Friday, November 12, 2010

Bully Pulpit

Our school has a proactive bullying program which has been in effect for over 2 years now.  It may not be perfect, as some bullying still happens (which we know about), but we are trying.  I know many other schools are as well.

The rush to demand "why aren't schools doing more" is like asking why can't we do more to stop global warming.  It has been in play for a long time, it has deep roots, and is empowered and strengthened as we progress and make advancements in technology.

I think technology, in the case of bullying, is a sharp edged weapon we are having difficulty controlling.

Bullying is not new.  I can trace it in literature.  From Judy Blume's YA novel Blubber, to King's Carrie where half the school bullies one girl, to Kesey's Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, to Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day" where the young girl Margot is bullied and shoved into a closet at school, to Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when Tom fights the new kid in town simply because of his appearance.

Bullying is chronicled in dozens of movies and television: Biff Tanen in Back to the Future; Ace Merrill in Stand By Me, Nelson Munce in The Simpsons, Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story, John Bender in The Breakfast Club; Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid, Buddy Hinton from The Brady Bunch (teasing Cindy Brady about her lisp: "Baby Talk, Baby Talk, it's a wonder you can walk!") this list goes on and on.

While bullying has clearly been around for a long time, what is going on with it now?  Technology.

Think for a moment what kids had access to when I started teaching here in 1995.  The internet as a home entertainment vehicle was in its infancy, social networking services did not exist as they do now (they were called bulletin boards), most kids that I knew did not have their own cell phone, no one sent text messages, no one sent photos or videos instantly over the internet via their phone or easily accessible computer, and now we are paying for what the kids do have.

I don't blame the technology.  I do not blame the gun.  I blame the person pressing the trigger.

What we need to understand, I think, is that discussing bullying is indeed a good thing but somewhere in there we need to also monitor the floodgates we've allowed to open in regards to technology and kids.  We've given them another weapon to bully with which has greater range, greater impact, and allows for more cowardice - no longer do you have to bully face to face and be ready to defend it.

Bullying is one of the initial seeds of shame.  Shame, according to Dr. James Gilligan in his book Violence is one of the seeds of violent crime.  Studying long-term criminals in the justice system, those who had committed heinous violent crimes, the one common denominator is shame.  The perpetrators were made to feel shame by being bullied by another person at some point in their life, and it scarred them, it changed them.  I met Dr. Gilligan while studying at Shakespeare & Company in 1995.  He discussed shame in violence which could be traced all throughout various Shakespearean plays.

We've come a long way from the 16th century century in so many ways, yet when we read about the recent tragedies about bullying are we simply doomed to forever arm a beast who has always been and will always be?

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