Friday, December 3, 2010

School Bullying: in memory of Phoebe Prince

Entirely too much bullying goes on in US schools. According to a 2006 survey funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, bullying is widespread in American schools, with more than 16 percent of U.S. school children saying they had been bullied by other students during the current term.

Despite its prevalence, bullying is easily overlooked. It usually is covert and both victims and witnesses often are coerced into silence. So busy educators often either fantasize that bullying doesn’t exist in their school, or cynically pretend that it doesn’t. Consequently, in classroom after classroom, kids sit with knots of fear in their stomach because bullies are making their school lives miserable. Even kids not directly assaulted or threatened are victimized by such bullying because they know they might be next.

It should be self-evident that students who have reason to fear for their safety experience a very different learning environment than kids who feel protected. And because of bullying the very weakest school kids can lead a hellish existence that scars them for life.

Educators who don’t stop that sort of thing are failing in their most fundamental obligation, to protect those in their charge. After all, the kids are required by law to attend whether they want to or not.

Bullying not only ruins individual lives and retards learning, it also sows the seeds of general school disorder and rebellion. Just as it is foolish to maintain allegiance to a government that fails to protect its citizens, so it is senseless for students to cooperate with educators who permit their victimization by bullies. Most kids know that and act accordingly.

Lamentably there is a melancholy similarity between schools where bullies operate with impunity and out-of-control prisons. Savage victimization goes on in jails when warden and guards look the other way; and victimization also takes over in schools when educators fail to exercise due diligence.

When inmates are victimized at least there is the modest consolation that most of them did nasty things to get themselves into this predicament. In the case of school children, however, innocents are sentenced to daily misery just because they have the misfortune of living in a neighborhood served by a bully dominated school.

To examine these issues further, see School Bullies

-- GKC