Stop the Bullying: the New Jersey Crusade

This is not a good time to be taking on the anti-bullying legions, but Winnie Hu does a terrific job describing the newest runaway behavioral modification fad in schools in her front page New York Times story from the other day, Bullying Law Puts New Jersey Schools on Spot. The law,? according to Hu,

  • Has 18 pages of ?required components? for the antibullying policy that each school must adopt;
  • Requires each school in the state to have an antibullying specialist and an antibullying coordinator;
  • Sets up a system to grade each school on its antibullying efforts and ?educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.?

There's more, of course.? ?I think this has gone well overboard,? Richard Bozza, head of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, tells Hu. ?Now we have to police the community 24 hours a day.?

If schools have felt burdened by being turned into social service agencies, their new anti-bullying duties should seal the deal:? they have to do everything.? (I would be curious to know what Geoffrey Canada thinks of this.)

In my February post, Stop the Anti-bullying Bus, I Want to Get Off, I wrote,

In the hell of good intentions, the anti-bullying campaign has got to be on one of the lower rings.

In that post I detailed the anti-bullying policy in my own district, in New York, which was nine, single-spaced pages long (one-third the length of the district's entire Code of Conduct) and was voted into law by the school board (on which I sit) just a couple weeks ago. Policy #0155 included such lovely sections as,

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.

As I asked at a board meeting, Does this apply to board members? (My question did have some impact; this section was changed to read, "Social, psychological or relational bullying includes, but is not limited to isolating, shunning, spreading rumors or gossiping, teasing about appearance, etc.")

Etcetera is still a pretty broad category.

Though I haven't read the New Jersey law, which Hu says is ?the toughest legislation against bullying in the nation,? her report is scary enough. Writes Hu,

This summer thousands of school employees attended training session on the new law; more than 200 districts have snapped a $1,295 package put together by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page manual and a DVD.

If Mike hadn't already used it, I'd say Stop the Madness! Yes, bullying is a bad thing. And yes, educators need to provide a safe environment for learning. But the policies that are springing up all over the country, aside from being bureaucratic nightmares,? end up using the rather blunt instrument of unintelligible verbiage as their main enforcement mechanism, a situation which creates? a gulag of fear and intimidation rather than the hoped-for peaceable kingdom.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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