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Monday, March 18, 2013

Easier said than done

There is a good ad on TV put out by  This is a great website and I wholeheartedly support the work they are doing.  It is an excellent resource and provides the materials and information that any school could use to support  bullying prevention efforts.  The ad is brief and simple-  it shows an act of bullying where some kids knocked another kid's books down.  It shows a  bystander nearby visibly bothered by what happened.  The message that follows tells the viewers (parents) to teach kids how to stand up to bullying.   The ad is accurate and shows a typical scenario that many kids face however I have some reservations about some of the hidden messages in the ad.

It implies that it is the parents job to teach kids how to stand up to bullying. 

I support parents talking to their kids about bullying.  I also support them giving their kids specific strategies to use and/or key phrases to say.  All of that can do no harm and can help in some cases.  The problem is parents really don't know the circumstances that their kids face in bullying situations.  Many bullying situations are very ambiguous where the bullying is not so clear.  It is hard to teach any person how to do something without being there to support them in the environment where the situation occurs.  We don't expect a parent to teach their child how to handle the last two minutes of a basketball game.  There is a coach to do that and they practice in a gym similar to the place where games are played.  Sure a parent can shoot baskets at home or have a catch or share stories of his/he experiences playing a sport, but that is not a replacement for the coaching that needs to happen in the school with the team.

It can reinforce many teachers' belief that parents should bear the greatest responsibility for addressing bullying.

This also leads to educators blaming parents for not doing a good enough job teaching kids how to stand up to bullying.  Anything that perpetuates the blame game that happens regarding bullying only makes substantive bullying prevention harder.  If someone thinks that the problem is because someone else has not done the job, it freezes that person from assuming shared responsibility for doing something.

It can imply that a bystander that doesn't stop the bullying is to blame.

It is true that bystanders hold the greatest influence in preventing and reducing bullying, but that doesn't mean that if bullying persists that we should blame the bystanders that did nothing.  We need to recognize how hard it is on many levels to intervene, report or help the victim.  Some bystanders don't intervene or help because they have determined that they could be at risk.  We need to ask ourselves as adults how many times we put ourselves at risk to help others especially if we think that our actions will have little impact.  Some bystanders might rightfully conclude that they are so low on the social ladder and that their actions will do little good.  In fact,  research has shown that the social status of the bystanders is a huge factor in determining if intervention works or not.

It focus too much on the individual and less on the social ecology of the school.

Individual bystander behavior is very dependent upon how far or close intervening/reporting is to the social norms of the school.  Do bystanders know that the risk they might take when they intervene or report will be supported by the adults in the school?  Do they risk being accused of not minding their own business?  How often do kids in a school take a risk in situations that are not well defined by the rules.  If kids are used to operating in schools where following the rules is a paramount value, they will naturally shy away from any situation not defined by the rules.  The school culture determines how much a stretch a helping behavior is for a kid.  How many times have kids seen adult model helping or do they regularly see adults bullying kids?

It reinforces that false notion that social emotional skills are the domain of home while academic skills are the domain of school.

Learning is a social act.  The best teachers integrate the social with the academic.  Students need to learn how to communicate, express ideas, negotiate in the very act of learning.  John Dewey said the very act of living together educates.  We don't expect parents to teach their kids the academic subjects at  home and then come to school already reading and able to use them.  Kid should read at home, talk at home, figure out problems at home but also need the social context of peers and a teacher to refine those skills.   A strong case could be made that it would be easier to learn the academic at home and have kids just come to school to use those academic skills, than for thinking the social emotional skills can be learned at home and just used at school.  Most homes don't consist of 20-25 kids being together for 6 plus hours a day.  Navigating the social world of school requires pretty sophisticated skills.

Please don't take my raising these points as a criticism of the  It raise these points to illustrate how even with the best intentions reducing a complex issue can inadvertently sustain attitudes and mindsets that need more reflection and discussion.

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