefield opened up when there is any approval shown for hazing, the school becomes a target for the percentage of blame. In a wrongful death suit, this could be a crippling cost for the school. All of this is pretty obvious, the puzzling question is why the abolishing of hazing didn’t happen years before.

The hazing that was common in the old days has been stopped. By the time my kids were in high school the stories about the old days of hazing were just brought out to scare freshman, and to remind them that they had it good.

Mr. Cook and others who worked for the end of hazing had some push-back, as evidenced by the board member who didn’t vote for it. Ultimately what ended hazing was a community wide acceptance that “that’s the way we do things here” is a poor argument that leads to much suffering for no good reason. If it is possible for an entire community to grow up and have more respect for each other, then Grandview can be credited for making big steps in the right direction.

I’m sure that the parents of the kids who are bullying in the school right now are using the line “that’s the ways kids are”. Maybe this is true. It’s not an excuse to do nothing about bullying. If the results of eliminating hazing is an indication, working harder to deal with bullying can be worth the effort.

Bullying in Grandview

Published June 11, 2012 by justicewg

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.