Education Matters: Bully beware — A serious issue takes center stage

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

Contributor

In an attempt to bring more focus on the chronic problem of bullying in schools, local California Assembly member Ben Hueso introduced a resolution declaring March to be School Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. The resolution, which was heard in Sacramento March 25, passed.

A related bill sponsored by Hueso, AB 630, would establish programs to train teachers and educators to spot bullying and provide techniques for prevention and intervention.

According to the resolution, bullying in California causes 160,000 students to miss school every day due to “fear of attack or intimidation by their peers.” It states that “both bullies and their victims are more likely to drop out of school and engage in unlawful activity.” School violence and suicides have also, famously, been connected to bullying.

Growing awareness of the seriousness of the problem extends across the country, even to the highest office. On March 10, President Barack Obama convened a gathering of about 150 educators, researchers, staff, parents, and bully victims to shine a light on bullying and its consequences.

“With big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune,” Obama was quoted as saying.

The purpose of the conference was to encourage schools and communities to cooperate in efforts to control bullying and take actions to stop it. Obama said it’s not a rite of passage, “part of growing up” or a harmless example of the “kids will be kids” adage. Nor does it “build character,” as some people say.

According to an Associated Press story, White House officials estimate that one-third of America’s children, or about 13 million kids, have been bullied, leading to increasing drop-out rates, discipline problems in school, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, self-destructive tendencies, violence and even death.

Cyber-bullying, in particular, has increased at alarming rates and has fueled worries about the changing dimensions of bullying and its potential for far-reaching detrimental effects that go well beyond playground torment.

Obama tied bullying to the over-arching concern of America’s academic preparedness for college, the workplace and international competitiveness. Kids can’t learn if they don’t feel safe at school.

A new Web site was unveiled at the conference, www.stopbullying.gov, managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, in partnership with the departments of Education and Justice. The extensive site offers tips, guidance and help for teachers, parents and kids.

The San Diego Unified School District has made available on its Web site a lengthy 15-page Education Week section called “Spotlight on Bullying.” In addition, Education Week on-line offers numerous articles on bullying at the various grades, different types of bullying, prevention techniques, and other informative reports.

Dangerous old stereotypes

Bullying is defined by California’s Crime and Violence Prevention Center as words or actions that are “habitual harassing, intimidating, tormenting, browbeating, humiliating, terrorizing, oppressing and/or threatening.” Bullying, the center says, “has no social, financial or cultural boundaries,” and children often become bullies by watching adult behavior.

An article in Education Week’s Feb. 23, 2011 issue reports on a study showing that bullies aren’t always the social outcasts people often think they are. After four years of surveying over 3,700 middle and high school students, University of California Davis assistant sociology professor Robert Faris found that “students in the middle of the social hierarchies at their schools, rather than the most popular or the most socially outcast, are more likely to be bullies.”

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