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Bullying: Deterrent vs. Solution

Barbara Coloroso is a well known childhood educator. In Hold Bullies Accountable, Expert Urges she takes a clear stand on the issue, a stand which has clearly not been adopted as a cultural norm. As I've written about before, bullying is also alive and well in the workplace. I have also been far too close to this thing we call bullying on a personal level. But in all the books that are being written and news reports being made I wonder if we are really dealing with the issue effectively...

In Hold Bullies Accountable, Expert Urges, Barbara Coloroso recommends that, "(The bullies) should be hauled into court and made an example of." Of course there is merit to this idea, yet it is clearly not a solution.

"Bullying" is a term that has no legal In my own experiences in dealing with the ravages of bullying, it became very clear to me that there is absolutely no legal foundation on which to proceed. And to take action into my own hands was perilous to say the least. Perhaps there is potential to create more of a deterrent for bullying through legal means, but it is also clear that our legal system is busier than ever, violence in all shapes and forms is increasing.

Our culture has given youth a wide range of rights, but has not imbued in them the responsibilities that come with those rights. All rights naturally imply a set of responsibilities and without them the rights are meaningless. Legally, the laws surrounding youth are weak and ineffective, and many young people know this and use it to their advantage (n.b. - this is not in any way a generalization on all youth, but it is safe to say that some of our youth are able to manipulate the system).

Psychologically, the bland promotion of self-esteem in the absence of morals can lead to extreme forms of selfishness and in its worst form violence. Bullying is a form of violence.

A school official in the article states, "The issue right now is getting the school back on an even level." The general context of this comment is not apparent in the article so it is difficult to comment. However, "getting the school back to an even level" may be precisely the wrong thing to do. If by an "even level" the school official means returning to the regular routines of curriculum and instruction, then he is living under a delusion. How is it that this imaginary "even level" will help? It may be that an uneven and turbulent period is precisely what the schools need.

"We are not looking to point fingers or lay blame, but we do ask how. How could it have happened in a school system that prides itself on its safe school initiatives?" The fact of the matter is, a school cannot guarantee the provision of a "safe" environment. My daughter asked a high-school prinicipal the following question, "If I return to school, how can you guarantee that I will be safe?" The answer, if it could be called that, revealed that safety could not be promised... although there were a healthy dose of counselling programs and the presence of under-cover police in the school that were all too transparent to her.

We should be looking to "lay blame" and the bullies themselves are the first in line. Yet, as I learned first hand, this is extremely difficult to do. However, we often do not hear about the parents of bullies and the responsibility they must assume for the problem. The school system has placed a great deal of emphasis on anti-bullying campaigns and safe-school environments, but the problem is that school systems are generally reactive systems. There is little to no authority in the system to actually deal with the issue and the problem is often referred over to psychologists and law enforcement. If a school reacts to a suicide via bullying with the attitude of getting things "back on an even level" it does a dis-service. And of course the phenomenon we refer to as bullying reaches far into the depths of our culture, and although it is now commonly heard about in relation to schools, it goes far beyond that. Schools are not the source of bullying, they are only one possible arena for it.

Coloroso had a simple message for the school and school board: "Wake up. It's going on and what are you going to do about it? I want to know what your action plan is."

Coloroso said the board needs a strong anti-bullying policy and clear procedures about what happens to the bully, the bystander and victim when bullying is reported.

She said she finds it "hard to believe" no adults knew and she expects more students will come forward from that school with reports of bullying.

I appreciate the intent of this message. At the same time, are we not over-emphasizing the role of the school? Safe to say, school systems can make many improvements to their current methods for preventing and handling bullying, but let's not create the impression that they can solve the issue on our behalf. It may be that they can find more effective ways of dealing with the issue, but they are not the cause - our culture is. And how is it that a school environment can be "safe" when students are battered with information and standardized testing that has little relevance to their own life experiences?

While perhaps necessary, let's not create the impression that inviting more and more litigation into the school environment will lead to a better result. Bullies, make no mistake, are often extremely intelligent and are able to manipulate societal processes and procedures to their advantage. And in the end, litigation may offer some semblance of a deterrent but a conviction is always after the fact, or more simply, too late.

And is it possible that our obsession with material progress is really starting to get the better of us? Has our attention become so completely immersed in the work-a-day lifestyle that we don't even know what we are ignoring anymore? Is there such a thing as prescription drug medication bullying? Are we hard-wired beyond repair? Can we not pay attention to Huxley's here and now. Perhaps we should invite a healthier sense of opting out in society.

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