Sadly, we start noticing bullying in our schools on the first day of kindergarten. If we agree that our schools are a microcosm of our society at large, we can then begin to see the pervasive nature of bullying in all levels of our schools. Bullying is happening in all areas of our society as people jockey for their rung on the ladder of status. Part of this is natural and an aspect of human nature that has been with our species throughout our development. Individuals, cultures, and societies exhibit varying degrees of bullying behavior. I believe that the one place that we actually have a good opportunity to address bullying behavior is in our schools. This is because schools are organized with a built-in structure that has the potential of providing close supervision and monitoring, and immediate consequences. The reasons that bullying has been so prevalent in our schools, however, are that the established policies are not enforced, and there is little active supervision, which could serve as a deterrent. The adults in the school often routinely ignore overt bullying and the bullies feel empowered to continue to harass their victims. In too many of our schools, bullying is rampant and goes unchecked.
Children who are the victims of bullying can frequently continue to be harassed for their entire school careers without any adult intervention. These children suffer in silence because they learn from an early age that adults won’t help them, and if they do try to tell an adult, the bully only makes it worse. The pervasive nature of bullying in our schools looks like fooling and teasing to the untrained eye. It is therefore easy to ignore or avoid confronting. School staff members, both teachers and paraprofessionals, risk the fury of the bully and often the bully’s parents. The easier for the adults is to avoid the stress of intervening with a bully. And so victims continue to suffer.
Another reason bullying exists in our schools is that the language our students use with their friends can be confused with threatening language used toward a victim. Homophobic slurs, for example, that are disgusting and inappropriate, have become almost commonplace in school hallways. Adults hear it but pretend not to as if to intervene would be rude to the bullies. Many of the victims of this type of language abuse have accepted it as part of childhood culture. Although the victims cringe with embarrassment, they are powerless to respond. And so the state of their victimhood continues to be solidified in the eyes of the bullies and those of the victim. As a society, and therefore our children, we have become desensitized to bullying behavior by our nightly overdose of bad behavior on network TV.
The bully blogs are rife with stories about the sad plight of victims. Each one is gut wrenching and cries out for a solution that could have saved a child’s dignity. Whether the bullying is motivated by racial, homophobic, or sexist hatred, or by the need to impugn the rights of others to feel a sense of power, is of little consequence. What is important is that schools can make a difference in the lives of children by becoming proactive, vigilant, and caring.
Bullying is not going to go away or be excised from our gene pool. But t can be significantly diminished if adults begin to take action.
About Marc J Ladin
Marc is a retired elementary school principal with over 30 years experience in urban and suburban schools in RI and CT. He has presented numerous workshops for children that stress the importance of speaking up and taking responsibility for getting help as the victim of bullying and as the bystander. Marc lives in West Kingston, Rhode Island with his wife and two cats. He is the father of five grown children and he is an avid sailor, potter, gardener, guitar player, and photographer. He has recently published a children’s book on bullying entitled The Playground Bully Blues.