This was something I wrote for a class on multiculturalism in education in response to an article about whether anti-bullying efforts can go too far.
Susan Porter was a Dean of Students in California’s Branson School who became concerned with new statistics which seemingly demonstrated an increase of instances in bullying. As she researched the subject more, she determined that behavior hadn’t changed, but that the definition of bullying had expanded. She believed some of the responses were ineffective, failing to take into account the development of preadolescent and adolescent brains. She thought labeling students was also destructive, as it encourages them to embrace labels like victim and bully.
Facts she uses to back up her arguments include…
- Statistics on bullying are inconsistent, with one source suggesting that 1 in 5 students are bullied, and another suggesting that 77 percent of students have recently been bullied.
- Adolescents are prone to misinterpreting facial cues, which has consequences when children take offense.
- Adolescents are more likely to respond emotionally to social situations.
There have been a lot of articles written about bullying in newspapers and magazines. It’s often the subject of TV shows that deal with crime and/ or adolescent characters. For similar reasons, the subject of bullying is impossible to avoid for anyone interested in being a teacher. I completed an online module on bullying, and attended the mandatory DASA (Dignity for All Students Act) training workshop. A piece on concerns about overreaction is welcome, considering how few people in education are willing to tackle that topic.
In many ways it’s a good thing that the definition of bullying has been expanded. We’re much less accepting of discrimination than previous generations, although anti-bullying efforts sometimes have a different black and white way of looking at the world, with bullies as the bad guys instead of minority groups. I do think it should be possible to call out bad behavior and even to label those who sometimes commit it without suggesting that it is immutable.
Considering the efforts taken against bullying, it is useful to remind teachers to avoid overreactions. When there’s a change in policy, be it in culture or technology, there is the potential for some to embrace it too stridently. It takes a while to determine the appropriate balance. It’s especially possible in this category, in a profession with a disproportionately high number of well-meaning individuals worried about social justice and underdogs. The school needs to be an environment where students can come to teachers with their concerns, but teachers must also consider the imperfections of subjective impressions.