Stop the anti-bullying bus; I want to get off.

In the hell of good intentions, the anti-bullying campaign has got to be on one of the lower rings. (The self-esteem movement is?pretty far down.)?

Anyone who has had any experience with the post-Columbine Code of Conduct panic will understand.? Such Codes are dense, intricate documents that attempt to foresee ? and ban! ? every conceivable social indiscretion. Most of the kids who get caught up in this web ? and get suspended from school or sent to In-school Suspension rooms?? are the hapless ones who most need to get educated.? It is fairly well known that history's harshest dictators rule not with an iron fist, but with razored talons paging through volumes of laws banning just about everything, offering such rulers?complete authority under the rubric of the ?rule of law.??It's not much different in school districts, especially those?with sizeable minority student populations,? few minority teachers or administrators, and poor academic standards. Black kids take it on the shins when the Code is long and dense and intricate. The word ?targeted? is no joke. However well-intentioned?the school policies, most of them are impossible to enforce in any equitable or fair manner -- which means that they are enforced in the breach.

Now comes research to document the social status implications of our anti-bullying binge -- and will, hopefully, sound the alarm about our latest witch hunt.? First reported in Education Week last week, the new studies are also discussed in this morning's New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope.? We learn that bullying is part of ordinary life in our schools and that, contrary to popular opinion,??the school bully? is not ?maladjusted or aggressive by nature.?? Instead, ?teenage aggression and victimization occur throughout the social ranks as students jockey to improve their status.?

It is not reassuring that Parker-Pope quotes a researcher recommending that ?school districts need to have policies that deal with this? ? by the time ?this? gets to the school, it will look more like ?that,? with only the misfits and hapless, as with codes of conduct, getting caught.? Let's hope we can slow the anti-bullying juggernaut that has spawned school policies like the one proposed for our district: a 3,400-word, nine-page document that is one-fourth the length of the entire Code of Conduct, most of it wrapped up in psychological mumbo-jumbo like this:

?Bullying is characterized by:?

1.??????????? Power imbalance - occurs when a bully uses his/her physical or social power over a target.

2.??????????? Intent to harm - the bully seeks to inflict physical or emotional harm and/or takes pleasure in this activity.

3.??????????? Threat of further aggression - the bully and the target believe the bullying will continue.

4.??????????? Terror - when any bullying increases, it becomes a ?systematic violence or harassment used to intimidate and maintain dominance.???(Barbara Coloroso, The Bully, The Bullied & The?Bystander, 2003)

?There are at least three kinds of bullying: verbal, physical and psychological/social/relational.?

  • Verbal bullying includes, but is not limited to, name calling, insulting remarks, verbal teasing, frightening phone calls, violent threats, extortion, taunting, gossip, spreading rumors, racist slurs, threatening electronic communications, anonymous notes, etc.
  • Physical bullying includes, but is not limited to, poking, slapping, hitting, tripping or causing a fall, choking, kicking, punching, biting, pinching, scratching, spitting, twisting arms or legs, damaging clothes and personal property, or threatening gestures.
  • Social, psychological or relational bullying includes, but is not limited to, excluding someone from a group, isolating, shunning, spreading rumors or gossiping, arranging public humiliation, undermining relationships, teasing about clothing, looks, giving dirty looks, aggressive stares, etc.

God forbid anyone gets caught doing?etcetera.? But here's the velvet-wrapped stiletto;?naturally, the concluding paragraph:

While the focus of this policy is on prevention, bullying acts may still occur. In these cases, offenders [all those ?teasing? 6th-graders giving ?dirty looks? and ?aggressive stares,? not to mention the dreaded ?etc.?] ?will be given the clear message that their actions are wrong and the behavior must improve. Offenders will receive in-school guidance in making positive choices in their relationships with others. If appropriate, disciplinary action will be taken by the administration in accordance with the district's Code of Conduct, as applicable.? If the behavior rises to the level of criminal activity, law enforcement will be contacted.

I guarantee you that, if past practice is any guide here, the only part of this policy that anyone will pay?much attention to, besides the offensive etcetera, is the ?disciplinary action [that] will be taken by the administration.? And the only ones disciplined will be?the ones who get ?caught.??

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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