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How to Create Utopian Schools

The strange truth, though, is that the idea of creating Utopia in schools is actually not so outlandish. If we think it is outlandish it is probably because we don’t really understand what Utopia is. My guess is that most people conceive of Utopia the way I always had, until a few months ago, when I took the trouble to actually read the book, Utopia, by the Renaissance philosopher Sir Thomas More.

What I had thought was meant by Utopia is an unattainable, mythical Heaven-like place where everyone is always happy and nothing bad ever happens to anyone. However, this is not at all what Sir Thomas More was writing about.

In Utopia, More presents a supposedly real country described to him in detail by a traver who claims to have been there. And while Utopia is probably a work of fiction, More probably believed that such a place is possible. Furthermore, most students of anthropology will recognize that similar places actually have existed. In fact, I wrote about such a place recently, in my Psychology Today blog article about Ladakh, a place in which there is no bullying. In fact, Utopia as described by More is remarkably similar to Ladakh. Illness and death do exist in these places because they are inevitable parts of life, but their people are far healthier than in most other places. Crime and warfare also exist, but they are minimal compared with the rest of the world.

Yes, the anti-bully movement is trying to create Utopian schools. However, it is going about it in the wrong way. It is doing it by lobbying the government-the only institution that can legally force people at gunpoint to do its will-to pass anti-bullying laws that make it a crime for any student or staff member to exert any kind of unwelcome power over a child. And if the schools fail to stop any children from being treated badly by other kids, the schools are deemed criminally negligent and can lose government funding and be sued by parents. Anti-bullying laws, rather than creating the type of society described in More’s Utopia, are instead creating the type of society described by another famous English philosopher, George Orwell, in his book, Nineteen-Eighty-Four. As in that infamous Orwellian society, kids today are required to be spies on each other, informing the adult authorities whenever bullying occurs so that they can swoop in to investigate, interrogate and punish bullies. The adults are required to oversee every inch of school grounds and monitor all student interactions so they can stop any act of bullying before it even happens. Never have tensions among student, school staff and parents been as high as they are today thanks to our tough school anti-bullying laws. No one today is to be free from the ever-watchful eye of government-mandated bully police.

Utopia and Ladakh both achieve remarkable levels of peace and happiness not because their governments passed laws requiring everyone to be nice. In Utopia, there are almost no laws. Ladakh, in fact, has no police and no formal government, yet it had no bullying or crime worth mentioning (until the very-recent encroachment of modern society, that is).

How do these societies, then, create peace and harmony? They do it by employment of wisdom rather than by threat of punishment by government.

While neither books about Utopia or Ladakh use the term the Golden Rule, the principle that encompasses all morality. Utopia and Ladakh teach their people the wisdom to live morally, and their systems of government, whether formal as in Utopia or informal as in Ladakh, are based on solid moral principles. They are embodiments of the Golden Rule.

Anti-bully laws, as I have explained in the past, are fundamental violations of the Golden Rule. If we want to create Utopian schools, we can only do so by teaching students and staff to live by the Golden Rule (which, as I have also explained in the past, means Loving Your Bullies). Furthermore, it must have school discipline policies that conform to the Golden Rule, for it is impossible to have a moral society via policies that violate it. I teach principles for creating a moral school policy at my seminars, and I have recently been expounding upon them in my blog entries. True, it is not always obvious how to correctly apply the Golden Rule, but we have a much better chance of solving problems by consciously applying the rule than by pressuring the government to punish problems out of existence.

Schools that have successfully adopted my Bullies to Buddies approach have had remarkable improvements in the school environment. I want here to present a letter written by school counselor Jeannie Brewer of the Snyder Elementary School in Las Vegas (Sin City of all places!):

“Finally, a program that works near miracles in helping victims to deal with bullies. After two years of implementing Izzy’s principles, the students at William Snyder Elementary School smile at one another with confidence. Our school climate is pleasant and conducive to learning. Discipline referrals for bullying behaviors have decreased significantly. Teachers can now teach because the kids are handling their own issues. And (drum roll here)…our test scores are going UP. In a school where the population is 63% Hispanic, our school reached every testing goal. In my 15 years as a school counselor, I have never seen a more effective social skills program. This one is pure genius.”

My itention here is not to toot my own horn. I did not invent this approach to discipline. It has been taught by wise people throughout the world and throughout history; I am merely reintroducing it. My goal is simply to save our society from the misguided anti-bully movement and help achieve what we have all been yearning for. Yes, indeed, Utopia is not an unattainable mythical society. It can be a reality, but we can only make it happen by employing the Golden Rule.

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