Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Some thoughts on the Bullying Epidemic

I've only been hit in the face one time in my whole life.  I should clarify, I have taken martial arts a few times, and of course I got hit in the face during practice (dishing out my own brand of return fire as well), but that does not count.  I'm talking about fist into face connection due to some aggravated conversation/situation.  I was in Jr. High and struggled quite a bit with establishing and defending myself.  West Liberty is not the most accepting school/community to outsiders, and it took many years before I really felt assimilated into the fold.  I wasn't a "wimpy" kid, but I wasn't necessarily a confident "stand-up-for-my-selfer."  So, when a certain boy on my basketball team started pushing me and verbally threatening me, I took it onto myself to wait until he began to walk away and then whip him in the back of the head with my coat.  Mistake.  He turned around and before I knew it, his knuckles kissed my cheek.  Surprisingly, and I don't say this in any kind of macho revis paion of history way, it didn't hurt that bad; I think this is mainly because he held back.  But, that was it.  He walked away, I walked away, end of story.  

Physical bullying was never something I dealt with.  Emotional and verbal bullying, however, laid it's roadwork all over my elementary school life.  Suffice it to say, reverberating effects from rejection still interfere with my psyche today.  Moving on.

Monday night, I, along with my wife and some friends, attended an anti-bullying seminar held at West Liberty-Salem High School.  The presenter was a therapist and expert in the field of dealing with both bullies and victims and had presented three times already that day.  I felt bad for him; I mean, I like the sound of my own voice, don't get me wrong, but there comes a point when enough is enough.  He energetically and politely soldiered on.

It was not at all what I expected; I looked forward to some kind of summary of the bullying situation in American schools and how educators, police, military, the President, and potentially alien life forms were going to speak wisdom and peace into the classrooms.  Surely there was some plan or scheme in place which would change the dark atmosphere of lockerrooms forever!

Sadly, this was not the case.  Instead, the presenter spent 2 hours training parents (which I am not) how to teach their children to not be victims by learning confidence techniques and self-defense.  (I need to add, he did not advocate violence; rather, learning ways to non-violently defend one's self).

Before I go on, I have to say that I appreciated what he had to say and believe it does have a lot of value to all students.  However, I was shocked that this was the approach to bullying.  He showed us that, statistically, bullies are seldom caught.  So police lockdown wouldn't do much good.  I was waiting for the introduction of anger sniffing german shepherds who could sense when students were getting aggresive with one another, but that did not happen.

The gist of the evening was that for bullying to be stopped, there must not be any victims.  So potential victims need to be taught to no longer be victims.  I could not help but feel that something was wrong with this approach.  It addressed the problem, certainly, but it didn't address the root of the problem.  It treated the symptoms, but did not cure the disease. 

I couldn't help but wonder what kind of system we are sending our students to that fosters environments of power, heirarchy and violence without any real way to stem the issues.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but school is about education, not a model for "The Lord of the Flies."  If they start passing a conch around classrooms, I'm yelling fire. 

How can a public system have such little control over its space; I felt like this presenter was going rogue inside the system, training little guerilla confident youth to stand up for themselves like Rambo against the Vietnamese.  What is this system of public education we promote?  It seems crazy!  Take control of the schools!

But I know that this is not likely.  With budget cuts, the student to teacher ratio continues to rise; with less supervision, it is much easier for these kinds of situations to occur.  And frankly, teachers were trained to educate, not serve as prison guards, and the principal was not meant to be the school warden.  Yet, this cycle of bullying and violence only begets more bullying and violence.  It's generational; parents pass it down to children, who pass it down to children, etc.  Where does it stop?

I am not an educational philosopher; I speak in ignorance to the depths of the issue.  But I work with kids, and I was a kid, and I someday want to have kids, so I will be dealing with this issue throughout my life. 

What do we do?  What can I do?  I commend the efforts of the school system in putting this seminar on, and I pray that it does raise awareness of bullying, that it happens even in our small town.  But I can't help but thinking that we're only introducing doses of chemo to a cancerous system, a system that is unpredictable and potentially life threatening.  Is it time to develop new ways to educate?  Is it time to change the ways classrooms are run?  Is it time to bring in the German Shepherds (I will volunteer my border collie for the job).  And ultimately, what does the church have to say about this issue, because I guarantee that we have both bullies and victims within our walls. 

In Luke 4:18-21, Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah and proclaims His coming ministry:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He desires to see justice done in the world and in the classrooms, that healing may come to all, victims and bullies together.  What form this comes in, I can't say.  But I look forward to the future of this volatile issue. 


  1. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Alex. My daughter shared a bit about what she learned from the student version of their bully prevention training the other day and I too was a bit puzzled by the approach. I do want her to be confident, but I'm not sure that her being confident really addresses the root causes of bullying. Is bullying really motivated by perceiving those around us to be weaker than we are? That may help to choose the target of the bullying, but it seems to me that the root of bullying often comes more from the bully's own pain or weakness that s/he is taking out or projecting on to someone else.

    I didn't find out about the parents training until the event was already over so I'm not directly aware of what was presented, but it seems to me that a central part of addressing the "bully problem" is to address the hurts of students and to teach them (all kids) better methods of working through their pains, ways that bring reconciliation rather than more pain. That's a pretty tall order to place on a school system, but I think it should be a part of the work of families and of local churches.

  2. Here's another approach...

  3. I agree with your thoughts Dave. How do we address the root of the bullying issue, which is the projected pain that said bullies are experiencing. Where is reconciliation in all of this? Again, I certainly don't think it would hurt to teach children to not be victims, but that only seems to cover the surface of the issue. Could there be victim/offender reconciliation in these situations. How can we effectively build self-esteem in the school environment to encourage those with bullying tendencies to find better outlets for growth. And would any of that be enough to counteract the damage being done at home that causes these kids to be bullies in the first place? Some thoughts.