by Izzy Kalman November 7, 2010 Psychology Today Blog, A Psychological Solution to Bullying
Now is the worst time in history to be a school principal or administrator. Not only have state governments passed anti-bullying laws that hold schools legally responsible for accomplishing the impossible, the Federal government has thrown its big guns into the vicious attack against schools, too. The highest power in the land is now holding schools responsible for doing what the world’s most revered bullying experts are incapable of accomplishing-an environment in which no one ever says anything that another person doesn’t like-and if the remark is about someone’s religion or sexual orientation, the school is in really deep trouble. It will face lawyers and possibly lose funding for the school, hurting the education of the entire student body. After you read this article, go to the link at the bottom of the page to read the text of the Federal government’s instructions to schools about bullying, and consider whether you would like to be in charge of a school under those regulations.
On the other hand, it’s a great time to be a lawyer. There is so much opportunity to make a good living, thanks to anti-bullying laws. Is it any wonder that laws are made by lawyers? (Actually, it’s also a good time for bullying consultants to make a living, too, thanks to anti-bullying laws. Which is why the anti-bullying consultants lobby for anti-bullying laws! And the schools, not the consultants, get sued when their programs don’t work. I, too, am benefitting–my phone has never been so busy–though I would personally rather do away with these laws.)
School principals, in particular, are going nuts today dealing with bullying issues. Never have hostilities been higher. When the school administration gets involved apprehending, investigating, interrogating and judging bullies, kids get angrier at each other and the alleged bullies get angry at the school administration. The parents of the kids get angrier at each other. Whichever set of parents feels the administration is unfair to them gets angry at the administration, goes complaining to the school district, and sometimes hires lawyers to sue the school or district. Rather than bringing peace to schools, anti-bullying laws are turning them into war zones. Anti-bullying laws are a Catch 22. They require schools to eliminate bullying by treating it like a crime, but the very attempt to enforce the laws creates an intensification of the bullying problem.
It has amazed me for over a decade that my own colleagues, practitioners of the psychological sciences, are eager to treat bullying like a crime. Why do they believe that lawyers have the solution to interpersonal problems? If you are having difficulty getting along with your spouse and you discover that your spouse went for help to a lawyer, do you think, “Thank God! Things are going to start getting better now!” When your spouse goes to a lawyer, that’s when the war really begins! The role of lawyers is to help you fight better against the other side. But somehow they expect lawyers to be able to bring peace to schools.
Both the American Psychological Association and the National Association of School Psychologists have issued research-based position papers warning against punitive policies for discipline, explaining the myriad ways in which they cause more harm than good. Yet both these organizations advocate for anti-bullying laws, which require bullies to be punished and schools to be punished if they don’t make the bullying stop.
Why have we been creating these irrational policies about bullying? It’s because we panicked, and when we panic, logic goes down the drain. We panicked about Columbine, the first major event that initiated our war against bullies, and more recently we’ve been panicking about the child suicides committed by victims of bullying.
To solve problems, we need to have rational policies. Therefore, as an alternative to the hysteria-driven counterproductive school anti-bullying policies, I am offering a rational policy. I know that many of you, especially parents, will object to this policy because you want to see the crap punished out of your kids’ bullies, but I guarantee you that this policy is to your benefit, too. What good is a policy that will fail to solve your children’s problems and increase hostility towards you and your children? http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-bully-witch-hunt/200907/free-website-manual-saves-life-bullying-victim
I don’t actually expect schools to run out and adopt this policy, as much as they would like to. But perhaps if enough of us have the courage to support such a policy and present it to our unions and professional associations, we will build steam and start reversing the destructive path we are currently zooming down.
A Rational, Moral School Bullying Policy
There is nothing our school would like better than to create an environment in which all students are always nice to each other. It would make life more pleasant not only for students, who are the raison d’être of our school, but for our school staff as well. We would greatly prefer spending our time educating students than playing bully police.
Unfortunately, such a goal is impossible. We have heard of only one place in which everyone is always nice to each other. That place is called Heaven.
Statistics have shown that despite the terror regarding school bullying that has gripped the modern world, schools are the safest place for children. There is more bullying going on in the workplace. In fact, some of our school staff complain of being bullied by other staff members and we haven’t figured out how to make it stop. The most frequent and serious bullying happens right at home. About 50% of us have gotten divorced because we couldn’t get our spouses to stop bullying us. Our own few kids at home bully each other on a daily basis and no matter how hard we try to stop them, they keep on doing it.
Furthermore, the bullying research has shown that the most intensive anti-bullying programs rarely do more than produce a minor reduction in bullying and are more likely to lead to an increase in bullying. Prof. Dan Olweus, who created the psychological field of bullying and spawned the infectious idea that schools are responsible for the bullying that goes on between students, has not succeeded in solving the bullying problem. His extremely intensive and time-consuming program, which has earned the reputation as the “gold standard,” rests on the laurels of studies conducted three decades ago in Scandinavia, showing that after two years of implementation bullying was reduced by only 50%. Studies of his program in our country have failed to replicate the Scandinavian results and have found that it often results in an increase in bullying. How are we to be held responsible for making schools bully-free when the gold standard program fails to do it?
If you can show us a guaranteed approach to providing your children with a bully-free environment, we will immediately implement it. If you prefer to sue us, we will voluntarily step down from our positions and let you run the school.
This said, we are happy to inform you that our school is, indeed, determined to do all in its power to make your child as free from bullying as possible. We will do our best to accomplish this goal in the most sensible and moral way.
The purpose of school is to educate children to meet the challenges of life, not to protect them from those challenges. They will be encountering bullying throughout their lives, and most of the bullying will be in their own homes. While it is not humanly possible to prevent all bullying among children, we will do our best to impart to your children the wisdom of how to handle people who are bullying them without needing the help of others. If we can teach them how to do this when they are children, we will be helping them for a lifetime. However, just as we cannot guarantee that your children will acquire academic mastery, we cannot guarantee that they will acquire wisdom, either. We educators, too, are often lacking in wisdom despite our age.
We will do our best to monitor the school grounds to prevent children from injuring each other, though we cannot prevent all injury, much as we would like to. We are more scared of sports than bullying, for sports cause about 30 times more injuries than bullying. We also recognize the need of children to interact with each other without adults constantly hovering over them, monitoring all of their interactions. Doing so stifles their enjoyment of life and hinders development of resilience, confidence and social skills. We would not tolerate such interference in our adult lives, and children should not be subjected to it, either.
We wish that we could guarantee that no child in the school will ever have a prejudicial feeling or make a prejudicial remark against any other child, but unfortunately we cannot. As the great philosopher Bertrand Russell said, “Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed.” We need look no further than the worldwide anti-bully crusade to witness people’s eagerness to have a group they can legitimately hate.
We recognize that you may not be satisfied unless your children’s bullies get severely punished. That’s because you are likely to think of your own child as the innocent one and the other one as the evil bully. Please remember that it may be your own child that is being accused of being a bully.
When we find that children are engaged in hostile situations, we will do our best to guide them to resolve the hostilities by themselves. We will avoid the role of judge for that is likely to escalate hositilities. Furthermore, our staff has not attended law school are not trained in the intracacies of judging. We will only assume this role when the parties involved are not capable of arriving at a solution on their own, and we will do so reluctantly.
Our school will establish a set of rules that are both effective and moral, for if our rules are immoral, we will be teaching children to be immoral. We will strive for a set of rules that maximizes children’s freedom to experience life and learn from it while forbidding acts that cause objective harm to bodies and property.
The Golden Rule, the universally recognized principle of morality, will be our guide in establishing rules and punishments for violations. We will do our best to treat your children the way we would like to be treated if we were in their situation. We will also do our best to teach your children to live by the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule instructs us to be nice to people even when they are mean to us, for we are to treat them the way we want to be treated, not the way they are treating us. When we respond nicely to people who are mean to us, they almost always stop being mean.
The first thing we will do is cease referring to your children with the insulting term “bully.” We do not conduct anti-jerk, slut, wimp, or idiot campaigns, and we will not conduct anti-bully campaigns either. Anti-bully campaigns promote hostility, divisiveness and intolerance. No one is perfect. To one degree or another we are all bullies, jerks, sluts, wimps or idiots, and we would not want society to conduct campaigns of intolerance against us.
One essential principle for moral discipline is that the punishment should fit the crime. Yes, sometimes it will be necessary to punish your children. Punishments should deter crime, make restitution and reform the law-breaker. Suspension and expulsion have no relationship to the crime, are usually far more severe than the crime, and cause more harm than good. Suspension will no longer be a routine punishment, and students will be expelled from school only when we find we are incapable of preventing them from being real dangers to themselves or to others.
Another important principle we will adhere to is Freedom of Speech. Our Founding Fathers were wise people. They had a good reason for granting us Freedom of Speech and putting it in the very first Amendment to the Bill of Rights. Our Constitution guarantees others the right to say things we find offensive. Our response to words is subjective, meaning it is we ourselves who determine whether we are upset by the words, and it is immoral to punish other people when we upset ourselves. Only speech that can cause objective harm to people’s bodies or property or deny them liberty are to be forbidden. This ban includes threats of violence and incitement to violence
The school’s code of discipline will be an evolving document that we are hopeful will improve over time as we grow in wisdom and experience. We welcome any suggestions from parents, students or other community members on how to help our school function in accordance with the Golden Rule. We also encourage you to present this school policy to any moral leaders you respect and ask for their opinion and advice.
Sincerely, Your School Administration
So, my dear friends, if you like this, will you please pass it on to others?
And here is the link to the text of the Federal government’s instructions about bullying to schools: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201010.pdf