Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Bully Incubator.


The River

A group of people are standing at a river bank and suddenly hear the cries of a baby. Shocked, they see an infant floating--drowning--in the water. One person immediately dives in to rescue the child. But as this is going on, yet another baby comes floating down the river, and then another! People continue to jump in to save the babies and then see that one person has started to walk away from the group still on shore. Accusingly they shout, "where are you going?" The response: "I'm going upstream to stop whoever's throwing babies into the river

Bully programs are a band-aid. We just keep on jumping in and trying to save one student at a time. We have assemblies, and class meetings. We make posters. We have celebrities take up the cause as spokespersons against bullying. We keep on fighting this "bullying epidemic" but we don't see that the structure of school is the problem. We take hundreds of kids (that may or may not like each other), we put them in a system that demands compliance, and we force them to learn about things (that they may or may not want to learn) while they are going through one of the most hormonally charged times of their lives, and then we wonder why they are mean to each other.

We do not socialize them. The adults want them quiet and "ready to learn," so the kids set up their own private kid world and the kids end up socializing themselves. They do this on the bus, in the halls, and locker rooms. They socialize in the margins of the school day. The "popular" kids decide the norm because the popular kids have the most power. Students learn how to treat other people by what they see at home and what they see in the media. We have shows like Jersey Shore, Dance Moms, Jerry Springer and The Simpsons teaching our youth how to treat other people. Then they  come to school, and every minute of their 7.5 hour day is dictated to them. (Spoiler alert- sarcasm coming) Hmmm... weird that they are mean to each other. Weird that they try to take some control of their own lives, and weird that some of them do not do it very well.

Bullying is wrong. No doubt.  I see it and it infuriates me. I don't understand how a person can enjoy, or at least not be bothered, by seeing another person suffer. I am not condoning bullying. I am not saying kids will be kids. I am saying we put kids in a bully incubator and then we are shocked that we have bullies.

Children need to be mentored in socialization by adults. We can't "teach" appropriate social skills by having students memorize a list of appropriate social skills. We can, however, limit the amount of time that we demand compliance, and instead put students in situation where they have some control, they see real value in what they are doing, they are given adult like responsibility, they are fully engaged and experiencing Flow. When people are focused and engaged in real issues, in real work, and in subjects that they are interested in- they don't have time to focus on social status or made up drama, or "he said she said."


The vast majority of public school's discipline problems are caused by the school structure. They are caused by the students who don't "fit in." The students who don't "do" school well. The students who are bored. The students who are forced to learn information they already know or information they can comprehend in one hour, but they have to sit through it for two weeks. We keep dealing with these individuals as they come, we keep  passing them on and patching them up as best we can while thinking it is inevitable that we can't save them all. Why? Why do we just expect it and think it is normal?

What if all the attention bullying is getting was instead focused on treating the root of the problem? What if we drastically changed what a school day looked like? What if we incorporated apprenticeships, community service, and job studies as part of a natural school day?  What if we used computers and technology better so that kids moved at their own speed, and once they showed mastery of the basic skills then they started on 21st century skills? This would give them control of their fate. This would get them off of the conveyor belt that asks them to sit and receive facts, and instead put them in a life like dynamic learning situation. They won't be idly sitting bored trying to figure out how to climb the adolescent popularity ladder.

One thing is for certain, as we try to figure out how to change our outdated industrial model of education, we still need people jumping in the water and saving the drowning. How long until people start walking upstream? How long before we stop accepting  a 17 percent decrease in bullying as a "win?"

Adults deal with bullying in the workplace, some policeman are bullies. Some administrators and teachers are bullies. Perhaps your neighbor is a bully. We won't get rid of bullying behavior and it is actually typical behavior for most primates. We can, however, not set up an environment that is so bully fertile. We can set up situations where students gain power from doing real work and learning real skills. We can do this, we just need more people seeing the need to change the structure of school and its power pyramid.