Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'll get you if you don't read this! Bullying.

Everyone seems to be writing about bullying in the public schools and what we should do to get rid of this behavior.  As an academic, I need to start with a definition so that you and I can discuss this phenomenon with some degree of civility.  We haven't heard that word in a long time have we-civility.  

According to one dictionary on this computer a Bully is a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.  The verb definition is using superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Why does my mind want to go back in my thinking of Wisconsin?  

We probably have always had bullying and bullies since the early mankind.  "If you have the power, flaunt it!"  And I'm sure we have all been a party to bullying be we the bullyees or the bullyors.

I still remember being bullied at choir practice at the Episcopal Cathedral in Utica, New York.  I was probably five or six years old and one of the smallest in the choir.  As such I and another small kid were always first in line to lead the choir in and out of the services.  Practice was on Saturday and was, I think if memory serves me correctly, about two hours long.  I quickly learned NOT to go to the rest room because that was were the big kids were during the break in practice.  I don't remember any adults ever coming in to see what was going on.  You didn't even walk near the rest room because those bigger kids might grab you and drag you in.  

Isn't it interesting that after six decades I still remember that time.  When practice was over I'd run out of the church and head two blocks to the bus stop where the bigger kids never went.  No, I didn't tell my folks.  You're the first.  I don't remember what I thought then--probably self survival.  

But it wasn't my last episode with bullying.  There was seventh grade where a bigger kid took my new notebook for my school work.  I told the teacher but she couldn't find it so I told my parents.  Wrong.  Dad went to the school principal and demanded the notebook (it had hinged covers).  That only increased the bullying from those that had taken the notebook in the first place.  Never did get the notebook back although I saw it once or twice during the year.  We had big kids in my seventh and eighth grades and I wasn't one of them.  Many were from families that were in construction work and they were use to getting it from their Dad at home.  So I know now that it was a natural progression of behavior.  Dad beats on his kid and the kid beats up on his little sister and when he gets beat up for that he takes it out in the smaller kids on the playground.

Let's face it, wherever there are people with power there will be bullying.  I found the Army before it was an all volunteer organization had much bullying.  The more stripes on your sleeve or bars on the collar gave you the right to bully.  It was a way of life.  In civilian life I find at times there are groups that enjoy power (police, construction permits, road crews, etc) that bully those they come in contact with--but I also have found some of these same groups polite and friendly to a fault.  Why the difference?

If there is any point to be made here is that there are places where bullying can be found in our society.  It IS in our classrooms and we need to address this problem constantly.  

I have had kids in my classroom bully or pick on another member of the class.  At one time I had one black-American boy in a fourth grade of all white kids.  Tom (not a Tommy) was an exceptional student and really one of the nicest kids in class so I was taken back when I watch some of his classmates push him aside or not pass papers or books to him. 

Well, now! This was not to be.  So I arranged to have Tom help the principal straighten the storeroom one afternoon and I proceeded to "bully" the class.  Do you remember my advising on this blog to learn how to get angry before you get angry.  A teacher needs to role play that anger.  I did just that.  I stomped up and down in the front of the class and demanded to know "why are you picking on my friend, Tom?"  "Why would you do this?"  I must have gone on for several minutes before finally saying what were we going to do when Tom comes back from helping the principal.  I gave them some direction in acceptable behavior and proceeded as well to tell the class there were NOT to talk to Tom about this.  "DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"    In retrospect, I bullied the class.  I had the power and I told them what I wanted.  

Fourth graders are easy to convince and they followed my instructions and then some.  I had no more problems concerning Tom and, indeed, he became a leader in the class.  His mother when she came for a parent/teacher conference told me Tom was quite happy in my class and she was quite happy with his progress.  It turned out that she was a teacher in another nearby school district so we enjoy a good relationship from that time.  

We teachers need to be ever vigilant as to the possibilities of bullying in the school and we need to take action immediately to put a stop to it.  From an academic viewpoint I wonder if bullying is more prominent in the city schools then in country schools?   Does Germany have more bullying then Norway?  Is my bias showing here?  

Diane Ravitch, where are you when we need you?  What are other cultures doing about bullying, do they have it and how do they handle it?  Is there bullying in private schools?  That would be interesting to know, wouldn't it.

Bullying is a problem that will never go away--we have to deal with it.  Teaching kids proper behavior and, in my opinion, getting kids to recognize bullying behavior in themselves is important piece of the solution.  Leslie Briggs would probably support this contention--learning about self is an important part of our educational process.  

Did you have a teacher intervene when some kids were bullying you?  Then go thank that teacher.  Do it now.  

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